When in Doubt: Dumplings

June 13th, 2013 · 29 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I have a confession to make. My heart sank a little when I saw escarole in my CSA box for the second week in a row. I know I’m supposed to be so game for the challenge, so excited to explore what kind of gold I can spin from these Vegetables I’d Never Pick Out Myself. But last week, week #1 — and I’m sorry to be all blasphemous about this — I wasn’t so crazy about that escarole. I should’ve probably wilted it into soup with white beans, but it was hot in New York, and I didn’t want soup. I craved fresh, bright, light salads. I chopped up the escarole and dressed it with my new favorite vinaigrette. But it turns out escarole is bitter. Too bitter for me — or any of the nose-wrinklers at my table — to enjoy raw. This, you’d think I’d know by now. I don’t. No amount of pomegranate seeds tossed in with the leaves, no amount of sugar added to the vinaigrette seemed to help the situation. But I ate the whole stinkin’ head. (Kids: Another story.) I was not going to throw it away.

This week, when confronted with escarole for a second week in a row, I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to cook it. And if I wanted my kids to eat it, I knew I’d have to do something drastic that maybe even involved covert operations. With Deb’s pot stickers still fresh in my memory, I decided on dumplings.

Now be warned: Dumplings are not the kind of dinner you’re gonna be glad you have in your back-pocket to whip together at a moment’s notice. Oh no, they most certainly are not. I, in fact, made this batch you see above in the middle of the day, when the kids were still in school, as a reward for finishing up a project that took a lot out of me. (Nothing like pressing ‘pulse’ on the Cuisinart to build oneself back up again.) I had five kitchen stations going simultaneously: the cutting board, a skillet for cooking the vegetables, the food processor, the wrapping area, and a second skillet for frying the dumplings. This meal is not what one might call a No Brainer.

But it is kind of genius. Because that huge mop of escarole that was mocking me from the CSA box? Transformed into a crispy, greens-and-tofu-packed vegetarian entree. And even better, when the kids finally got home they couldn’t help but say as soon as they walked in the door “What smells so good?” (I know, frying wontons is kind of totally cheating) and then gravitated to the kitchen, playdates in tow, where the dumplings were laid out on a platter, and began shoveling them down their collective hatches. “Mom! These are good! What’s in here? Is that cheese?” asked Abby.

“Um, no. I mean, yes it’s cheese. Totally cheese,” I told her, remembering that tofu was on her black list as recently as one month ago.

“And spinach?” asked her friend.

“Yup. Spinach and Cheese.”

And pretty soon, all gone. Every last leaf.

Fried Vegetable Dumplings
Instead of wincing at this long ingredient list think about it this way: Dumplings are what you might call a back-pocket, end-of-the-week meal. As long as you have your basic aromatics (garlic, ginger, onions) and some pantry staples (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, veg oil) then you can pretty much fold up any about-to-rot vegetable inside the wonton wrappers (which keep in the freezer forever, by the way). Also: I highly recommend making them as a weekend project with the kids.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for frying
Dash of sesame oil
1 small shallot or 4 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
shake red pepper flakes
1 bunch fresh greens that you don’t want to eat raw, but don’t want to throw away (such as escarole, radish greens, turnip greens, or even fresh spinach), roughly torn
2/3 block extra firm tofu (pressed and drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, and sliced into rectangles)
handful chives, roughly chopped
handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
Squeeze of lime
1 12-ounce pack of wonton wrappers

Add the oils to a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the scallions, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and Chinese Five Spice for about 2 minutes. Add greens and cook another minute until slightly wilted.

Transfer the filling to the bowl of a large food processor. Add remaining ingredients (except wrappers) and pulse until everything is roughly chopped, but not a big pile of mush.

Set up your dumpling-assembling station: A small bowl of water, the filling, and your wontons.

Dip your fingers in the water and dot or “paint” around the edges of a wonton. (This is an excellent task for the kids.)

Spoon a small amount of the filling into the center of each wonton. (Ignore the one on the upper right, it was my first one and it was waaay too much.)

Fold one corner over the opposite corner to make a triangle shape. Pinch all sides together; smush their centers slightly (so they’ll lay flat in the frying pan) and set aside.

Once all the dumplings are assembled, add a tablespoon vegetable oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Fry in batches adding more oil as needed, until dumplings are crispy and golden, about 2 minutes on each side.

Serve the dumplings with soy sauce. To make it an official dinner, round out with a fresh sugar snap peas salad.

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29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 The Steady Table // Jun 13, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I used to feel the same way about escarole. And then, last summer, I discovered Escarole & White Bean Salad. I’m a convert. Don’t lament the escarole! Here’s the link to the recipe: https://goldenearthwormfarm.squarespace.com/recipes?tag=Escarole

  • 2 Lauren @ La Dolce Pita // Jun 13, 2013 at 9:20 am

    YUM – these look incredible! I also have a CSA share with some things I have been forcing myself to eat and this is a fab way to use them up. Thanks!

  • 3 Emilee Whitehurst // Jun 13, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Dumplings (fried wontons) are my go-to for a quick, easy and delicious appetizer.

    I always do a mixture of cream cheese, crushed pineapple and sweet chili sauce for the filling, then fry them up and serve with sweet chili sauce for drizzling/dipping – they are always a hit and make a great sweet/spicy/crunchy app!

    This recipe is awesome, I will be trying this next time instead! Thanks for sharing!

  • 4 Liz // Jun 13, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Oh…those look great – good idea!

    And also, “The Steady Table” – that recipe looks wonderful as well. Seems like the mustard vinaigrette would be perfect with the escarole and the rest.

    Another idea – last year when various greens threatened to get ahead of me, I blitzed them with a bit of olive oil – just enough oil so that they held together – and froze in flat zip bags. You can break off as large a piece as you need to add to soup, vinaigrettes, green sauce, pesto alternatives or dumplings! I had organic garden greens all winter.

  • 5 Maria Tadic // Jun 13, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Hahaha that’s a good little story about the “spinach and cheese” dumplings. Is it bad that I still say that kinda stuff to my husband when I cook with “black-listed” foods?!

  • 6 Nicole // Jun 13, 2013 at 10:37 am

    You are a culinary genius! What a great idea. I love your passion about food and family dinner. I’ve been reading your blog every day for about a year and have never commented before. I am a huge fan. Huge. Thank you.

  • 7 Rachael // Jun 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Dumplings can be a great “we have no time” meal if you freeze them between the making and the cooking. All recipes make way too much for our family of two, so everything gets frozen. :) And these look great!

  • 8 Marisa // Jun 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I made this a while ago, and it was easy. The escarole is wilted, and the dressing seemed to temper the bitterness.

    http://www.marthastewart.com/312496/wilted-escarole-with-apples

  • 9 Nancy @Rivertree kitchen // Jun 13, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I love the idea of passing tofu off as cheese. I usually use a little cooked brown rice as a binder, and add whatever veg we have in the house. (Minced radishes add a surprising crunch.) My guys are huge spinach fans, but wary of other greens. I’ll follow your lead–they’ll love it.

  • 10 Jeska // Jun 13, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Beautiful dumplings. Mmm.

    I felt the same way the first time I got escarole in my CSA box… but then I found a good white bean/escarole/farro soup recipe. Since then I’ve actually sought out escarole in the store.

    You can always freeze the soup for later, if you don’t want it today.

  • 11 Eileen // Jun 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Oh, I am definitely going to have to make a big batch of these very soon! I love the strategy of just stuffing greens into everything when I get too much in my CSA box. (Ok, we don’t get a box now, but when we did, that was my strategy.) Lasagna? Fill it with greens Enchiladas? Greens. The list is endless!

  • 12 A Life From Scratch // Jun 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    ‘It’s totally cheese’….I love that and pull it often with my husband!

    He LOVES dumplings, I wonder if I can be sneaky enough with these as the ingredients would make him shudder. I’d have to be really nice….like have his scotch waiting for him when he gets off the train nice…..

  • 13 Susan // Jun 13, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Yummmm!! I have had pot-stickers made by friends of mine and I keep meaning to try it. I bet we’ll get escarole in our CSA pretty soon, so I’ll have to keep this in mind as a way to use it up!

  • 14 Katie Workman // Jun 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    You are very smart. I wrestle with escarole too. Including how to spell it.

  • 15 susan // Jun 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Can’t wait to try these dumplings… and most likely pass off the tofu as cheese. That is great.

    If you get more escarole I’d make Italian Wedding Soup with it, just blanch it first to take out the bitterness. With tiny chicken meatballs it isn’t a heavy soup. Also you can blanch it first and then saute it with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.

  • 16 Anna // Jun 14, 2013 at 7:34 am

    There is something celebratory about complicated, fried foods. I often make Egg Rolls out of the original Moosewood Cookbook at the end of a semester. Bonus: the filling calls for wine, and the rest of the bottle really rounds out the celebration!

  • 17 Zelda // Jun 14, 2013 at 8:02 am

    I agree, dumplings are a little labour intensive, like rolling sushi. The good thing about dumplings/wontons/gyoza is that they freeze well, so you can make a large batch when you have the time, and pull them out for a quick, tasty appetiser or throw into a noodle soup. I keep frozen har gau in the freezer so I can offer guests a hot snack when they drop by unannounced. As for the escarole, I wonder if you could substitute it for spinach in bourek? The sharp, salty creaminess of feta cheese might balance the bitterness.

  • 18 Linnea Beckwith // Jun 14, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Yum! We’re doing the same CSA and I’ve had dumplings on the brain for 2 weeks now, targeting the carrots and cabbage. (What are you doing with your cabbage?!) But we keep eating the carrots before I get around to all of that stuffing and folding…

    Escarole. First week I just sauteed, but mixed with sweet beet greens to temper the bitterness – and those kohlrabi greens, because, well… This week we’re adding to orecchiette and crumbled sausage w/ garlic, red pepper flakes, and parm… AND! Cut off the root end and give it to the girls with some paint to use as a stamp – makes a cool flower-like print. Yours may be too old to like that sort of thing, but keeps my 2 year old busy… ;-)

  • 19 Kate @ThenKateSaid // Jun 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

    aaaaand it’s 10:05 a.m. and I’m ready for lunch….can’t wait to add this to my vegetarian rotation list!

  • 20 Debbie // Jun 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Good for you…I love your determination! This is what made our CSA experience last only one summer, but you are inspiring me to maybe try again next year!

  • 21 Anna-Maria // Jun 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Hey, I’m from Germany and I love your blog, because you have so many easy recipes which are also great for students (I live in a dorm and cook for about 7 of my friends every sunday).

    Just wanted to say that in my family, we eat escarole all winter long (it’s a popular winter salad here) and if it’s to bitter, just leave it in cold water and add some sugar (like, a two or three tablespoons). After an hour or so it won’t be bitter anymore :) My grandma has been doing that for ages, it really cuts the bitterness.

    Hope this is a useful tip, escarole is such an awesome salad. :)

  • 22 Jaimie // Jun 16, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Wow, these look good. I am always up for dumplings. Always. I like them really crispy! They are a lot of work to make yourself, but it is definitely worth it once in a while.

  • 23 katie // Jun 17, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    I’ve never been a fan of bitter greens either, but you should try it this way next time. Super yummy!

    Warm Escarole Salad with Seared Scallops
    adapted from epicurious.com

    2 paper-thin slices prosciutto
    2 T olive oil, divided
    1 head escarole
    4 sea scallops
    2 T fresh lemon juice
    1 t grated lemon peel
    First, brush each side of the prosciutto with olive oil. Slice each piece of prosciutto into 3 strips. Heat a heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add slices of prosciutto. Cook until bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn prosciutto over and cook until bottom is browned, flattening with spatula, about 1 minute longer. Using tongs, transfer prosciutto to paper towels to crisp. Reserve skillet.
    Slice head of escarole into quarters. Drizzle two of the quarters with olive oil. Place in a large skillet over high heat. Cook until slightly wilted on edges and warmed. Remove and roughly chop.
    Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper. Heat remaining oil in reserved skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops and cook until brown and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to plate. Add lemon juice, lemon peel, and a touch more olive oil to drippings in skillet. Bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Pour pan juices over greens and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad among 2 plates and top with scallops. Garnish with prosciutto chips and serve.

  • 24 Viki // Jun 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I share your sentiments exactly and will be making this this weekend!

    Question: in your recipe instructions you mention adding Chinese five spice, but the quantity isn’t listed in the ingredients. Do you remember how much you used–small pinch, big pinch? Thanks!

  • 25 sengler // Jul 3, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I had never made wontons or cooked with tofu until I made this recipe the other night. I now want to do both of those things regularly. So delicious!

  • 26 Amy G // Aug 8, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    “I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?”

    PS – so excited to use this recipe when I’m cleaning out the fridge this weekend!

    <3

  • 27 Lee // Aug 8, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?

    Sadly my own Phoebe can sniff out tofu even when disguised as a tasty dumpling. Alas!

  • 28 Cara meredith // Aug 9, 2013 at 12:11 am

    “I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook

  • 29 melanie // Aug 9, 2013 at 8:46 am

    I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?

    Dumplings sound awesome to me, but I doubt my husband would eat them. Too bad. :(

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