If I could impart only one kitchen wisdom, it would be this: have fun.
Sure presentation matters since a dish that is visually appealing makes you more likely to eat it. And of course, there are ingredients and preparation and all that.
But what it really comes down to is that familiarity in the kitchen, working with ingredients, preparing food to feed your loved ones, none of it happens really if you don't enjoy yourself first. My favorite childhood memories in the kitchen were spent listening to my Ba Noi (Vietnamese Paternal Grandmother) tell stories while wiping banana leaves for her famous Banh Nam (Vietnamese Steamed Flat Rice Dumplings with Pork and Shrimp). As I got older, she'd assign more tasks, teaching me little tricks along the way, such as deveining shrimp with a toothpick or adding salt to kill any bugs when I rinsed herbs. When I cooked, she always praised what I made, no matter how simple.
In contrast, my mother was very exacting about presentation without a lot of explanation about the process. And while there are lessons to be learned there too, I found this method makes cooking seem more like work. Through the years, I've heard from friends and readers who hated being in the kitchen for precisely that reason, that cooking seemed like drudgery, that they were rebelling against the expectation that women had to do the cooking. Or since cooking, especially Vietnamese food, seemed like such a vague process, with instructions being to add a little bit of this and that, that they didn't know where to start. Or that the slicing and folding they did wasn't pretty, so they were shooed away from preparation. All of which makes being in the kitchen no fun at all.
I've been cooking with my niece for a while, and also now with my nephew since he turned 2 years old. I hope they're enjoying themselves as much as I am teaching them. While we've made plenty of baked goods, the niece's favorite foods are noodles and dumplings. I make the filling and separate the wonton skins, but leave the folding all up to them. Sure, their technique needs a bit of work, but after being boiled, you can't even tell.
The niece likes simply boiled wontons, so she can douse them liberally with black vinegar and Maggi Seasoning Sauce. She also loves tofu, so I added half a block to the recipe. Make sure you press the tofu a bit to strain out excess moisture. I added fish sauce to the seasoning to make these wontons Vietnamese, but otherwise, they're pretty similar to my recipe for Chinese Chili Wontons. While you can certainly add these wontons to noodle soups, the seasoning at the end is what makes the dish.
So don't get so hung up on, or afraid of, getting in the kitchen. Be encouraging. And have fun!
The best part is since the kids made the food themselves, they're more likely to eat it. The niece ate a whopping 12 wontons.
Hoanh Thanh Thit Heo Bam, Dau Hu, Hanh La (Vietnamese Wontons with Ground Pork, Tofu, and Green Onions)
For about 50 wontons, or 4 to 6 servings, you'll need:
1 package wonton wrappers
1 lb ground pork
1/2 block tofu, excess moisture squeezed
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
For the Sauce, you'll need:
Nuoc Mam Cham Ngot (Vietnamese Sweetened Fish Dipping Sauce) or Maggi Seasoning Sauce
Black or red wine vinegar
Chili oil or dried chili flakes
In a bowl, combine 1 lb ground pork, 1/2 block of tofu, 3 green onions, 1 egg, 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp sugar.
Mix until ingredients are combined.
Have a bowl of water for dipping, plates for wrapping and for the finished wontons, and the bowl of filling.
I demonstrate how to spoon a bit of the filling in the middle of the wonton wrapper, wet the sides a bit, and fold it over.
But, then I just let the kids take it from there.
So their folding skills need a little work. You won't even be able to tell once the wontons are boiled.
Boil wontons until they float to the surface. Douse with fish or soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and chili flakes.
Kid-pleasing every time.
And bonus cute picture because I'm a proud auntie. The kids have been using chopsticks since they were about 18 months old? Just shove a pair of chopsticks in their hands and they'll figure it out.
Other dumpling recipes:
Chinese Chili Wontons
Potstickers Stuffed with Ground Pork and Turkey, Bamboo Shoots, and Cabbage
Shanghai-style Sticky Rice Siu Mai Dumplings
Siu Mai (Chinese Meatball Dumpling)
Wontons Stuffed with Ground Pork and Turkey, Bamboo Shoots, and Cabbage
1 year ago today, Thai Basil Beef Stir-Fry.
2 years ago today,
3 years ago today,
4 years ago today, Canh Cai La Xanh (Vietnamese Collard Greens Soup).
5 years ago today, Nearly Wild Rose.
6 years ago today, Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus.
7 years ago today, J&J (Jin Jian) Restaurant - San Gabriel.