If there is one thing lockdown has taught me, it’s the importance of dumplings. Whether they’re store-bought or homemade, dumplings are the chill dinner we all need and deserve. They store long-term in the freezer and take mere moments to cook directly from frozen in a nonstick pan. And if you treat your nonstick right, it’s the easiest piece of equipment to clean in all of modern cookery. I realize I posted a potsticker recipe just a few months ago. But desperate dim-sum-free times call for frequent dumpling recipes, so I hope you won’t find today’s Caramel Tofu Tahini Dumplings too repetitive.
Folding Dumplings – Essential Life Skill
I’ve upgraded the importance of dumpling-making skills from “nice to have” to “vital” in just six weeks. There is something about being able to make a big batch of convenience food that is so empowering. Personally, I think of it as an act of self-care. When present Susan just can’t hack it in the kitchen one more night, past Susan saves the day with a bag of frozen dumplings. I’ve even gifted a few bags to a couple of friends in my neighborhood via porch drop, of course.
Less-Than-Attainable Food Cravings
In this time of extreme uncertainty, I find my food cravings have become very focused, insistent, and horrendously inconvenient. My brain keeps serving me daydreams of pub food and takeout Chinese. I dreamt of sushi the other night in full color and surround sound. And when I woke up, I realized this was probably the longest I’ve ever gone without salmon sashimi. Oh, the indulgences I took for granted. Yes, my subconscious seems hell-bent on asking for what it can’t have, which in addition to being incredibly annoying is also terribly cliche.
If You Can Crave it, You Can Make it
The upside to all of this quarantine-time is, well, time. I’ve had plenty of it to perfect my triple fried fries, California roll, and yes, dumpling pleat. Without the simple option to run and grab it, I’ve been forced to try and make it. This has led me to refine a whole host of new culinary skills. And I know for a fact that it’s not just me. A friend of mine proudly told me about her first batch of homemade tortillas over Zoom just the other day. And she’s not a food obsessive like me.
Cooking: A Meditative Practice
The upside of this quarantine is people are engaging with cooking in a different way. They’re not seeing it as a chore, hurdle or massive time-suck. They’re starting to see it as a meditative practice, an actual joy. As far as I know, there is no tortilla shortage and yet my friend felt compelled to make her own. She recognized the soothing power of pressing and cooking your own dough and the sense of accomplishment that comes from making something that nourishes you.
But on the other hand, cooking doesn’t always feel like that. In fact, it may never feel that way for you because cooking, like any activity, is exciting to some but not to all. But if you’re finding yourself weirdly enjoying your extra time in the kitchen, might I put forward these Caramel Tofu Tahini Dumplings as a candidate for your next kitchen project?
Caramel Tofu Tahini Dumplings
This Caramel Tofu filling is an example of the beauty that can be found in limitations. I ran out of soy sauce the day before I made these. At the same time, I had some dumpling wrappers and tofu in the fridge that were flirting with their respective expiry dates. But I was nervous about making dumpling filling without my favorite culinary crutch – soy sauce. I knew my salty, umami note was going to have to come from a different source. That source turned out to be fish sauce, which immediately brought me into Vietnamese territory. And thus, caramel tofu wound up on the menu.
I think it has been established that I am more or less a creature of habit. So it should come as no surprise to you that I included rice vermicelli in this dish. I did the same with the Peanut Butter Kale Potstickers I posted a few months ago and the texture was so pleasing, I couldn’t imagine leaving them out. I used brown rice vermicelli this time because that’s what I had lurking in my pantry. But regular ol’ white rice vermicelli will do the trick as well.
I repeated myself once again when it came to the tahini. Dumplings are easier to pleat when the filling isn’t loose. So, to act as a flavorful binder, I added tahini. I had done the same with peanut butter in my previous potsticker recipe, so I knew it would not only work practically but it would also add some richness to the finished dumplings.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Caramel Tofu Tahini Dumplings. I suppose they’re more or less a variation on the Peanut Butter Kale Potstickers I posted a little while ago. But I think you can never have too many dumplings, especially during the lockdown.
Caramel Tofu Tahini Dumplings
- Non-stick skillet with a tight fitting lid.
- 3 tbsp turbinado sugar demerara, white or brown would work as well
- ½ cup hot water
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 stalks celery halved and sliced, leaves reserved
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 1 knob ginger peeled and minced
- 1 brick extra firm tofu shredded
- 2-3 red chilies
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
- 100g (3.5oz) dried brown rice vermicelli
- 1 lime juiced
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tsp black sesame seeds
- 36 round dumpling wrappers
- Pour the sugar into a cold skillet and place over medium-low heat. Slowly melt the sugar, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar turns a deeper amber and smells nutty. Take the skillet off of the heat and immediately whisk in the hot water. The mixture will bubble furiously. Keep whisking until any seized caramel dissolves completely.
- Return the skillet to the stove and stir in the fish sauce, celery, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger. Bring to a gentle simmer and let cook for 5 minutes or until the celery is tender. Stir in the tofu and cook until most of the sauce is absorbed, about 3 minutes more. Take the skillet off of the heat and stir in the chiles and scallions. Set aside to cool.
- Place the rice vermicelli in a large bowl and set aside. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and pour over the noodles. Let stand for 5 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Drain the noodles and rinse in cold water.
- Transfer the cooled tofu mixture to a large bowl and snip the noodles into the bowl in roughly 3-inch lengths. Pour in the tahini and sesame seeds and toss to coat. Cover the filling and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Take a dumpling wrapper and, with a wet finger, draw a 1-inch border around the edge of the wrapper. Place a tablespoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper and fold in half, forming a sort of taco-shape. Pinch to seal the center. Go to one side of this seal and pleat the front-facing half of the dumpling wrapper towards the center. Make two more pleats like that working your way away from the center of the dumpling. Press and seal the corner. Go the other side of the sealed center and repeat, again pushing your pleats towards the center to form a crescent shape. ** Transfer the finished dumpling to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat until you run out of filling or dumpling skins.
- From here you can simply place the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze the dumplings for 30 minutes before transferring them to a freezer bag. Or you can heat a quarter-sized amount of neutral oil in a nonstick skillet and add the dumplings. Fry the dumplings until they turn lightly golden on the bottom, then throw a 1/4 cup of water into the pan and place a tight-fitting lid over top. Steam the dumplings until tender and hot all the way through. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the finished dumplings to a plate and serve with your favorite dipping sauce. I ate mine with black vinegar and sriracha.