In my family, the equivalent to "when I was young, I walked to school through three feet of snow .. uphill — both ways!" is the distance it used to take to buy cilantro (though we call it dhanya).

If you've ever cooked Indian food, you know how essential this herb is, and when my parents first moved to our small city in the very late 1970s, they had to drive 45 minutes to a larger city to buy it. Not from a supermarket, but from an Indian grocery that was long and narrow, with four rows of shelves forming two aisles, stacked to the ceiling. There my parents would get on burlap sacks of rice and bags of atta (a type of flour) that came up to my childhood-height waist, vegetables like okra and bitter gourd, spices and dried lentils of all colours. Sometimes they'd come home with samosas, a plastic-wrapped tray of neon jalebi or a mixed box of halwa, luddu, gulab jamun and other sweets.

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

These dumplings, kimchi-and-tofu filled mandu, aren't Indian, instead Korean (the kimchi might have been a giveaway), but I was reminded of those grocery trips when I was shopping for ingredients at one of the Asian markets in town. (The chain groceries here are now much more comprehensive, but I still go to the smaller shops when I can.) 

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

My husband taught English in Korea, and the foods he misses most are barbecue, "special toast" (Gaeran toast) and vegetarian mandu. The latter two refer specifically to those made by a woman who ran a stall on his block. The toast was her unique combination of cabbage, cheese, egg and ketchup, sandwiched between bread and fried in butter, and while I've tried to pin down an approximation, I've never come close. The mandu was special, too. Many mandu will have ground pork or beef, often with mung bean sprouts and kimchi. This lady made hers with bean thread noodles, no kimchi, and were served crisp, dunked into a fiery soy-based sauce.

Since I've failed with the toast, I thought I would take a different tack for the dumplings; aiming instead for mandu that were similar, but different enough to save from comparison.

In went kimchi. (I love kimchi.)

That kimchi, hot and nose-pricklingly perfect as it is, tinges everything else in my chosen filling — the aforementioned bean noodles, some enoki, crumbled tofu curd, green onion and garlic —- an unfortunate pink hue.

I'll be the first to say it, the filling doesn't look like much in the bowl. Give it a chance.These mandu are entirely about texture, not looks, plus the stuffing gets folded up and crimped in a cover, anyway.

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

Steamed or boiled, the dumpling wrapper has a bland, rubbery chew that gives way to an unexpected lightness within. The slick crunch of the kimchi and aromatic sting of the onion is mitigated by the spongy nubs of mushroom, while the tofu, wrung out of its moisture and mashed, is mild and balancing. The vermicelli is smooth and delicate, and the sesame oil adds a subtle, thrumming richness that runs through everything else. When fried, the contrast between exterior and interior is even more apparent.

The Asian market I went to the other day was just opening; one of the ladies who runs the shop was still pulling off the newspapers they use to cover the refrigerator cases at night. Below the dumpling wrappers there were trays of quail eggs, which were too cute to pass by. What's more, the combination of salt and chili and yolk isn't one to pass up either.

What I did pass up was a small rectangular tin, in between the boxes of Pocky and bottles of Kewpie mayo, shining blue and brass in an intricate pattern and the impressive label of Gourmet Powder. At the register I found out it was MSG. Still, I'm tempted to make another trip to pick it up, for the packaging alone.

After all, it's only 10 minutes away.

 

KIMCHI TOFU MANDU (Korean dumplings)

My own recipe. Vegan, though the eggs to serve are certainly not. Easily adapted for those who prefer gluten-free, in which case please see link below for homemade wrappers.

FOR THE DUMPLINGS (makes about 65)

  • 12 1/2 ounces / 350 g firm tofu
  • 8 ounces / 225 g cabbage kimchi
  • 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g bean thread noodles, prepared as per package
  • 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g enoki mushrooms, trimmed and blanched for 30 seconds
  • A small bunch green onions, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 pound round dumpling wrappers, conventional or gluten-free (link to recipe)

TO SERVE (enough for approximately 32, serving 4 to 6)

  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml tamari or soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon natural cane or golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • A good pinch gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes), optional
  • Pea shoots
  • Soft-boiled eggs, optional

METHOD

Pat the tofu dry. If it still feels wet, wrap in a clean, lint-free tea towel and place a cutting board on top to press out water. Let stand for a few minutes. In a large bowl, mash the tofu with the back of a fork. Squeeze excess liquid from kimchi, chop finely, and add to the bowl. Do the same with the noodles and mushrooms, and stir into the tofu kimchi mixture, along with the green onions, garlic, sesame oil and tamari. Taste for seasoning, adding more oil or tamari as needed; the mixture should be quite dry. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so to let the flavours develop.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with cornstarch. Lay a few dumpling wrappers out on a work surface, and cover the rest with a damp, lint-free tea towel to keep from drying. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the centre of each of the arranged wrappers, then use fingers or a brush dampen the edges with a bit of water. I find it easiest to lay each filled (but open) wrapper across my palm, forming the dumpling between my hands, that might not be the case for everyone. In hand or on the counter, fold each dumpling in half, pushing out all the air and pressing the edges together to seal. Wet the corners and bend inwards to bring them together, overlapping slightly. Pinch gently to secure. Place on the prepared sheet and cover with another piece of parchment. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. 

If not cooking right away, freeze the mandu on the baking sheet, making sure to leave some room in between. Once firm, transfer to an airtight container for storage. 

To cook, steam, boil in water or broth to make soup, sauté, shallow fry, or fry/steam for potstickers. (For specifics on potsticker technique, Heidi has instructions.) Since there is no raw meat involved, the filling simply needs to be warmed through and the wrappers cooked and tender, which should take only a few minutes.

When ready to serve make a sauce by combing tamari, water, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and gochugaru in a bowl. Arrange cooked mandu on a serving plate, surrounded by pea shoots or other greens, and eggs, if using. Drizzle with some of the sauce and divide the rest among smalls bowls for dipping. 

 

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A completely unrelated p.s. — Nikole wrote about a ice cream cake I made for a story we did with Michael for Kinfolk magazine last year. If you're interested in the mint-and-vanilla details, be sure to check it out. 

 

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I have a cardigan that's unmistakably ugly; the colour is drab and makes me look like I'm either coming down with a cold or getting over one. It was made for a tall man, which I am not, so the shoulders droop. On the left side, at my hip, above the pocket, there's a small hole, round and neat like you pushed a sharpened pencil through the wool. I've rolled the cuffs so many times that they're stretched out, and are beginning to ruffle at the edge. Still, the sweater is in my closet, because it is warm and comfy, and I like it. No matter its looks.

I feel very much the same way about panade. I'm a sucker for substance.

panade

A panade is like a savoury bread pudding, or the best parts of French onion soup and a gratin packed together in a casserole. There's bread and cheese and vegetables stacked up on top of each other, baked until the bottom goes lush and the top is crusted golden. A collection of humble ingredients — a fine use of those past their prime, actually — and one that lands up at an end far more auspicious then its start. It's made with stock rather than a custard to bind the layers, so even though rich and filling, the flavour of is clearer. There's acidity from the wine and tomatoes, the sharpness of sturdy greens, the pronounced, aromatic nuttiness of Gruyère; all together, yet each on their own. 

You may be familiar with the recipe for chard and onion panade from the Zuni Café cookbook; if not, you'll find it has a deservedly faithful following. This version adds tomatoes, and their inclusion made it perfect for our start to October, as the trees are starting their turn to technicolour but the days are warm enough that there are (crazy) folks wearing shorts and no coats. This panade is what we had one night when, if not for dinner, I was ready for the blanket we keep tucked by the couch. Hot and bubbling from the oven, we spooned our meal sloppily onto plates — though the crust shattered with an impressive shower of crumbs, underneath there were puddles of broth, and the oozing slip of melted cheese. The vegetables were supple but retained a messy integrity, if not their colour. We had fried eggs on top.

season's ending.
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It seems a counterintuitive to take vibrant tomatoes, minutes away from the end of their season, pile them with bouncily green bunches of rainbow chard and lacinato kale, and cook the lot of it to a muted sog, and yet, it makes absolute sense. The result is pretty much exactly what's going on outside right now, a season that blazes but feels cozy; one that's equal parts shining sky and colours turned up to eleven, as it is grey clouds and dim evenings, with the lights turned on early. 

Floppy sweaters and panades, both fit me fine.

TOMATO, GREENS AND GRUYÈRE PANADE

Adapted from Food and Wine. With two children at the table, I didn't let the panade bake too long uncovered, since when the crust goes terminally crunchy it can be difficult for small mouths to manage. If that's not a concern, feel free to fully blitz the top until crispy all over. 

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the pan
  • 5 pounds mixed sturdy greens, such as chards and kales, stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • One 1-pound, day-old peasant loaf, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 3 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick, see note
  • 8 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated, plus extra for garnish

Butter a 10x15-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C), with a rack in the upper third.

In a large, wide pot of boiling water, cook the greens for 2 minutes, then drain into a colander and run under cold water. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside.

In the same pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions have softened, around 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Raise the head to medium-high and pour in the wine; simmer until the wine has reduced to 1/4 cup, around 5 minutes. Stir in the greens and season with salt and pepper. 

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with one-third of the bread slices, overlapping and trimming the bread to fit. Layer half the tomatoes on top, and season with salt and pepper. Spread half the greens mixture on next, then half of the cheese. Repeat layers with the remaining ingredients, gently pressing down as you build, ending with the bread. Carefully pour the stock over the casserole and press down again, this time using a spatula. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and brush over all. 

Cover the dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the top is browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow the casserole to rest for 10 minutes before serving. At the table, sprinkle some reserved cheese on top, if desired.

Serves 8, nicely with a salad and/or a fried egg alongside.

Note:

  • I used a mix of tomatoes we had hanging about; if you don't have beefsteaks, semi-roasted Romas would be particularly fine, as done here
  • Fontina is a good switch for the Gruyère. 

*******

UPPERCASE 15!

From UPPERCASE magazine, issue #15: cooking science and a recipe for roasted carrots with rough dukkah, and one for harissa mayonnaise.

I am especially proud to be a contributor to UPPERCASE magazine, and I'm heartily thankful for support shown for my stories over there. To show that appreciation, I'd like to give away two copies of the latest, jaw-droppingly gorgeous issue! It even has a super-nifty embossed cover — you'll want to see this one in person. Simply leave a comment here if you'd like to be considered. (Please provide a way to contact you, either through your own website or email address. If concerned about privacy on the latter, the information is only visible to me when entered in the contact email field of the comment form. It will not be made public.)

Entries will be accepted until at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, October 12, 2012.

My continued thanks and best of luck! xo. 

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