Wonton Celebration: Delicious dumplings are fun to make

To celebrate Lunar New Year, our family went to Uwajimaya Asian Market in Beaverton, Ore. We bought tea, mochi, matcha pudding and warm char siu bao (steamed buns filled with barbecued pork). We also sampled chicken wontons in a spicy chili oil sauce. They were delicious, like little meat clouds. In fact, wonton translates roughly to “swallowing a cloud.” Why, I wondered, had I never made my own wontons? Because making your own wontons is trouble and I don’t like to do hard things, that’s why. But sometimes the hard way is also the fun way.

I researched recipes for wonton filling and watched a few videos about the different ways to fold wontons, which can depend on whether they will be boiled or fried. Once I felt sufficiently informed (and my bar is pretty low on that count) I decided to make wonton soup.

First, I made the broth. Typically, broth for wonton soup is clear or nearly clear with a few simple flavorings. The broth is poured over the boiled wontons and blanched bok choy. However, there are as many wonton soup recipes as there are blades of grass in a meadow, so maybe it’s an oversimplification to say “typically” because there’s really no such thing. What I made is not authentic, if such a thing could even be decided upon, and is inspired by my own tastes and informed by my own experience making wonton soup exactly one time. That is to say, I’m not an authority, I am merely a wonton dilettante. I’m a wonettante.

I poured two boxes of chicken broth (although you can use pork or beef or vegetable broth, whatever goes with your wonton filling) into a large pot and added two diced scallions, a finely diced half onion, a half cup of shredded carrots, a carton of sliced button mushrooms, four minced garlic cloves and 1 heaping tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. (For my husband, that was definitely too much ginger. For me, it was pleasantly sinus-clearing.) I added a few dashes of soy sauce, ¼ teaspoon of white pepper and ¼ teaspoon of mushroom umami seasoning and salt to taste. I let it simmer on low while I turned my attention to the wontons.

I used a pound of ground chicken for the filling, but any combination of ground meats would work: pork, shrimp, turkey, beef, duck, crab or lobster. I don’t see why you couldn’t use elk, venison or salmon, if you wanted to make wontons with Northwest flair. I mixed the chicken with two finely minced garlic cloves, two finely diced scallions, and 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger. I added about 1 teaspoon of Sriracha, a few dashes of soy sauce, a dollop of hoisin sauce and a pinch of salt. I used my hands to smoosh everything together thoroughly. Some fillings also contain an egg for binder, a little sugar and finely chopped cabbage. (If you want to use cabbage, it should be salted beforehand to draw out the liquid.)

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