The road to 酸辣抄手 (suanla chaoshou) this week was an odd one. I’m finally starting to feel better after two weeks of being sick, and it was apparently time for some cooking therapy. After a week of craving anything 麻辣 (mala, numbing spiciness), I finally got around to making my own 麻辣油 (mala you). Mala you is a flavored oil that is herbal, spicy, and numbing all at the same time. There were no visions of any kind of dumpling in my mind at the time, but you know how things go.
Characteristically bright red and spicy, it’s made by infusing oil with a variety of spices. I pretty much went by the Wikipedia list: “The sauce is made primarily of dried chili peppers, chili powder, douban paste, Sichuan peppercorns, clove, garlic, star anise, black cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, salt and sugar. These ingredients are simmered with beef tallow and vegetable oil and for many hours, and packed into a jar.” I packed all the herbs and spices into a crockpot with canola oil. It took a lot of most of the spices to make and at first I definitely added too much garlic, making it kind of funky tasting. It took a while to get the balance right; I had to taste the oil every hour or so and add whatever seemed to be missing. I think it would be hard if you hadn’t tasted mala you before to know what I mean. The crockpot definitely worked nicely, though, for infusing the oil without a big mess.
Actually the funny thing is that after I put everything in the crockpot, I realized I didn’t have douban paste or black cardamom, so I had to trek through the rain on a fall morning to the Vietnamese market downtown. After slowly bumping through throngs of people down the crowded aisles of the market (at 10 am nonetheless!) and awkwardly ramming into the counter with my shopping basket like a good klutzy geek, not only did I return with doubon paste and cardamom, but also dumpling skins. Gosh, I’m such a sucker for anything that is a dumpling or a pickle. Well, I thought they were dumpling skins…until I realized they were actually wonton skins (square instead of circular).
After letting my mala you stew for about 6 hours in the crockpot, tasting it frequently until the balance was right, I strained it through cheesecloth. Later that night, I somehow got inspired to try to make dumplings with the wonton skins. At 9:30 pm. Gosh I’m weird. They definitely didn’t work for dumplings, so I gave up and made wontons until 11 pm or so. But then it all ended up coalescing nicely, because I could use the mala you on the wontons…thus making them 酸辣抄手 (suanla chaoshou, a type of dumpling with sauce from Sichuan Provence said to resemble folded hands). Voila!
My wontons, however, were vegetarian and uncharacteristically extremely flavorful. Here’s the recipe-ish, off the top of my head, with approximations. You can use them for the hot and sour dumpling recipe from Sichuan or put them in wonton soup.
- 1 package of wonton skins, medium thickness
- 1 1/2 cups of lotus root coins
- 5 green onions, washed with bottoms removed
- 4 reconstituted shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 cup reconstituted cloud ear/wood ear mushrooms
- 2 peeled cloves of garlic
- 2 coins of fresh ginger
- 1 small carrot
- 1 tbsp douban paste (hot bean sauce)
- 1/2 block of tofu
- 2/3 cup dry textured vegetable protein (helps bind it together and gives it a more appealing texture)
- 1 tbsp five spice powder
- soy sauce to taste
Combine the garlic, green onion, lotus root, ginger, carrot, and mushrooms in the food processor and chop until very fine (or chop finely by hand). Then add the tofu and textured vegetable protein, douban paste, a bit of soy sauce, and five spice powder and chop it all up until the tofu is no longer in big chunks. Mix with a spoon as necessary to make sure everything is evenly distributed.
Take a wonton skin out of the package and lay it flat on your hand. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle. Put water around the edges and fold wonton style (here’s a video that helped me). Repeat until all filling is used up. Should make anywhere from 40-60 wontons. You can freeze them, but they do tend to stick together.
To serve them suanla (hot and sour) style, mix vegetable broth and black Chinese vinegar (50/50 ratio), a few spoonfulls of mala you (spicy oil), a spoonful of douban paste, and a bit of soy sauce and set that aside. Steam as many wontons as you intend to eat in one sitting. (I just put a bit of water in a frying pan, add the wontons, then cover it with a lid and let it cook for 5 minutes or so until the skins are slightly transparent.) Place the steamed wontons in a bowl, dump the sauce over it, garnish with whatever you want (cilantro, green onion, more hot peppers or sichuan peppercorn powder if you’re masochistic).
These are so tasty on a cold rainy day. And now I have copious amounts of mala you to make everything from dandan mian to hot pot. Hooray!