Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Age Wontons

The old school pork and shrimp wonton is a comfort food of my childhood. We would order them in soup with noodles, and they would be swimming around, all hard to pick up with chopsticks , and if you managed to finally spear one, you'd be rewarded with a velvety-smooth pasta-like dumpling stuffed with the classic Asian flavours. Ahhh the wonton.

These days, I don't indulge much in the classic wonton anymore; it's saved for special brunches and Chinese New Year festivals. And that's ok -- they're definitely worth the wait and absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially since they don't tend to sit well in my stomach. One of two will do, thank you very much.

But these new aged, caramalized onion and swiss chard wontons? I could eat these everyday. I originally saw these in my new favourite cooking magazine, Vegetarian Times and marvelled at how pretty they looked: they wonton skins turned kinda transparent when cooking and the ruby red chard stems could be seen on the inside. Totally zen-like and beautiful. But I forgot about them until I saw a dish of leftover caramlized onions in the fridge -- originally used as a gourmet topping for mini burgers at my birthday party.

The originally recipe calls for tofu in the filling, but I skipped that and added some chopped celery instead. I made the filling they day before when I had some free time, and the next day at supper time, all I had to do was package them up and boil them for just a minute. Obviously they would take longer if you were actually caramelizing your onions instead of cheating and using leftovers like I did, but I think the extra 20 minute is worth that deep rich, sweet flavour ... Although, I'm sure plain sauteed onions would be good as well. Which brings me to my other point. You could stuff anything into a wonton wrapper! Heidi at 101 Cookbooks put smashed split peas in hers. A curried lentil mixture with chard would be totally yummy too, as would the original tofu and mushroom. I'm totally making these again this week!

Caramelized Onion and Swiss Chard Wontons
makes may wontons ... enough for 2-3 hungry people

1 onion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper
about 3 large ruby red swiss chard stalks, stems finely diced, leaves cut into ribbons
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon of minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 tiny splash of toasted sesame seed oil
1 tiny splash of light soy sauce
a good grinding of black pepper
a package of wonton wrappers
a small dish of water

1. In a heavy-bottom skillet, heat some olive oil until it smokes. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook the onions, stirring constantly, and adding splashes of water if the brown bits start to build up on the bottom of the pan. Stir them up and keep on cooking for about 15-20 minutes, or until the onions are super soft and a deep brown colour. From the pan and set aside.

2. In a small sauce pan, cook the the celery, chard stems and ginger in some olive oil for about 5 minutes or until things start to get tender and fragrant. Add the cumin and black pepper and give it a good stir. Add the onions, chard leaves and mix together. If things look a bit dry, add a splash of water or broth. Cook until the chard leaves start to wilt.

3. Add the sesame oil and soy sauce and give it one final stir. Taste and adjust your seasonings. Remove the mixture to a bowl and let it cool, or store in the fridge until you want to use it.

4. To make the wontons, place the wonton wrapper flat on your cutting board. Put about 3/4 of a teaspoon of the cooled chard mixture in the centre. Dip your finger the dish of water and wet all four sides of the wrapper. Fold two opposite corners together to form a little triangle. Press down the sides to make sure it's sealed. Repeat!

5. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add your wontons in batches -- don't over crowd the pot. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the skins become soft and translucent. Remove with a slotted spoon. Serve right away, dipped in balsamic vinegar, with an extra splash of soy sauce, or add to a broth and noodle bowl.

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