Making a Dim Sum Feast, but Hold the Meat…
Dim sum is the traditional Chinese Sunday meal comprised of an endless array of small dishes that are brought around to each table. The dishes range from fried to steamed, sweet to savory, and are usually enjoyed with a big chatty group of friends or family, with everyone passing around the dishes to try and discussing the latest gossip. Its not unlike a Chinese tapas. The word Dim Sum has a couple different translations but I liked Wai’s interpretation the best, which was “a touch of the heart”.
I usually prefer the vegetarian dishes in this culinary feast so I was intrigued by Wai Hon Chu’s class on Vegetarian Dim Sum at the Natural Gourmet, offered this January.
Wai is the author of (The Dumpling Book ) and was originally born in Hong Kong. He came to the states young and was raised in Chinatown by a family who owned a restaurant in the heart of this bustling neighborhood. All of this to say, Wai has a lot of street cred in this Dim Sum arena. His expertise with the ingredients and the preparation came through clearly as he guided us through the recipes.
Here is the menu that we prepared together in the class:
Translucent Shiitake Mushroom and Cabbage Dumplings with Soy Vinegar Sauce
Sticky Rice Bundles Wrapped in Lotus Leaves
Savory Daikon Cakes with Caramelized Shallots and Wod Ear Mushrooms
Bean Curd Rolls Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots
Seitan Meatballs with Watercress
Almond Jelly with Fresh Fruit
As you can see, we had a very ambitious menu to get through and this kept the class moving at a good clip, and we all had lots to contribute. Wai started us all with a little introduction on basic knife skills so that none of us cut our digits off during the our prep work. We julianned, we diced, we minced…it was all great fun because we got to help build the dishes and taste the final results.
Many of the ingredients were exotic and unfamiliar to me (but not to many of my classmates who seemed to spend much more time in Chinatown than I do!) We worked with these beautiful fans of Lotus leaves, which we rehydrate and then we used them to create savory rice and vegetables bundles, tied with string. When they were steamed, the lotus leaves imparted a delicate tea-like flavor to the fillings, which made the original flavors more complex and delicious.
We also learned how to make a traditional dumpling dough out of wheat starch, tapioca starch, salt, hot water, and oil. This dough was easy to work with and had that pleasing almost gummy dumpling texture once steamed. I never knew what gave certain dum sum dumplings that unique texture, so that was a mystery solved for me. We all molded the dough, stuffed each with yummy filling and then steamed them. When they were done, we all dipped them in the soy-vinegar sauce and nibbled as we watch some of Wai’s further preparations.
Mushrooms figured prominently into the dishes we prepared and they all had their own unique flavors and textures. Without meat in the dishes, these mushrooms provided the satisfying umami flavor that we all crave, which is usually found in meat. We worked with dried and fresh shiitake, maitake, and wood ear mushroom (shown here).
One of the dishes we made was similar to a strudel-type thing but the wrapper was made of bean curd sheet. This shriveled sheet has a somewhat Star Wars-like quality to Western eyes and feels unlike anything other food substance I know. However, its neutrality enables it to be a great carrier for other flavors. It comes in very thin sheets that you rehydrate and stretch out and then fill with delicious things. We made a big roll with ours, filling it with wild mushrooms and bamboo shoots and painted the curd with a spiced soy sauce mixture as we rolled it so that the sauce’s flavor infused the roll and the ingredients. Once assembled, this roll is steamed until its cooked through and all the flavors have mingled. Its then cut into slices to be served.
Thankfully, Wai also provided us with an extensive list of where to gather all of these wonderful ingredients in Chinatown so we can recreate them at home. My mind is racing with all the dumpling combination I could create! We also got some of the best places to get authentic Dim Sum in Chinatown and Sunset Park so we can all get a sense of the many possibilities of dishes and flavors that can be created.