Friday, May 29, 2009

Improvisation / New Discoveries

The other day I was sitting around the house, doing close to nothing when Matt called – Wanna go to Beaverton? Umm… Not exactly my destination of choice, but I had nothing better to do and I hadn’t left the house yet that day, so I decided to tag along. Our mission? Travel agent. Matt is leaving for Russia in about a month to do some work for a professor, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, Reed employs this company’s services even though it is a solid 45 minutes from campus.

Anyhow, the travel thing – not so important here.

When we pulled into the parking lot, I gasped and broke out into a big smile. There it was – a giant Asian grocery store. Called Uwajimaya, this store totally kicks Fubon’s ass. Not only is it actually organized, but it is cleaner, stocks a more succinctly navigatable selection of products, and it has an awesome produce section – shiny even.

I wandered the aisles for a bit before picking up some rice stick, wonton wrappers, and four cute Indian eggplants, thinking all the while about that night’s dinner. Eggplant dumplings? Rice noodle soup with the chicken stock I had sitting on the stove back home? Stir-fry? Ideas, ideas.

On the way back home, we decided to stop at Otto’s for some sausage (they sell a couple varieties in bulk – no casings – that are cheap and tasty). I grabbed ½ pound of the plain pork and headed to the kitchen.

When I base meals around spontaneously purchased ingredients, I usually improvise as I go. Sometimes it works out, sometimes … not so much. Tonight, I had dumplings on the brain. I hadn’t made dumplings since my short stint at the Oregon Country Fair a couple summers back, but I have a pretty good memory, so I went with it. I threw the eggplants in the oven to roast, browned the sausage to render the fat, and then fried a bit of shallots, garlic, and ginger. At the same time, I boiled some water for the rice stick and cut up my giant head of broccoli into slivers. These got a quick stir fry in soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, and siracha. In went the noodles.

Matt came in to help with the dumplings. I get a real sense of joy when faced with such tactile tasks as filling and folding dumplings. It’s the gummy sensation on your hands as you smear water onto the wrappers, the oozing of the filling between your fingers as you mold it into a ball, and the sense of creative accomplishment when you manage to stretch the dough correctly to form a solid seal. The filled dumplings then feel heavy and plump, filled almost to bursting capacity in the palms of your hands when you move them from the counter to the steamer. Not to mention the anticipation that forms in your belly throughout the process.

After a quick steam, I served the dumplings alongside the broccoli-noodle stir-fry, with extra fish sauce for me and siracha for Matt.

Oh yum.

Improvised Eggplant and Sausage Dumplings

(serves two)

4 Indian eggplants, or two Japanese eggplants, or, if you must, one small American eggplant (vastly inferior if you ask me)
¼ pound pork sausage
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
about 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
a tablespoon or so chopped fresh basil
Wonton wrappers

Prick the eggplants with a toothpick and roast them in a 375°-400°-ish oven until they are cooked through and the skins are beginning to blacken.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a skillet over medium heat until browned and some of the fat has rendered. Set aside in a paper-towel lined bowl to drain. Reserve some of the fat (however much you want, I suppose. I used a nonstick skillet, so I didn’t need much). Cook the shallot in the same pan with a pinch of salt, again over medium heat (5 minutes or so), until translucent, and then add the garlic and ginger until fragrant (about a minute). Remove from heat until the eggplants are done cooking.

Once the eggplants are fully roasted, remove the skins (carefully – they’re hot!) and chop up the flesh. Add this back into the skillet along with the sausage and cook for about a minute, until the flavors have melded. Season to taste. Remove from heat and add the basil.

To assemble the dumplings, clean off a counter (this is an issue at my house, but it might not be at yours) and fill a small bowl with water. Place one wrapper on the counter, dip your fingertips in the water, and lightly wet the edges. Mound about a tablespoon of filling in the center of the wrapper (the more ball shaped you can make this, the easier the wonton will seal). Fold two opposite corners together and pinch all the edges together. You can get fancy here and attempt pleats or pointy folds, but the most important part is a solid seal on the edges.

Place a steamer basket in a pot filled with about an inch of water (just make sure that the water doesn’t come up to the level of the basket) and bring it to a simmer. Add as many dumplings as fit, but make sure that they don’t touch. Cover the pot and steam for 3-5 minutes, or until the wrapper is no longer gummy.

Serve with your sauce of choice and noodles, stir-fry, or some other improvised dish.

And if you have any left over sausage, as I did, mix it in with leftover noodles and more siracha for the Matt Special:

(I think my bowl is more appealing...)


  1. Dude Uwajimaya is awesome. The sushi place that's semi-connected to it is really good, too.

  2. I'll have to try it. I applied for a job in Beaverton, so if I get it I'll probably go more.