This week marks the beginning of the Tết celebrations. A tradition of Tết is that you eat vegetarian (ăn chay) on the last day of the previous year and first day of Asian New Year, so I decided this week I will be sharing several vegetarian Vietnamese dishes with you until the celebration commences this weekend.
I haven't made wonton soup (canh hoành thánh in Vietnamese) in a while, which is a shame because it's not all that complicated. The filling consists of carrots, tofu, chestnuts, green onions, wood ear mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms. I also made a simple broth to let the flavorful vegetarian dumplings be the shining stars.
Servings: 6 servings
1 (1-pound) package round thin wonton wraps
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 fresh chestnuts (optional), boiled, shelled and coarsely chopped
½ (19-ounce) package firm tofu
2 cloves garlic, freshly grated
4 shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
8 wood ear mushrooms, finely chopped
½ carrot, peeled, boiled and diced
2½ teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
1½ teaspoons Chinese brown sugar (or granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons rock sugar (or granulated sugar)
2 Fuji apples, quartered
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Prepping the tofu: Cut the tofu into 1-inch slices. Heat the oil in a large, deep non-stick saucepan. Pan-fry the tofu until lightly golden, flip the tofu slices and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then finely cut into shreds. Set the tofu aside.
Making wonton filling: In the same saucepan, add more oil if necessary. Add the grated garlic; cook until fragrant. Add the chopped mushrooms and the green onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots. Season with brown sugar, mushroom seasoning salt and pepper. Allow to cool a little. Add cilantro and the chestnuts. Transfer to a bowl and let cool until you're ready to wrap.
Making the vegetarian broth: In the same saucepan, place the apples and add 2½ quarts of water. Bring to a boil and cook the apples for about 30 minutes until they're very soft. Regularly skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Add the rock sugar (the amount of sugar varies with the sweetness of the apples) and lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about 10 more minutes. Add the rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt and black pepper. Remove and discard the apples from the broth. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add a drizzle of sesame oil.
How to wrap wontons (this is one method; there are a dozen of other ways of forming these dumplings): Fill a small bowl with cold water. Moisten your finger with a little water, then holding a wonton wrap in the other hand, brush the edges of the wonton. Place about 2½ teaspoons of the wonton filling. Fold in half, forming a half moon. Lift the curvy side up, forming a little "cowboy hat", then moisten both ends and join them, pointing them down. Seal by pressing firmly. I made 34 dumpling with 1 pound of wonton wrap.
Assembly time: Bring the vegetarian broth back to a boil. Place 5-6 wontons at a time in the pot. Bring back to a full boil and cook for about 3-4 minutes until the wonton skin is just cooked through. Drain the wontons using a slotted spoon and immediately transfer to a bowl.
When you're ready to serve, bring the vegetable broth to a full boil again. Cover the wontons with the hot liquid.
Note: Count 5-6 dumplings per person.
Fresh chestnuts were available at my local market. They added natural sweetness and starchiness to the filling. You could omit them if you prefer.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the broth. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.
You can find wonton wraps in the fresh section of Asian stores and sometimes at the fresh aisle of many supermarkets such as Safeway. I buy mine at Ranch 99 market. My favorite brand is New Hong Kong Noodle Company (this same brand is also excellent for thin egg noodles).
If you're a vegetarian, infusing apples gives a natural sweetness that tastes similar to chicken broth. You can substitute 2 tablespoons of frozen apple juice concentrate for the fresh apples. When I make vegetable broth, I tend to use Fuji apples or Golden Delicious, which are some of the sweetest varieties.