If I ever get asked a generic question like, “What does it take to be a chef?” I’m going to say something like “the ability to improvise” and tell the story of today:
I arrived at the Pelham market this morning, several hundred recipe cards in hand, to make Zucchini & Summer Squash Primavera, a simple sauté with garlic, oil and fresh herbs. Except that there were no zucchini. Or summer squash. Lucky for me, “market basket” cookery is one of my favorites. Take a look around, see what you do have and come up with something on the fly. I carry a basic pantry with me, and had some leftover lemons and fresh ginger from Saturday. Under the farmer’s tent were a variety of beets, radishes, japanese turnips, corn, carrots, lots of colorful stuff, but I was seized by the number of different greens they had, and luckily there was a supermarket 500 feet away, so I trotted down to see what they had in the way of … I don’t know what I was looking for, although more than one person suggested I pick up some zucchini and summer squash.
What I found were wonton wrappers and yes I had just made pot stickers on Wednesday but that was in Croton. And I said then a million times that once you understand the technique you can fill them with anything. So I grabbed a couple packages or wrappers and ran back to my stove.
I know I said I’d give you a recipe, but if you were at the market today, you’ll remember I didn’t actually measure anything. This is a good plug for the trust-your-instincts school of cooking. Cooking isn’t the same as, say, baking, and therefore doesn’t require the precision of cup to teaspoon to dash ratios to make magic happen. Just a little hutzpah and showmanship and ALACAZAM! dinner is on the table.
Market Basket Greens Pot Stickers/A Lesson in Technique
How many people are you cooking for? Figure each person will eat 5 pot stickers, and each pot sticker gets about a tablespoon of filling.
2. Get your greens
Today, I used rainbow chard (for the colorful stems) and mizuna (because it looked good, sounds weird and I’d never cooked with it before). If your leaves are sandy, fill a large bowl with water and let the leaves soak for a few minutes. Then, without disturbing the bottom of the bowl, lift the leaves out leaving the grit behind. Repeat until there is no grit. Remove the stems of the rainbow chard and cut into small chunks, place in a bowl. Then, cut your chard and mizuna leaves into approximately 1″ squares. Precision is not important here, you just don’t want to pull long strands of greens out of your pot sticker while you’re trying to eat.
3. Cook your greens
Start with the stems. Heat a small amount of grapeseed oil in a large sauté pan until it is HOT. Add the stems, toss around a couple of times and remove to a clean, large bowl. Don’t over cook, the color begins to dull. Repeat with the leaves, possibly in batches, cooking until they are wilted and limp, but still bright green, bendy but not mushy.
Here’s where you can get creative. In the mood for Asian? Add some grated ginger, a swirl of sesame oil, a swirl of soy sauce and some sliced scallions. Greek? Crumble in some feta and chopped mint and/or dill. Italian? Oregano and parmesan cheese. American? Throw in some cheddar and a few dashes of tabasco.
5. Fill Your Dumpling
Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of your dumpling skin, moisten the edges with egg or water and fold in half. Press around the edges to seal tightly.
6. Cook Your Dumpling
Wipe any rogue greens out of your sauté pan, heat on HOT and swirl in enough grapeseed oil just to coat the bottom. When it is hot, put in your dumplings in a single layer and allow to sizzle. Again, you have a choice: to flip or to steam. Flipping will give you crispiness on both sides, but steaming gives you the drama of tossing some cold water into hot oil and a crispy and chewy dumpling. Totally up to you. To steam: Wait until the bottoms are golden around the edges, add enough water to coat the bottom (it sizzles and spits and steams, fear not!) cover and cook about 2 minutes, until the dumpling tops look chewy instead of raw.
7. Serve. Dipping sauce? Sure!
Asian: Equal parts soy sauce and sesame oil with some sliced chives or scallion
Greek: Grate 1 cucumber on a cheese grated and mix into 1 cup of full fat greek yogurt (no fillers or guar gum here!)
Italian: Warm, simple tomato sauce
American: Break out the blue cheese dip