Dumplings

Dumplings are an ancient food. Historians believe that cavemen actually prepared some version. (Perhaps ground up dinosaur formed into a ball and dropped into boiling water, once they figured out how to create fire.) Filled dumplings probably developed centuries later, known as iiaozi, most likely about 2,000 years ago. Credit for their creation is given to a man named Zhang Zhongjian, a renowned doctor of herbal medicine during the Han Dynasty. Many poor people in his hometown suffered from the cold temperatures and had frost bitten ears. He made up big vats of boiled vegetable soup, added herbs, then dropped in dumplings and fed the concoction to the populace. (Surely this was the forerunner to chicken soup for colds and flu.) The dumplings were made from thin wheat sheets and chopped vegetables. The herbal soup was filling, soothing and helped unthaw the locals. They actually resembled the same shape and size you see today in Chinese restaurants.

Although they had been eaten for centuries in China, during the 13th century Turkish traders were introduced to manti dumplings in Mongolia. They resembled the traditional Chinese, a thin dough filled with meats and veggies then steamed, often served with garlic and yogurt, pickled cabbage or cucumber. The Turks took them back to the Middle East and from there they made their way to Western Europe, where each country created its own version. Italians first introduced the concept of dumplings with their light, potato-based gnocchi sometime in the 15th century. Sadly for explorer Marco Polo, who lived several hundred years earlier, he missed out on this glorious Italian specialty and had to limit his dumpling consumption to trips to China. (A long way to go for take-out.) Eventually tortellini and ravioli pasta were created, similar to the Chinese wonton.

India has many versions of dumplings, which vary by region and by traditional holidays and religious feasts. Africa as well features a multitude of types and cooking methods, from country to country. Spanish empanadas are a favorite in many South American countries, including Mexico and the Caribbean. They may be fried or steamed, with sweet or savory fillings. English and Irish usually drop them into stews. In Czech and other Slavic countries, bread dumplings are the most popular, which are made from a yeast dough, formed into one large dumpling resembling a football, and boiled until done. Light and delicious, they are served with gravy or sauerkraut. Fruit dumplings, a favorite dessert or light meal, are prepared by wrapping dough around a plum or apricot and boiling until done, then topped with melted butter, cinnamon, sugar and served hot.

For the Colonists, dumplings in some form were an easy way to stretch soups and stews. And there is some evidence that even the Native American Indians had some form prior to the Colonial settlements, probably made with corn meal. They could take just about any meat or vegetable, chop it up, wrap it in dough or some old bread and drop it into the boiling pot over the hearth. As thousands of ethnic immigrants poured into New York City, they brought their own traditional recipes and versions with them, turning the country’s melting pot into just that–filled with dumplings. In the Midwest and the South, where chickens were plentiful and Sunday dinner was a tradition, chicken and dumplings took center stage after a morning in church. This popular dish is still embraced and enjoyed by millions and is as traditional as apple pie, or make that apple dumplings. It is highly likely that foodie President Thomas Jefferson enjoyed Sunday dinners of chicken and dumplings at the White House as well as his home, Monticello.

Many restaurants and towns across the country celebrate Dumpling Week, and entire restaurants feature them in their name. (The Dumpling House is a popular eatery in Chicago’s suburbs where a large population of Slovak and German descendants reside.)

If there is one common food that unites the entire world, it’s got to be dumplings. So did the cavemen start the trend? Or was it the Chinese? You decide. The Japanese said it best: “Dumplings are better than flowers.”

Strawberry Fields Forever

Gathered in the woods by early colonists, foodie president Thomas Jefferson experimented with different varieties in his vast gardens as early as 1789, serving them up at grand dinners to the delight of his guests. His frustration was the small size at that time, still a strain of the Alpine variety which he brought home from France. Fortunately, horticulturists and growers continued to work on producing a larger size and of course were eventually successful.

But Americans are not the only country which cherishes this delightful red fruit. They are a tradition at England’s Wimbledon annual tennis tournament, served with cream. In Italy, strawberries are a favorite gelato flavor. The Greeks like to dip them in sugar, then roll them in brandy. Japan still experiments with dozens of varieties, which were originally very expensive and available only for royalty. During the 1930s, their production was increased dramatically, and they now rank as one of the top growers in the world.

Needless to say, America’s love affair with the strawberry is legendary, as we far surpass any other country in production and usage, cranking out 1.5 million tons a year, a third of the entire world’s production. Translating into just over 9 pounds per American in consumption, here’s what tops the U.S. hit parade:

  • Jam – America’s favorite flavor
  • Shortcake – with biscuits or sponge cake, topped with whipped cream, a classic
  • Pie – either fresh (with a sugar glaze) or baked, often with rhubarb
  • Ice cream – in popular Neapolitan (with chocolate and vanilla) or by itself
  • Yogurt – fruit on the bottom or blended
  • Smoothies – blended and flavorful
  • Pairs well with bananas
  • Fresh – by themselves, sliced and sugared or as a topping
  • Chocolate-covered – a candy and fruit in one
  • Sliced – on breakfast cereal and pancakes

Hardy and easy to grow, the plants also make an attractive ground cover, although local critters like to sneak into backyards and devour the fruit when the coast is clear. They also freeze well and can be enjoyed year-round.

If you are fortunate to live in a region where strawberries are grown, an enjoyable outing is visiting a “pick your own” field, even though it’s tiring under a hot sun and puts a strain on the back, worth doing once (and all you can eat in the process). So make it a point to pick up a quart or two on your next visit to the local supermarket or farmers market. The best ones are fresh, ripe and flavorful.

Tips On Cooking Tuna

Pan fried Tuna

This method is very simple and quick. In a very hot and lightly oiled pan seal a 175 g steak for a couple of minutes on either side, then take off the heat and rest. This will produce a cooking level similar to medium rare in a Beef steak. If you prefer then cook for a little longer. Serve on a something of your choice. Try a chilli flavoured salsa, or chunky mashed potato mixed with chopped olives.

An alternative Salad

Cut strips around 1cm square and 6cm long. You will need five per serving Quickly fry in sesame oil, to cooler on all sides, place on top of the seasoned salad. Prepare the salad with some imagination. Use a small handful of leaves, small tomatoes, French beans, artichoke hearts, boiled egg and stoned olives. By not including the traditional anchovy fillets and capers the salt level will be dramatically reduced. The Tuna may be replaced by other types of shellfish. Try thin strips of Squid or chunky Prawns stir fried with a Chilli sauce.

Cured and marinated loin of Tuna

This dish takes some preparing but is well worth the time. For a starter or light lunch for four people you will need 450 g of loin of skinned Tuna from the thinner tail end. The first stage will consist of tightly wrapping the fish in cling and freezing at minus 18 degrees Celsius for five days Since the fish served uncooked this first stage i.e. necessary to kill any possible parasites, which would normally be eradicated during the cooking process. Allow the fish to defrost in a fridge.. Cut matchstick pieces of fresh ginger and stuff them into the length of the fish. Either use a larding stick or create a whole with a bamboo kebab stick. Separate the sticks of ginger by about 1cm. Do the same with thin strips of tender lemon grass. Rub into the surfaces 25 g of salt and sugar. Place in a small container, cover with fresh fennel shoots and drizzle with a liquor of you choice. Cover and place in the fridge. Each day turn over and baste with the juices. After four days it will be ready to serve. Cut wafer thin slices and place on cold plates, serve with lemon wedges and whole meal bread.

Chicken on the Grill

There are many ways to prepare the chicken, but usually the chicken is marinated for at least two hours beforehand. The types of marinade vary from Asian styles to Indian styles and other styles as well. One of my favorites is satay chicken and the marinade recipe and the satay sauce recipe are shown below. Usually, I prefer to cook boned chicken thighs on the grill, rather than legs or wings. There is no problem cooking these pieces, only a personal preference.

Marinade for the satay chicken (for 600gm of chicken). Place this mixture with the strips of chicken that will be suitable for skewers into a sealed plastic bag into the refrigerator for up to five hours.

Two Tablespoons of thai chilli sauce

One tablespon of soy sauce

Two teaspoons of crushed garlic (fresh is best)

Two teaspoons of crushed ginger

Two tablespoons lemon juice (or lime juice)

Satay Sauce for basting. Basting is best done with a silicone basting brush (as it is heat resistant, and real easy to clean)

300 g of peanut butter (most of a small jar)

One 400 ml (or so) can of coconut milk

Two tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce (or more if a sharper taste is desired)

Two tablespoons of oyster sauce

Add sugar, if a sweeter taste is desired

A medium hot (oiled) grill will do the trick, if the chicken is turned every five to ten minutes, basting regularly depending how thick the chicken is. The process is much the same if the chicken is whole or on skewers, and allow about thirty minutes to cook the chicken thoroughly. Check the chicken by cutting the thickest piece to see if the flesh is all white (There should be no hint of red)

Serve hot with vegetables of choice, and add the sauce onto the chicken if there is any left!

Cook Salmon on a Grill Perfectly Every Time

First of all, you want to leave the skin on the salmon. This will help the salmon cook all the way through without charring the meat. Heat your grill to medium high heat.

The next thing you want to do is rub or brush the skin of the salmon with a bit of olive oil. This is one of the greatest tips on how to cook salmon.

The olive oil on the skin helps bring out the flavor of the meat. The small layer of fat on the skin also helps with flavor.

You can also season the salmon with your own personal seasonings if you choose. Some good seasonings for Salmon are lemon and pepper seasoning, garlic, and cayenne pepper.

It’s up to you on what kind of seasoning you want. You will place the salmon skin side down on the grill and cook for around five to seven minutes.

Check to make sure that no part of the salmon is cooking faster than another. If there are parts which are cooking faster, move the salmon to a cooler part of the grill.

Continue cooking for another five to seven minutes. It’s not hard to learn how to cook salmon if you remember to leave the skin on, and keep the grill closed while it’s cooking.

Also, you want to check and make sure the meat of the salmon is flaky and not heavy. Then, take the salmon from the grill and brush with butter and a bit of lemon juice. Yummy!