Macaroni and Cheese My Way

You caught me. I used leftover holiday ham instead of Spam to make this dish.

People either recoil in terror or express intrigue when I tell them about one of my favorite comfort foods—Spam mac and cheese. Yes, you read right: Spam–aka luncheon meat–that processed and prepackaged meat product (I daren’t call it real meat!) in a can. Growing up in Asia, Spam was called luncheon meat and branded Ma Ling (which I recently discovered was banned in Singapore in 2007 for containing nitrofurans, an antibiotic for pigs. Whoa. Click here and here for two interesting articles).

Technically, the dish is called macaroni schoetel, a Dutch-inspired dish that has become a staple in the Indonesian culinary landscape. For some people, pronouncing “schoetel” (scott-tle) might be more of a challenge than the thought of eating Spam. If you’re a stickler for details, I admit it’s more of a macaroni casserole because unlike American mac and cheeses, it contains egg, and the minimal amount of cheese may offend the mac and cheese connoisseur. Regardless, it’s a hit with children (and some adults :)).

If you really don’t like Spam, alternatives abound in sausage, ham, chicken or corned beef.

Macaroni Schoetel


I’ve had versions of this dish that are baked until the egg binds the macaroni together firmly so that it can be cut into slices and eaten as finger food—great for picnics or as a party appetizer. I like mine still mushy and served on a plate. Use 6 eggs and bake for an hour if you prefer firmer macaroni schoetel. Of course, the peas are my doing to make it seem “healthier.”

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (30 minutes active)
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Half pound shell or farfalle pasta (or any small pasta shape of your choice)
¼ cup (1/2 stick), plus 1 tablespoon butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
8 ounces luncheon meat, ham, or cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
3 cups shredded Gouda or Edam cheese (about 8 ounces)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook the pasta according to package directions with 1 tablespoon of butter. Drain and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until pasty and light golden. Pour in the milk, and stir until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble, about 2 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta, luncheon meat, green peas and cheese, and mix well. Stir in the sugar, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, keeping in mind that the cheese is already salty.

Turn off the heat and stir in the eggs until well blended.

Transfer the pasta into a greased 2-½ quart dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown on top.


Rediscovering Luffa Squash


Luffa squash lying elegantly on my dining table

Our taste buds are the most effective memory keepers of all.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my favorite Hmong farmer, Moua, about the assortment of Asian vegetables he grows and sells. He drew out an elongated green specimen which could have come straight out of a Star Trek episode. The curved gourd has a matt green skin with ridges running down the length of it. “It’s called sing gua,” explained Moua. “Stir fry with pork, garlic and lemongrass .”

Moua and Mary

Moua and his daughter Mary at the Pacific Grove Certified Farmers’ Market

I happily took one home with me to experiment.

Once in the comfort of my own kitchen, I looked up sing gua in Sara Deseran’s “Asian Vegetables.” This odd vegetable is also called luffa squash, Chinese okra and sponge gourd (for good reason!).


If anyone tells you you don’t have to peel the skin, don’t believe them.

To peel the luffa squash, I trimmed the ends and cut it in half. Standing the flat sides of each half on the cutting board, I peeled the bitter skin completely to reveal the pale green flesh. I then cut it crosswise into 1-inch coins.


Peeled and sliced luffa, kinda looks like honeydew melon!

While a luffa has seeds, they are edible and don’t need to be removed. And like a sponge, it will soak up whatever flavors you pair it with.

Anyway I stir fried the luffa as instructed by Moua and sat down to eat. I popped a spoonful of luffa with rice into my mouth and started chewing. As I chomped down on its supple texture, savoring its sweet flavor paired with fish sauce and lemongrass, visions of a childhood dish comprising slices of a soft green vegetable, carrots and cellophane noodles played themselves out in front of my eyes in a wave of nostalgia.

OMG, I know this vegetable!

A quick phone call to my mum revealed this vegetable to be oyong in Indonesian and she furnished me with a recipe.

Funny enough, this childhood dish has been on my radar for the last couple of weeks since I’ve been compiling a list of my favorite recipes for a new book proposal.

The world works in mysterious ways. The stars align. Serendipitous things happen.

Stir-fried Luffa Squash with Pork and Carrots

stir-fried luffa

Luffa is delicious in stir-fries, soaking up the flavors of whatever seasoning or meat/ seafood (it tastes great with squid and shrimp) you pair it with. Try it in curries or soups as well.Some people like it raw too! Ever adventurous, I picked up some burgundy carrots at the farmers’ market which stained the cellophane noodles a purplish hue. Heh.


A burgundy carrot is beautiful to behold but watch out–the color bleeds!

Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 2 servings over rice as a main course

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
I clove garlic, chopped
1 Asian shallot, sliced
4 ounces pork shoulder or loin, sliced into bite-sized pieces (or chopped raw shrimp)
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly on the diagonal
2 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water and drained
1 small luffa squash (8 ounces)
Water or stock
2 teaspoons fish sauce
Salt and white pepper

In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until runny and ripply. Stir in the garlic and shallot and fry until fragrant, about 30 to 45 seconds.

Add the carrot and toss for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the pork and toss until the meat loses its blush, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Add the luffa and mix well. Add the cellophane noodles followed by 2/3 cup water. Add fish sauce, salt and pepper to taste and mix well.

Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. The dish is done when the cellophane noodles are completely transparent, the carrots are soft, and the liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup, 2 to 3 minutes. The dish should be rather soupy but use your discretion and reduce the liquid further or add more water.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

In the Kitchen With Mum and Popo

In this installment, Audrey Low contributes a little snippet that reflects on the kitchen chores she had as a child, plus a whimisical look at an old wives’ tale . Of Malaysian-Chinese descent, Audrey is an anthropologist living in Australia. Her blog: combines her love of Asian art, food, travel, and writing, blending her personal journey with people’s stories and her research.

If you would like to guest blog about cooking with a special woman in your life, please email me at

In the Kitchen with Mum and Popo
By Audrey Low

Audrey and mum

Audrey and her mum, Judy Low, at graduation

Choy keok, a Hakka hot and sour soup, is a dish my mother learned to cook when she was a child from her nyonya grand-aunt. Imagining my mother as a child reminded me of learning to cook with her.

My mum cooks in silence; it’s like meditation for her. I remember my dad urging me to go into the kitchen to learn how to cook, but she would never say anything except, perhaps, the occasional instructions to get some ingredients: “Take the blunt knife and cut some serai (lemongrass) from the garden,” or “Pluck some curry leaves/fresh limes/chilies.” Mostly, I learned through observation.

There were many chores for kids around the kitchen. I, like Pat, had the interminable chore of breaking the ends off every single bean sprout. I too could never understand why it was necessary, and no amount of reasoning could get me out of that chore.

Pounding chili in the heavy stone mortar and pestle was another favorite job to give kids. And when I was doing the task, I would inevitably get a speck of chili in my eye. My grandmother’s solution was to pour cold water on my feet. Admittedly, it’s a far more elegant method than simultaneously hopping around in agony, rubbing one eye and splashing water on my face, which I did repeatedly.

However, after trying her way a couple of times unsuccessfully, I gave it up. But I’m pretty sure my grandmother still swears by the method to this very day.

Mum’s Choy Keok

Photo and recipe courtesy of Audrey Low

For this soup, mustard cabbage is not interchangeable with other leafy greens — it’s the only vegetable that will not fall apart in this robust soup. You can buy roast pork from a Chinese restaurant or deli or make it yourself with this recipe. Please visit Papaya Tree Limited for more stories and photos!

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
Time: 20 minutes plus simmering time

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
20 slices assam keping or assam gelugor (sometimes mistakenly called dried tamarind), or 3 heaping tablespoons tamarind paste
8 cloves garlic, smashed
5 dried whole chilies
3 fresh red Thai chilies, sliced
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 to 2 pounds roast pork (or any other roast meat like duck and chicken)
2 (12 ounce) bunches mustard cabbage (gai choy), cut into thirds
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a big stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the assam keping, dried and fresh chilies (add more to taste, if desired), ginger, and garlic and stir until fragrant.

Add the roast pork and mustard cabbage. Add the sugar, salt and enough water to cover the ingredients. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the mustard cabbage is soft. Serve with rice.

As grandma always says, please share!

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Washing Rice/part deux

In response to my previous post, Marisha asked, “What is the effect of washing rice (besides cleaning it from dust)?” and “Do you know something about it from Japanese tradition?”

I have posed this question to several people from different ethnic backgrounds and it turns out that every answer is almost identical. In developing countries and in times past, rice was adulterated and contained dust, talc, bugs and other impurities that the act of washing removed. This habit has somehow stayed with us even in modern times and even though the FDA ensures that the rice we buy in the U.S. is perfectly safe to consume without repeated washing.

As it so happens, I was reading Linda Furiya’s latest book How to Cook a Dragon: Living, Loving, and Eating in China (Seal Press, January 1, 2009). It’s a candidly told food memoir detailing her years living abroad as an expat in China, punctuated with food and cooking of course,  as well as a tale of self-discovery. In one chapter, she vividly describes the soothing experience of watching her mom wash rice.

So to answer Marisha’s second question, I asked Linda if she remembers any Japanese rice traditions when she was growing up. Linda told me that her mom grew up in pre-World War II Japan eating brown rice, which was associated with poverty. Not surprisingly, Linda didn’t eat brown rice growing up and had her first taste in her 20’s.

Both her parents always washed their rice before cooking it. “I remember my dad took pride in washing the rice and having the water in the bowl run clear before my mom!” she says with a laugh.

Here is an excerpt from Linda’s book available from


Mom decided to make ochazuke (rice soaked with tea) for supper for the two of us. It was one of my favorite childhood comfort foods-homey, simple, and uniquely Japanese. She used to make it at times like these, evenings when Dad took Keven and Alvin to a baseball game, or after my older brothers moved out and my mom and I were often alone at dinnertime.

I watched silently as she rinsed the rice. I took comfort in the familiarity of her movements, as I had watched her go through this ritual hundreds of times before. She swirled the rice with her hand in a whirlpool motion, producing a pleasant swish sound as the grains hit the rice cooker’s metal bowl. I could have gone off somewhere in the house and done something else, but there was an unsettled feeling between us that I hoped we could resolve.

As she set up the rice cooker, Mom asked me to get the tall canister of green tea from the cabinet. I saw containers there that I hadn’t seen in years. There were Howard Johnson and Holiday Inn plastic ice buckets holding open sacks of confectioner’s sugar, brown sugar, and gravy flour. In the drawers were ashtrays used to store rubber bands and twist ties. As survivors of the Depression, and having experienced great loss in their lives, my parents kept and recycled everything. My mother always surprised me by wearing my old clothes that I had long forgotten, including the sweater she’d had on when I arrived for this visit.

We had some time before the rice would be done, so we went into the living room with our cups of hot tea. Usually Mom turned on the television to watch CNN, but she didn’t reach for the remote control. Instead she pulled a package of osembe (rice crackers) from the bottom shelf of her china cabinet. Each golden-brown disk, shiny with a soy sauce glaze, was individually wrapped to retain its freshness. The crackers were mouthwatering and crunchy, delicious with the green tea. We munched in silence.

Excerpted from How To Cook a Dragon: Living, Loving, and Eating in China, by Linda Furiya. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright (c) (2009)

Linda’s Recipe for Ochazuke


Ochazuke means “tea and pickles,” but as long as you include the bonito flakes, rice crackers, nori, and pickles, you’ll create the essential seasoning base. The Japanese tea is a key ingredient, not an option. Linda prefers hoji-cha or genmaicha. If you want to make more of a meal, you can add cooked egg, scrambled with a drop or two of soy sauce and mirin (seasoned rice wine).

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

4 cups cooked rice (fresh or leftover)
6 cups hot green tea
1/4 cup bonito flakes
1/2 cup arare (rice cracker pellets) or crumbled rice crackers
1/2 cup nori (cut into 2 x 1/4-inch strips or purchased preshredded)
4 pickled plums
1/4 cup chopped takuen (pickled daikon)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
2 cups bean sprouts
Wasabi to taste
Leftover salmon (cut into small bits) or beef (sliced thin)

Divide the cooked rice among 4 bowls. Arrange the assortment of toppings in individual bowls. Create your own flavors by adding the toppings and seasonings to your liking. Pour hot tea over rice and toppings, enough to cover the rice. Allow the rice and tea to sit for about a minute so that the flavors will meld (and will warm up the rice if it has been refrigerated).

Pat’s notes:

I used furikake, a Japanese condiment typically comprising sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, salt. Look for a brand that doesn’t contain monosodium glutamate.











As grandma always says, please share!

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Vietnam’s Other Noodle Dish

three bowls of bun rieu_small by you.

Phở may be Vietnam’s most famous noodle export but ask many a Vietnamese and they’ll tell you that bún riêu cua, a tangy crab- and tomato-based noodle soup, is the dish that evokes grandma’s homecooking.

Ironically, my first taste of bún riêu cua was at a restaurant in Seattle. I was having lunch with my friend Carol and as we perused the menu together she expressed surprise to find it on the menu. “It’s Vietnamese comfort food for me,” she said, explaining that the dish was a staple at home when she was growing up. Her mom would make a huge pot of it in the morning and they’d have it for lunch and dinner!

I smiled as I slapped the menu shut. My mind was made up.

In no time, a big steaming bowl arrived: The reddish broth was thick and tomatoey and chock full of crab bits. I tore up mint and Thai basil leaves and scattered the strips all over, then squirted some lime juice. As I slurped up the rice noodles, I was as happy as a clam. 

Being the nosy food writer I am, I asked Carol if her mom would show me how to cook the dish.

A couple of Sundays later, I was at Carol’s mom, Thanh Nguyen’s, watching her go through the motions.

When we finally sat down to eat and I sipped the soup, I knew it couldn’t get any better than this. My second experience far exceeded the former. On that rainy spring afternoon, a bowl of bún riêu cua was all the comfort I needed.

Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup (Bún Riêu Cua)

bowl of bun rieu_small by you.

In Vietnam, mud crabs (a type of soft-shell crab) are often caught in rice paddy fields for this dish. To extract the crab “juice” essential to this dish, their top shells are removed and pounded with some salt. Water is then added, and the resulting liquid strained through a sieve. Thanh Nguyen proposes a more modern method–whirling the crabs in a blender and then straining. You can find frozen soft shell crabs at the Asian market, or use Dungeness or blue crab meat instead.

Time: 1 hour
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

10 cups water
1 1/2 pounds pork spare ribs, cut into individual 1-inch pieces (available at Asian butchers)
1 cup dried shrimp, rinsed and ground to a coarse powder in a food processor
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, cut into thin slices
1 teaspoon ground paprika
4 tomatoes, each cut into 4 wedges then halved crosswise (3 red and one green for crispness)
1/2 pound (1 whole) soft-shell crab, or lump crab meat
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
4 eggs
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 cup (half a 7-ounce bottle) shrimp paste in soybean oil (see notes below)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
1 pound thin round rice noodles (bún) or rice vermicelli, cooked according to package directions

2 cups (6 ounces) fresh mung bean sprouts
1 cup shredded cabbage or lettuce
1 cup cilantro sprigs
1 cup Vietnamese balm leaves (kinh gioi)
1 cup spearmint leaves
1 jalapeño, cut into rings
Chopped green onions
3 limes, cut into wedges

In a large stockpot, bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat with the pork ribs and dried shrimp. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the garlic and fry until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Add the paprika and stir for another 10 seconds. Turn off the heat and add everything to the stockpot.

In the same skillet, stir and cook the tomatoes in the remaining oil over medium heat for 1 minute and add to the stockpot.


In a blender, blend the crab, shells and all, with 1 1/2 cups water for about 15 to 20 seconds until the shells are crushed and the meat is pureed. Strain the juice and add to the stockpot. Add 1 more cup of water to the blender and pulse 2 to 3 times to absorb any remaining flavor. Strain and pour the liquid into the stockpot. Discard the shells and meat. (If using only crab meat, you can add the meat to the soup if desired but be sure to pick out any cartilage.)

crab waste

Throw out the crab remnants

Mix the tamarind paste with 1/2 cup of warm water and add to the stock.


In a medium bowl, mix the eggs and ground pork with chopsticks or a fork until well combined. Stir in the shrimp paste and mix well. Slowly add the egg and pork mixture to the soup. Do not stir, allowing the meat to cook in clusters for about 8 to 10 minutes.


Sprinkle with fish sauce and salt and stir gently so that the meat clusters remain intact.

preparing bun rieu_small

Divide the cooked rice noodles among individual bowls. Garnish as desired. Pour 2 cups of hot soup over each bowl of noodles, including one or two pork ribs and some pork clusters.

Pat’s notes:
Shrimp paste in soybean oil is a bottled sauce comprising shrimp, garlic, white pepper, soybean oil, and fish sauce. A staple of Southern Thailand, it can be added to fried rice, noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and seafood dishes. Store up to 6 months refrigerated once opened. Thanh Nguyen uses Pantainorasingh brand available at

Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi) has a concentrated fragrance and flavor akin to that of lemon balm. The slender serrated leaves have a lavender center. Sold in small plastic bags, they will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.

Bibimbap Starring Oyster Kimchi

For everyone who has been waiting with bated breath for the oyster kimchi recipe, here it is! Enjoy it alone or in bibimbap.

Korean Mixed Rice (Bibimbap)

This homestyle Korean dish literally means to stir (bibim) cooked rice (bap). There are two different ways to serve bibimbap. In restaurants, bibimbap is sometimes served in a dolsot or stone bowl heated over a burner so that a layer of crispy, burnt rice forms at the bottom. Yangja Im makes a simpler version topped with any vegetable panchan (side dishes) she may have on hand and eats it warm or at room temperature. You can use just about any meat or vegetable dish: everything from kimchi, namul (try Yangja’s hobak namul recipe), steamed vegetables, deep fried tofu, or even gyoza and japchae (cellophane noodles). It’s a great way to use up the leftovers and with the numerous combinations you’ll never make it the same way twice.

Time: 5 minutes
Makes: 1 serving

1 1/2 cups cooked Japanese rice
1/4 cup kimchi
1/4 cup oyster kimchi
1/4 cup soybean sprout salad
1 fried egg cooked over easy
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Korean red pepper paste (kochujang), or to taste

Scoop rice into a big, wide bowl.

Arrange vegetables in neat piles on top of rice. Top with a fried egg and spoon sesame oil and red pepper paste over.

Mix well and enjoy!

Spicy Korean Oyster Salad (Kul Kimchi)

A kimchi is being invented as we speak. Yes, they are that prolific and every Korean cook has their own version. Jean Lee’s uses freshly-shucked oysters and romaine lettuce. You can buy oysters from your favorite fishmonger or in quart-sized jars at supermarkets. The romaine lettuce leaves may seem large, even after cutting, but they will wilt and shrink to about 4 to 5 inches. This dish will keep for about 2 to 3 days, depending on freshness of oysters. It should be refrigerated any time it’s not being immediately served.

Time: 20 minutes plus marinating time
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as a side dish

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup Korean chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 5 to 6 cloves)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
2 heads romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise (for particularly large leaves, halve crosswise as well)
5 green onions, cut into thin rings
1/2 red pepper, cut into thin rings
3 cups freshly-shucked raw oysters, rinsed in salt water to remove any grit, and drained

In a large non-reactive bowl, combine brown sugar, chili pepper flakes, garlic, fish sauce, rice vinegar and mix well. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and mix to form a coarse paste.

Add lettuce, green onions, and red pepper to the chili mixture in the bowl and toss until leaves are well-coated. Add oysters and mix gently. Let kimchi sit for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight.

Just before serving, stir the kimchi. Serve with steamed short-grain (Japanese) rice and a main dish like kalbi or in bibimbap.

Pat’s notes:
If you don’t have a bowl big enough to contain all the ingredients, divide ingredients equally into two of your biggest bowls. As the lettuce shrinks, combine everything in one bowl and mix well to combine.


Eating Silver and Gold–Chinese New Year Dumplings

There is a popular Chinese saying: “There is nothing more delicious than jiaozi.” Such an accolade no doubt points to the popularity of the simple Chinese dumpling. (Chinese dumplings come in many shapes and sizes but the most common are jiaozi and guotieh. They’re essentially the same dumpling– the only difference is how they’re cooked. See headnote below.)

No one can trace the origins of the dumpling definitively but it’s been around for over 2,500 years. Its evolution may have started when people living in the vicinity of the Yellow River learned to grind wheat into flour, and it became even more widespread when an official decree during the Han Dynasty produced a food item filled with mutton, chilies and medicinal herbs to help the poor get through the cold winter. Today, Chinese dumplings all over the world seem to adhere to one common denominator–a soft, pillowy pouch filled with pork and cabbage.

Chinese dumplings are a must for Chinese (or Lunar) New Year. The Year of the Rat (starting February 7th) is almost upon us and Chinese households across the globe will be making dumplings on New Year’s eve. Like all the foods and dishes eaten during the New Year, dumplings are full of symbolism. Thanks to their resemblance to shoe-shaped gold or silver ingots, they are believed to bring fortune and good luck. SILVER + GOLD = MONEY = PROSPERITY = WEALTH.

In northern China, families usually chop the meat and prepare the filling themselves. This symbolizes the chopping out of bad luck. Dumplings have always been regarded as some of the best food one can eat, so enjoying it at the intersect between the old and new years brings the past to a close and ushers in good luck for the coming year.

Generally, the dumplings are prepared before midnight on the last day of the previous year, a tradition Ellen Chou remembers well. “On New Year’s eve, you have the big feast. Then the women in the family prepare dumplings for New Year’s day breakfast.”

Born in 1942 in China’s Hubei province, Ellen fled to Taiwan with her family when the communists took over in 1948.

As a young girl, Ellen didn’t learn to cook. “My mom never went to school and her dream for me was to have as much education as possible so she chased me out of the kitchen,” she explains. Since Ellen’s mother dominated her kitchen, Ellen learned to make dumplings in school. “It was the first thing we learned in home economics,” she says. “I went to an all-girls school and we’d clear the ping pong table and everyone stood around it making dumplings.”

Ellen was kind enough to share her recipe for guo tieh or pot stickers, just like how she made it way back when, giggling with her schoolmates around the ping-pong table in Taiwan.

Happy Year of the Rat, everyone!!

Ellen Chou’s Pot Stickers

Pot stickers are a favorite Northern Chinese snack, the Chinese version of fast food if you will. That being said, it’s considered peasant food, made with pork and cabbage, two cheap and ubiquitous ingredients. The dumpling can be steamed, boiled or pan-fried. When it is pan-fried, it is called guotieh, literally pot sticker, because the bottom sticks to the pan and forms a crispy crust. When it is steamed, boiled or served in soups, it’s called jiaozi.

Considering how readily available it is frozen or as take-out, why would one even attempt to make pot stickers at home, with dough made from scratch at that! Let me tell you: pot sticker skins really make the dumpling and nothing beats the texture of homemade skins. Store-bought skins, like fresh pasta sheets, are thin and flat. Pot sticker skins should have some heft to them and are thicker in the middle to endure the heat of cooking and protect the filling.

Time: 1 to 2 hours (depending how nimble your fingers are at making the pot stickers)
Makes: about 40

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water

1 pound ground pork (2 cups)
2 cups finely chopped napa cabbage (half a medium cabbage)
1 stalk green onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (about 1/2-inch)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons plus pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour with 3/4 cup water. Mix well with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together, adding more water if necessary. With your hands, form dough into a rough ball. You want the dough to be pliable but not stick to your fingers. Sprinkle a little more flour if dough is too wet. The dough won’t feel smooth at this point. Set the dough ball in a bowl, cover with a damp towel and let it rest while you make the filling.


Place cabbage in a medium bowl and sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt. Mix well. Taking a handful of vegetables at a time, squeeze water out. Or wrap cabbage in batches in a cheesecloth or non-terry towel and wring dry.


In a large bowl, combine pork, cabbage, green onions, ginger, soy sauce, salt, white pepper and sesame oil. Mix well with chopsticks or a set of clean hands. Set aside.

Make the wrappers. Knead dough for several minutes until it is smooth all over. Divide it into 4 balls. Knead each ball individually for about 30 seconds. Roll each portion into a log about 5-inches long and 1/2-inch in diameter. Pinch off 9 or 10 even walnut-sized pieces. Dust with flour as needed.

Roll each piece into a ball and flatten into a disc between your palms. Place flattened disc on a well-floured surface. Starting at the bottom edge of the disc, use a Chinese rolling pin* and roll from the outside of the circle in. Use your right hand to roll the pin as your left hand turns the disc anti-clockwise. So the sequence goes: roll, turn, roll, turn. Roll each disc into a circle about 3-inches in diameter. Don’t worry about making a perfect circle. Ideally, the wrapper will be thicker in the middle than on the edges.


Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of wrapper. Fold wrapper in half over filling to form a half-moon pocket and pinch shut**.



Repeat until all the dough or filling is used up. Set pot sticker down firmly on a parchment-lined tray seam-side up so that dumpling sits flat.

Heat an (8- to 10-inch) non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into the bottom of pan to coat evenly. Place about a dozen dumplings in a single layer seam-side up in the skillet and brown for 1 minute.


Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup water to the pan, depending on its size. Cover immediately and steam 9 to 10 minutes, until all the water evaporates. The bottom of the pot stickers should be golden brown and crisp but not burned. Remove pot stickers with a spatula and serve on a plate with bottom side up. Serve with dipping sauce (recipe below).

*Chinese rolling pins are skinnier and don’t have handles. They’re available in Asian markets, or get a 3/4-inch wooden dowel from a hardware store.

**The simplest way to seal the dumplings is to pinch the edges shut so that you have a flat seam. It will look like a turnover. If you are good at crimping, you can create a “pleated” edge. Pinch the middle of pocket to seal. Starting from the outer right edge of the back flap of wrapper, make 3 pleats facing the outer edge while working your way toward the middle. Repeat on the left and continue pressing edges together until entire curve is sealed.

Grandma says:
-To keep or make ahead, freeze pot stickers in a single layer on a tray until firm (about 15 minutes will do) so they don’t stick to each other when placed in a plastic bag. Freeze for up to a month. Do not defrost before cooking. Simply increase cooking time to 15 minutes.

-To reheat cooked pot stickers, swirl 1 tablespoon oil in the bottom of pan. Set pot stickers and pour in 2 tablespoons water, cover and steam until heated through.

-Since weather can affect how dough comes together, the ratio of flour to water  for the dough may not be 2 to 1 as suggested. Use your judgment to determine whether the mixture is too wet or dry and add flour or water as needed.

Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce

Makes: 1/2 cup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 stalk green onion, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (about 3/4-inch)
1/4 teaspoon chili sauce, or to taste
1 clove garlic, smashed

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. This will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several days.