Sardines wrapped in a sustainable (and baby-friendly) package

My (baby’s) heart beats for sardines

Pregnancy does strange things to you. Let me count the ways:

1. Baby brain (If you thought morning-after hangovers were bad … and you have it ALL the time).
2. Multiple aches and pains (Everywhere! Even in places you didn’t know existed).
3. Food cravings (Yes, pregnant women really do love pickles, but not always with ice cream)
4. Heartburn (Horrible, horrible, and especially if you’ve never had it before).
5. Frequent visits to the potty (Self explanatory).

One of the biggest changes I’ve experienced, especially as a food writer, is a diet that has gone topsy-turvy. On some days, even post-morning sickness, I don’t feel like cooking or eating.

Then, there are all the food no-no’s. No rare steak. No sashimi. No foie gras. No alcohol. No soft cheeses. No deep sea fish. Granted most of these items are not a huge part of my diet, I am an avid fish eater. I’ve long been aware of sustainable choices but since getting pregnant I have been more careful about what fish I consume especially since one of the biggest concerns is seafood contaminants.

Large predatory fish—like swordfish and shark—end up with the most toxins (such as mercury, which affects brain function and development), industrial chemicals (PCBs and dioxins) and pesticides (DDT). These toxins usually originate on land and find their way into the smallest plants and animals at the bottom of the ocean food chain. As smaller species are eaten by larger ones, contaminants are concentrated and accumulated.

I really wanted to participate in this year’s Teach a Man to Fish event (sorry Jacqueline!) but I was a bad, bad girl and missed the deadline.

However, I figured it’s never too late to expound on the pros of sustainable seafood.

We all know about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List right? In October, they released a “Super Green” list of seafood that’s good for human health and doesn’t harm the oceans. The Super Green list highlights products that are currently on the Seafood Watch “Best Choices” (green) list, are low in environmental contaminants and are good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. A triple whammy!

An unusual find–canned sardines packed not in tomato sauce but in olive oil with an assortment of other goodies

On this list is a childhood favorite of mine—sardines. Fresh sardines are not the easiest to come by (especially in Asia) so the next best thing is canned sardines. Now don’t scoff at me please, but I loved canned sardines as a child. My mom would simply sauté them in the tomato sauce they were nestled in and serve it over rice.

As a matter of fact, one of my first “cooking” lessons during home economics class in secondary school was how to make sardine sandwiches. I can still remember my teacher, Ms. Judy Loh, eagerly opening a distinctive red oval can to reveal the headless specimens packed tightly within. (A little about Ms. Loh: she had super-short hair shaved close to her head but she still managed to look somewhat feminine with a fringe that fell over her forehead in wispy curls. Did I mention she also taught physical education? Go figure!)

Next, she lifted the sardines out of the can, into a bowl and mashed them with a fork, mixing in the tomato sauce from the can. “Don’t worry about removing the bones,” she said. “They’re soft enough to chew and full of calcium!”As a 14-year-old, you’re skeptical about everything so I wasn’t quite convinced. Then again, you also never argued with your teacher when you’re in Catholic school.

Ms. Loh threw in some chopped bird chillies and shallots and mixed everything together into a paste. She scooped the mixture onto white bread, spread it out evenly and cut the sandwiches into dainty fingers for us to try. Honestly, it wasn’t bad!

Well, Ms. Loh was right about the goodness of sardines. A 3 ounce serving of the canned variety (with bones) has 38% of the daily value of calcium, PLUS as a rare natural food source of Vitamin D, that same 3 ounce serving has well over 100% of the recommended daily intake. Did I mention that it also contains omega-3 fatty acids good for heart/eye/brain function and health?

In addition, sardines are low on the food chain and reproduce rapidly, making them a very sustainable option. Being low on the food chain also means being low in mercury and PCBs, which makes sardines an especially smart choice for pregnant women like me. I can meet my recommended fish intake goals to support brain development in my little bundle of gestating joy.

Sardine puffs–a childhood favorite

One fine day a few weeks ago, being a pregnant woman, I was struck by a craving for sardines. As luck would have it, I had just received a copy of Andrea Nguyen’s new cookbook Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More. And guess what I spied flipping through it? A recipe for sardine puffs, a favorite in Singapore and Malaysia where it is known tenderly as “karipap.”

I was up for a challenge so I also made Andrea’s Chinese flaky pastry dough to go with the sardine filling. The pastry came out with delightful concentric swirly patterns (hence the name “karipap pusing”) that just fell apart into delicate shards in your mouth (and elsewhere).

Can you see the concentric circles in the cross-section of the dough?

For the exact recipe for the Chinese flaky pastry, do pick up a copy of Asian Dumplings. And for additional tips on making all manner of dumplings, everything from pot stickers, to soup dumplings, to wontons, visit Andrea’s helpful website AsianDumplingTips.com.

Karipap sardine all bundled up and ready to go into the fryer

Sardine Puffs (Karipap Sardine)

Instead of the usual sardines in tomato sauce, I found a Portuguese brand that came packed in pure olive oil with bits of chili pepper, carrot, cucumber and even a laurel leaf. This recipe, adapted from Andrea’s, uses store-bought puff pastry. Yes, I give you full permission to be lazy and head to the supermarket. For the Chinese flaky pastry recipe, please pick up a copy of Asian Dumplings. This filling tastes great on toast too!

Filling:
2 (3 oz) cans sardines in pure olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of ketchup
1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil (from the can)
1/4 cup chopped shallot or red onion
1 hardboiled egg, chopped
1 pound store-bought puff pastry, thawed

Remove the sardines from the can and reserve the oil. Use a fork to split open each sardine and lift off the spine bones. Set the flesh aside and discard the bones (or not, just like Ms. Loh advises).

In a small bowl, mix the sugar, salt, ketchup and lemon juice together. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the shallot and cook for about 3 minutes or until translucent and fragrant. Add the sauce and cook stirring for about 2 minutes. Add the sardines, stirring to break up the flesh. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the egg. Cool completely.

Preheat the oven according to package directions.

Roll out a pastry sheet to about 10 inches square and cut into four 5-inch squares.

Fill each square with 1 to 1½ tablespoons sardine filling. Moisten adjoining edges with water and fold over to form a triangle and press closed. Use the tines of a fork to press on the edges to seal well and place on a prepared baking sheet.

Repeat until all the pastry or filling is used up. Brush with beaten egg and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.

As grandma always says, please share:

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Advertisements

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

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

FILLING:
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.

IMG_0512

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.

IMG_0520

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.

IMG_0578

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**.

IMG_0585

IMG_0592

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.

IMG_0554

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.