CONCORD, N.H. — Steamed dumplings are a soul-satisfying dish born out of a combination of the succulent fillings of pirogies and the tender dough of ravioli.
But for vegetarians, finding a suitable steamed dumpling can be a challenge. Traditional versions stuff the dumplings with cheese and ground pork or beef — and often all three.
Even so-called "vegetarian dumplings" often are not ideal; most use dough or won ton wrappers that contain eggs.
This recipe gets around those problems with a simple flour and water wrapper that softens as it is steamed, and a filling that combines meaty portobello mushrooms with hearty spices and whole wheat couscous.
If the dumplings are served as hors d'oeuvres, cool them to room temperature and accompany them with a light dipping sauce made of equal parts water, soy sauce, mirin (a Japanese rice wine) and honey.
As an entre, serve them hot with a thick, sweet sauce, such as olive vinaigrette. For an even sweeter, zippier sauce, substitute roasted red peppers for the olives.
It is important to make the dumpling filling before starting the dough for the wrappers, as the filling should not be hot when stuffing the dumplings.
The dumplings also are a great dish to make ahead of time for a quick meal later in the week. They store best if frozen uncooked. Be sure to separate layers of dumplings with wax paper, or they will stick together as they freeze.
When ready to eat the dumplings, simply let them thaw for 30 minutes, then steam as directed.
(Preparation time 30 to 45 minutes)
1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
6 ounces portobello mushrooms (roughly three medium caps), diced
1 medium leek, diced
1 scallion, diced
1 carrot, finely minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup water
pinch of salt
Bring the water and olive oil to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Remove pan from the heat and add the cous cous. Cover the pot and set aside for at least 5 minutes.
Heat the sesame oil in a large saute pan over a medium to high flame for about 1 minute. Add mushrooms, leek, scallions and carrot and stir to coat with oil. Add spices and seasonings and cook until mushrooms become tender, about 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and add couscous to the vegetables. Stir thoroughly and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and water. Mix with a spoon until it becomes thick, then kneed with hands for about 3 minutes on a flat surface dusted with additional flour.
With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is the thickness of thin cardboard. Using a round cookie or biscuit cutter (roughly 4 inches diameter), cut as many circles as dough allows.
To construct dumplings, lay one dough circle on flat surface. Place a tablespoon of the cous cous and vegetable filling in the center. Place a second dough circle on top and use a fork to crimp and seal the edges.
Dumplings also can be formed using only one piece of dough by folding one side of the circle over the filling and crimping it against the other side, forming a half-moon shape.
To cook the dumplings, steam for roughly 15 minutes using either a bamboo or stainless steel steamer basket. The dough should be shiny and slightly sticky. Brush the surface of the steamer lightly with olive oil to prevent dumplings from sticking. Makes roughly 20 dumplings.
OLIVE VINAIGRETTE SAUCE
(Preparation time 5 minutes)
6 ounces pitted black or Kalamata olives
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup tahini (a sesame paste available at most grocery or health food stores)
2 tablespoons capers
1/3 cup water
Combine all ingredients in a blender and pure until smooth. Pour mixture into a sauce pan and simmer until just warm. Spoon generously over hot dumplings.