Validating my cookbook collection, one damn recipe at at a time

Healthy-Ass January (belated) #4 (15): Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings — Good Eats 2

Healthy-Ass January (belated) #4 (15): Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings — Good Eats 2

Yes, I know it’s February, but because I didn’t get a recipe out last week, I felt like I owed y’all one more recipe that’s reasonably good for you. I’ve been planning on making this recipe all month, but have been putting it off because… well, dumplings aren’t exactly the kind of food you throw together late on a busy weekday evening.

Unless you are me, and your planning is bad, and you are also stubborn, and also also you want dumplings.

The Assignment: Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings from Good Eats 2: The Middle Years by Alton Brown

I think I won this cookbook? I really don’t remember. If I recall correctly, it was one of a slew of items I won in the late 00’s for being a sassy commenter on a blog or something. What I do know is that this book is signed. Well, kind of. There’s a signature in it. Basically, at some point, someone put a stack of nameplates in front of Alton Brown, he signed them, and one of those got stuck into the book I now own.

And it’s a formidable tome! The TV show Good Eats contained a dense wealth of knowledge, and the book very evocatively reflects that. Which is to say, “Holy shit, there is a lot of stuff crammed onto every page of this friggin’ massive book.” And it only covers seasons 6 through 10. ONLY 6 THROUGH 10. The book is 431 pages long. Alton.

Because this book isn’t all about the recipes! Much like Brown’s beloved show, the book is peppered with hacks and history lessons. Are all of them necessary?… We’ll get to that.

The Recipe (directly from the book, which you may want to buy):

Things to Note About the Recipe:

When I first started this blog, I was really trying to follow all the recipes to the letter, but stuff like this has broken me. Yes, I could have gotten a whole-ass head of Napa cabbage and a bag of carrots and grated up 1/2 cup of each for this recipe (which, in cabbage, is basically NOTHING). But dry coleslaw mix exists and has become a bit of a go-to item in my fridge (thanks to that Egg Roll in a Bowl recipe), and there was no damn way I wasn’t just using that here.

Another tip? 2 tbsp. of diced bell pepper? REALLY? So, like 1/32nd of a whole pepper? Yeah, no. However, just one mini bell pepper was basically the perfect size for this. Buy a bag, cut one up, and then you can happily snack on mini bell peppers for as long as they last you. (With me, that’s about a day.)

By a similar token, I adore fresh ginger, but prepping it is a pain in the ass AND I almost never get to use the rest of the root before it all dries out. I’ve got crushed ginger in a tube, and I freaking adore it. Highly recommend.

So I’m picking up my ingredients and I get to the hoisin sauce. I’m at Ralph’s, and they only have Kroger hoisin in a big-ass bottle. Ughhh. FINE. I sulkily deign to grab it, when something else catches my eye: a jar of Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp. I read an article about the oily, umami-packed condiment last year, and a jar had been hanging out on my Amazon list ever since. What the heck? I add it to my basket.

I begin to make these dumplings at about 8:45pm after a long Monday. I throw on a podcast, and get to it. I scoop, dab, fold, crimp, and otherwise assemble a whole mess of tofu-veggie dumplings, which look pretty legit.

Let me now pause and say, “Alton, I dig you, but I’m not building a whole crazy steamer tower just because you think bamboo steamers are too hard to clean.” Brown cites not one but TWO ways to build your own tower of steamers, and I’m like “BB, I JUST WANT TO STEAM MY DUMPLINGS, I SIGNED UP FOR HOME EC, NOT SHOP.” I love his crazy hacks, but dude…

Meanwhile, my dumplings are steaming up FUCKING BEAUTIFULLY. They look like real dumplings. Like real dumplings made by a person who knows what the actual hell they’re doing. I am beside myself with excitement. So I set about mixing up a little dipping sauce, and I think “Hey, why not bust out that chili crisp I just got?”

AND THIS IS WHERE EVERYTHING WENT INTO TECHNICOLOR.

Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp is apparently the most popular chili sauce in China, and that is for REASONS. It’s a goddamn umami bomb mofo, loaded with an insane depth of flavor and significantly less actual heat than you’d expect. It smells like magic and makes my mouth water just thinking about it. And I discovered that throwing a dollop of it into my standard soy sauce/red wine vinegar base creates a flavor balance so maddeningly potent that I thought I was losing my fucking mind. I never want to live in a world without this sauce.

And the dumplings turned out totally well too. So good that I didn’t even care that I was eating dinner at 10pm on a Monday night.

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THE VERDICT

How did it taste? 
Those dumplings are great, and (with my shortcuts) not terribly hard to make either! I was totally thrilled with the results. And I really appreciate knowing how to make vegetarian dumplings that aren’t lacking in flavor. ALSO THAT SAUCE IS LIFE AND I WANT TO POUR IT ON MY ENTIRE BODY.

Would I make this again?

I totally would! Either for myself or maybe to impress some vegetarian friends of mine to prove that my life isn’t all cheeseburgers and pie. AND THEN I WOULD MIX UP THE DIPPING SAUCE AND THEIR HEADS WOULD EXPLODE.

Do I recommend this book?

I do! Maybe not for a novice, but for a nerd like me who loves obscure info and crazy ways to make a steamer tower that I’m never going to attempt… probably… maybe… BUT ALSO I RECOMMEND THAT YOU GO GET YOURSELF A JAR OF LAO GAN MA BECAUSE IT IS LIFE. Check the Asian products aisle at your local grocery store, or snag a jar online.

What’s the next recipe I want to make from this book? 

Maybe the Lemon Meringue Pie, because the whole segment for that episode is just based around perfecting that pie recipe. And I respect that. I also have a long-standing weakness for lemon meringue pie, dating back to ordering towering slices at Bakers Square as a child.

I also want to put Lao Gan Ma on soft serve vanilla ice cream because apparently Kenji was serving that at his restaurant, and GODDAMMIT I NEED IT.

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And with that, Healthy-Ass January is closed. But it won’t be all cakes and decadence heading into February — there will certainly be some good family-meal type items on the way, and I’m planning to finally tackle a cookbook that’s been taunting me for ages. There will be scones. (There may be scones.)

One more damn recipe down…



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