I will never forget my first experience with Japanese food, a humble meat and three veg girl at the time I had never experienced anything more exotic than my Mum’s curried sausages which to a young child is possibly the most vulgar meal imaginable! As a kid I remember filling my pockets with this bright yellow slop before hastily retreating to the bathroom to flush it down the toilet (sorry Mum)! Anyway, I was in the fourth grade, and the grade four and five students had been learning about Japanese culture, I can’t recall ever being as excited about something as I was at this point, learning about such a fascinating and unique culture – the language, the lifestyle but mostly the food. At the time I was attending a rural school and we had all gathered in the hall for the great Japanese feast.
It was the end of the term and the entire assembly was buzzing with anticipation. We were each presented with a bento box filled with an assortment of Japanese foods including chicken teriyaki, sushi, sashimi, steamed rice and Japanese pickles. I enjoyed the chicken teriyaki and the rice, but just looking at the sushi had my stomach somersaulting! The seaweed skin was dry, wrinkly and black, and it smelt of old, dead fish. When I put it into my mouth my gag reflex went into overdrive and I couldn’t get it down my throat! It was the most disgusting thing I had ever eating (even worse than Mum’s curried sausages) and needless to say, it was a long time before I ate sushi again.
That being said, it was the early 90s, I lived in a small country town and access to good Japanese food was nothing like it is today. The thing I love most about living in such a culturally diverse country is that you can experience a plethora of cuisines in one city and much to my delight, sushi trains, teppanyaki bars and dumpling houses are popping up on every corner. My reintroduction to Japanese food was at a Sushi Train on Elizabeth Street, right next door to the Daily Planet in my home city Bris-Vegas. A work colleague at the time often raved about it, and asked me to join her for a lunch date. I was hesitant at first, but a little more open minded than I was in the fourth grade so I decided to give it another go.
And so the love affair began… The memory of that sweet little train, its carriages filled with delectable morsels of fresh sushi and steamy gyozas almost brings a tear to my eye. On that day, so long ago, we sipped on green tea and ate until we could no longer move. It is one of my most memorable culinary experiences of my life.
Ten years later and I am still very addicted to all things Japanese – especially gyoza dumplings. Japanese food is undoubtedly my favourite cuisine, however at times it can be difficult to find good vegetarian options. Fish flakes (bonito) are one of the main ingredients in Dashi (Japanese stock) which is used in almost every Japanese dish. I have found that many Japanese restaurants, gyoza houses and sushi bars have vegetarian options available, but they do not offer a great variety. For this reason I decided to start experimenting with my own Japanese recipes and this week I have succeeded in creating some very tasty (and highly addictive) gyozas. With a quick trip to your local Asian grocery store, and a little patience you can make them too!
Crispy Vegetarian Gyozas
- 1 packet of gow gee (gyoza) wrappers (available in the fridge section of any Asian supermarket)
- 1 cup finely shredded wombok (Chinese cabbage)
- 1 cup mixed mushrooms, finely chopped (Enoki/Shiitake/Shemji)
- 1 carrot, peeled & grated
- 150gm marinated tofu, chopped (I used Nutri-Soy Spicy Tofu)
- ½ cup green onions, finely sliced (extra for garnish)
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon miso paste
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- ½ cup water
- 1 teaspoon cornflour
Place tofu cubes into a food processor and process until mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Place tofu and all of the above ingredients, excluding the peanut oil, cornflour and water into a large mixing bowl and mix until combined well. In a small bowl, mix together cornflour and ¼ cup of water.
Take a gyoza wrapper and place 1 to 2 teaspoons of the filling into the centre. Dip your finger into the cornflour and water mixture and run around the edge of the dumpling wrapper. The trickiest part of the gyoza making process is the folding – it is not as difficult as you may think, there is a great tutorial here.
When you have finished folding your gyozas heat the peanut oil in a fry pan, make sure the pan has a lid because once you have fried the bottom of the gyozas, you need to steam them. I used a regular fry pan and the lid of my wok. When the oil is hot, place the gyozas into the pan. Cook for around one minute. Lift a a gyoza to ensure they are crisp and golden on the bottom, then add ¼ cup of water to the pan and quickly pop on the lid. Turn the heat down and steam the gyozas for 4 minutes. Remove the lid and voila! Delicious authentic, Japanese gyozas! Mix together 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of mirin and half a teaspoon of sesame oil for the perfect dipping sauce.