Chinese appetizers for Dec. 25
Pot stickers (Photo: AdobeStock)

By Tina Wasserman

If you haven’t made any reservations at your favorite Chinese restaurant for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, have no fear. I’m here to help you fulfill the “other” holiday tradition for many Jewish homes: Chinese food. Let’s be clear, practicality created this “tradition.” Buddhists and Jews were probably the only restauranteurs open on Christmas Day!

Decades ago, I lived on the upper west side of Manhattan and frequented many little, authentic emporiums of Asian cuisine. Eastern Gardens restaurant taught me real dishes and Victoria China was a Cuban/Chinese restaurant where the waiters were Chinese and spoke only Spanish (remember that many Chinese immigrated to Cuba when it was a Communist country). Because I kept a kosher home, I had to adapt recipes to conform and Chinese cuisine was the easiest to do so. Rarely do you see milk in a Chinese dish and I found that veal was a perfect substitute for pork, not only for its color but its taste and texture was identical.

So, order in some dishes if you still want to and wow your guests with the following classic appetizers.

Cha Siu Bao —
Steamed ‘Pork’ Buns

Do not be intimidated by the Cha Siu Bao recipe. The filling can be made in advance the day before and the dough is actually very easy to make so the final stages are easy to do. These are the real deal that I adapted from an old cookbook that was half in English and half in Chinese!

Roasted meat and filling:

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon chicken stock

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 drop red food coloring, optional

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon cream sherry

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound boneless veal from chops, about ½ inch thick

1 tablespoon peanut or corn oil

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons chicken stock or water

Dough:

¼ cup water

1 cup nondairy milk or water

1 tablespoon sugar

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 package rapid-rise yeast

1. To make the meat filling, combine the first eight ingredients to make the marinade. Divide into 2 small bowls.

2. Slice the meat into ½-inch strips and place in a shallow sided pan that has been covered with foil, DULL SIDE UP, and sprayed with nonstick oil.

3. Brush the meat with the marinade from one bowl.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake the meat for 20 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the oven and then coat the meat with the remaining marinade. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

6. Remove the meat from the oven, cool and slice into thin strips crosswise. Set aside until needed.

7. Heat a wok or frying pan over high heat for 20 seconds. Add the 1 tablespoon of oil, swirl it about in the pan and heat for 10 seconds.

8. Add the chopped meat and stir-fry for 30 seconds or until hot, if it has been refrigerated.

9. Add the sugar and soy sauce. Combine the cornstarch and stock or water in a small bowl and then add to the pan with the meat. Stir-fry for 20 seconds or until the sauce is thick and the meat is totally covered. Set aside or refrigerate until needed.

To make the dough:

1. Combine the nondairy milk or water and sugar in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and microwave for 1½ minutes on high until the mixture is warm to the touch but not scalding (this might take less time if your liquid isn’t cold from the refrigerator).

2. Combine the flour and yeast in a mixing bowl and then add the warm liquid mixture. Knead the mixture together with the dough hook on your mixer or by hand until a smooth ball of dough is formed. Let rise in a greased bowl in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

To make buns:

1. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a log that is about 2 inches around. Slice the log into 1-inch pieces.

2. Roll each slice into a 4-inch circle or stretch with your hands to make it that size. Add about 1 heaping tablespoon of meat filling to the center of the dough and then pinch the dough together to form a half-moon. Bring the ends up to the center to make a ball, then pinch all the dough together in the center and twist it to hold together. Place dough, pinched side down, on a 3-inch square of parchment paper or waxed paper and proceed with the remaining dough and filling. Let rest for 15 minutes.

3. Place water in the bottom of a steamer or large frying pan. Bring to a boil. NOTE: If using a frying pan, place a round cooling rack in the pan and place the dough on its paper squares on the rack to steam. Do not let the water touch the dough.

4. Place the buns on their papers on the rack(s) about 1 inch apart in your steamer. Cover and steam for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

5. If you have to steam the buns in two batches, return the steamed buns to the steamer and steam for three minutes or until hot.

Tina’s Tidbits:

• According to the food allergist I cohabitate with, highly refined peanut oil does not contain the peanut proteins that cause allergic reactions. Standard peanut oil is safe for almost all people with a peanut allergy. However, if you are highly allergic, check with your allergist to be sure.

• If you do not have a warming drawer, you can create a warm, draft-free space by heating a cup of water on high for 90 seconds in a microwave oven. Remove the water and place your plastic-covered bowl in the microwave and let it rise undisturbed there. I used to instruct people to preheat their oven for 2 minutes and then place the bowl of dough in the TURNED-OFF oven but some of my readers forgot to TURN THE OVEN OFF, so I think the warmed interior of the microwave oven is the safer bet!

Chinese Spareribs

It doesn’t get much easier than this recipe. The only hard part is finding the veal ribs if you want the dish to be kosher.

2-3 pounds beef or veal spareribs or 1½ pounds veal chops cut into ½-inch cubes

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon cream sherry

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

2 tablespoons chicken stock

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a 13×9-inch glass dish. Stir the honey thoroughly to evenly distribute.

2. Place the ribs or veal cubes in the marinade and coat thoroughly.

3. Marinate the meat for 4 hours or overnight.

4. Grill the ribs on your barbecue for 20 minutes or longer depending on the thickness of the meat. If you are using cubed meat, skewer meat and grill for 7-10 minutes.

5. Serve with sweet and sour sauce (Gold’s Duck Sauce is reminiscent of a 1960s Chinese restaurant sauce) if desired.

Tina’s Tidbits:

• If you are working with an entire slab of ribs, you may insert drapery S hooks in the meat and hang it from the top shelf of your oven. Place a roasting pan filled with 1 inch of water underneath the meat to catch the drippings. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes and then raise the temperature to 450 degrees for the last 15 minutes. Just make sure you have that pan of water underneath or you will have a smoky mess to clean up after the Fire Department leaves!

• I use cream sherry in all my Chinese recipes. One, it is thicker and sweeter and mimics the wine that is often called for in a recipe. Two, the flavor doesn’t dissipate when cooked and three, I’d rather drink cream sherry than dry sherry so I can enjoy it anytime.

• NEVER use cooking sherry! By definition it is the poorest quality of sherry with the addition of salt and with the soy sauce and kosher meat, if using, would render the dish way too salty!

Fried Northern Dumplings — Pot Stickers

½ pound bok choy

1 pound finely ground veal

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger root

1 tablespoon cream sherry

1 tablespoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon salt (use less if using kosher meat)

1 tablespoon sesame seed oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup cold water

3 tablespoons oil

1 cup chicken stock

Dipping Sauce:

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons white vinegar

6 drops chili oil or to taste

1. Wash and trim the bok choy and then chop very fine. Place in cheesecloth or paper towel to squeeze out excess liquid.

2. In a large bowl, combine the meat, ginger, sherry, soy sauce, salt and sesame seed oil. Add the chopped bok choy and mix until thoroughly blended. Set aside.

3. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and then make a well in the center. Gradually pour in the water and, with a wooden spoon, constantly stir the mixture until a stiff dough is formed. Knead the dough until smooth (about 5 minutes), then cover with a damp cloth and let it sit for 30 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough another 2 minutes and then divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a cylinder 12 inches long and 1 inch in diameter.

5. With a sharp knife, cut each roll into ½-inch slices. Lay the slices on a lightly floured surface and sprinkle the tops with a small amount of flour. Press each slice with your hand into a ¼-inch thickness, then roll each slice into a 3-inch circle. Arrange circles on a lightly floured tray and cover with a dry towel until ready to use.

6. For each dumpling, place 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of the dough circle. Fold in half and pinch the edges together. Make 3 pleats on each side of the half moon, pleating toward the center.

7. Set a 12-inch skillet over high heat for 30 seconds. Pour in 2 tablespoons oil, swirl it about and heat for 30 seconds. Reduce heat if oil begins to smoke.

8. Place the dumplings in the pan, pleated side up and sides just touching each other. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes or until the bottoms start to brown slightly. Add the chicken stock, cover the pan tightly and cook for 10 minutes over moderate heat until the liquid has been absorbed.

9. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and swirl it about in the pan. Let the dumplings fry for 2 minutes more, uncovered. Carefully remove from the pan and serve.

10. Combine the soy sauce and the vinegar and add the chili oil to taste (about 6 drops). Dip the dumpling in the sauce as you eat it.

Tina’s Tidbits:

• When a recipe calls for soy sauce, it is referring to the type to which you are familiar. Dark soy sauce is thicker in consistency. Tip the closed bottle over. If the soy sauce really coats the inside of the bottle than it is dark soy. You can find both kinds in an Asian market.

• A wok is the best utensil to use when making a stir-fry or filling for these recipes. The curve of the pan means that every surface cooks your food when added as opposed to just the bottom of the pan. The other reason it is great is that the discoloration from oil is normal and does not have to be scrubbed like a stainless-steel frying pan.

• Do not get an expensive $100+ wok! Get a $25+/- steel wok at the Asian market. You will be happy you did. NOTE: It’s great for frying doughnuts next Hanukkah as well!

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