Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Food Desert Project: Senate Bean Soup Dumplings


(Originally posted on As I reach further and further into the pantry and my bag of tricks, sometimes ideas come to me that I'm afraid are overreaching.  I had this idea months ago, but my fear of fine handwork and beautifully-presented foods kept me from trying.  However, a long stretch of time found me stuck at home, bored, with nothing to do...except experiment.   And the results of my mad science in the kitchen?  Well, it's quintessentially American: a century-old, famous recipe direct from the Federal Government itself, adapted by a half-Argentine Ohioan living in a suburb of Chicago, blanketed in Chinese ingenuity. I present to you:

The Food Desert Senate Bean Soup Dumpling

First, the soup.  If you take a look at the linked recipe, you'll note that many of its components probably aren't readily available in the Desert - no carrots, no onions, no ham hocks.  Still, beans are something I'm working hard to get into this project, so I thought I could make a few substitutions and still come up with a good, smoky bean soup.  If spending a day traversing the dumpling learning curve isn't for you, make the soup and omit the gelatin.

4 cups chicken stock - either canned or homemade
1 cup water, divided
3 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
1 cup of dried beans, soaked overnight
1 cup of sliced dehydrated potatoes (from an au gratin or similar style box) crumbled
2 tbsp diced red peppers
2 tbsp dried onion flakes
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp granulated onion
dash celery seed (or celery salt and omit the salt)
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
A good grind of pepper
2 packets unflavored gelatin

Combine stock, 1/2 cup of water (reserving 1/2 cup,) and remaining ingredients except for gelatin in a large saucepan.
(I didn't think to pre-crumble my potatoes, but I went after the contents of the pot with kitchen shears when they were soft)
Simmer for 25 minutes, until beans and potatoes are cooked thoroughly.  Mix your remaining water in a bowl with the unflavored gelatin and let it sit until you get something that looks like applesauce.

Add this to your simmering soup (which should be reduced by about half at this point - you want to wind up with about two cups of soup) and allow it to come back to a simmer.  Remove from the heat, and pour it into an ice-cube tray (note, depending on the size of your ice-cube tray, you may need to fill them only half-full.)
While it freezes, you can start your dumpling wrappers.

So, my bao recipe is stolen completely from a friend, with a modification in method courtesy of another (see, if you read LTH carefully, it really pays dividends)  It's a combination of two doughs, a noodle dough and a yeast dough.  I was too lazy to make 4 times the amount of yeast dough that I needed, so I quartered the recipe thusly:

1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup plus two tablespoons warm water (took me forever to figure that out, I had to convert back and forth from millileters)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp shortening or bacon grease
1 1/2 cup AP flour (assuming that high-gluten flour isn't available in a food desert, though it probably works better)

So, all this was kneaded in the mixer until it came together in a ball, and set aside while I began the much easier noodle dough:

2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup water

This reminded me of making the choux paste a bit; you bring the water to a boil in a saucepan and dump the flour in, beating it in with a spatula or wooden spoon.
As soon as it's cool enough to touch, throw it in with your yeast dough and allow the mixer to work it a bit.  The mixer, I thought, wasn't really sufficient, so I also kneaded the dough until it was smooth and stretchy.
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After kneading, it went back to the bowl, covered, for four hours.  I then divided the dough in half, greased up my hands with cooking oil, and formed the half into a 3/4 inch wide rope - which I then cut into 12 pieces.

These pieces were then squashed in an oiled tortilla press - they will tend to be thinnest nearest the side where the lever is, so peel off your dough, turn it, and squash it again until you have a thin round.

I discovered a bit late in the game that the soup ice cubes were too big - so I cut them in half with a serrated knife.  At any rate, a soup cube goes in the middle of the dough round, and the edges are brought up to the top and pinched off.

There's a stiff learning curve to the pleating, which I haven't really completed yet, but you'll be OK if you pinch off the top carefully - a slight twist is helpful.  A hole at the top is OK as long as you don't have any holes on the bottom.  Note my first few compared to the later ones with more practice and less filling (none beautiful, but at least I got better at sealing.)
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I started out by putting the bao on little squares of aluminum foil, but it turned out to be just as easy to oil the bottom of my steamer basket as I continued the process.  Steam for about 8-10 minutes, it doesn't hurt to give them a little poke to make sure that the soup cube is entirely liquid.  It also helps to let them stand a bit before serving.

How'd they taste?  Well, I have to say here that I'm not really a good judge - I'm not really a fan of this particular soup.  It turned out to be quite smoky, porky, and appropriately soupy and starchy.  The dumplings turned out OK, not as refined as ones you might find in a Chinese eatery; I imagine that as my technique improved, the dumpling wrappers will as well.  The two together were a bit starchy for my taste, but the whole recipe came together pretty much as I'd imagined it.  In future, I plan to try a crabmeat-filled soup dumpling that's a little more like a traditional xiao long bao.

How do you sauce American-Argentine-Chinese dumplings?  With Worchestershire, of course!

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