Sunday, 3 June 2012

Asparagus, fennel, mushroom and tofu dumplings

I officially graduated this past week. In itself, the event was not the most exciting thing I have ever done. The affair began with me sitting on stage at the Chan Center (along with one other PhD graduate, several professors and some other important people). I listened to some speeches, then rose from my seat to head to the bottom of the stage where I was to begin my final journey towards official doctoral-hood. 

I walked cautiously up the stairs and handed a small white sheet of paper to a man on the stage. From the sheet he first read my name aloud and then recited a blurb summarizing my PhD thesis. As he was reading I stopped and posed for a picture, then I walked partway across the stage to shake hands with the university president who, grinning, said something to me which I did not hear. 

I then continued to creep across the stage before pausing in front of a man to whom I handed my hood, which, up until then, I had been carrying over my right forearm. I took off the funny maroon hat that was perched crookedly atop my head. The man then placed the hood over my head, around my neck and then positioned it across my shoulders.

I completed the procession by walking to the opposite end of the stage (hat in hand), shaking two more hands (I cannot even tell you if they belonged to men or women), kept walking, then someone handed me an alumni booklet and pin. Finally,  I circled around the rear of the stage to sit back in front of the glaring stage lights at my plastic, third row seat. The next hour was spent watching a few hundred students follow a similar ritual before we were all officially declared as graduates.

The otherwise boring event was made special by the presence of my loving family: My biggest fan and always supportive mother, my unfairly beautiful and brilliant sisters, my best friend and partner in life, Mike and Mike's always encouraging and caring parents. For the graduation I had to wear this ridiculous bright blue, maroon and gold costume (Mike likened it to a wizard's dress) with a silly and unnaturally large hat. Donning this comical outfit and being surrounded by my happy family made me feel special and even proud.

My mom and little sister spent ten days in Vancouver, which is why I have not been posting much, and we passed most of the time together, exploring Vancouver, cooking in, eating out and visiting with friends and family. Now they have left, and I am trying to mentally rearrange myself into a work mode that will leave me feeling like I deserve a vacation in July.

Although it is June, summer is ever elusive here in Vancouver. We experienced two, super nice days while my mom was visiting but those days have disappeared leaving much of summer to be desired. I want so bad for it to become steadily sunny and warm outside so I can lounge on the beach, in the grass or on the patio whenever I choose. 

Unfortunately, it appears that the clouds and rain are here to stay, at least for this coming week. I will chase away my sadness in face of this reality by cooking and eating some delicious food items that are filling up my recipe book and to-make lists.

Today I made these easy healthy dumplings filled with asparagus, mushrooms, tofu and fennel, that have been on my mind for a couple of months. The only thing holding me back was that I could not find any wonton wrappers at my usual shopping locales. I found some fresh wrappers at T&T, an Asian supermarket, and finally found enough time on Sunday afternoon to invest in chopping, cooking and wrapping these little snacks.

I made a big batch of 60 dumplings which are now waiting patiently in my freezer to be eaten when the craving strikes. You can make a simple dipping sauce, as I often do, by mixing together rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Or you can make a somewhat fancier dip by adding lime juice, maple syrup and chili garlic sauce.

Asparagus, fennel, mushroom and tofu dumplings
Spring seasonal: asparagus, fennel
Makes 60 dumplings

1.5 cups crumbled tofu
10 mushrooms, sliced and chopped (1 cup)
12 asparagus shears, chopped and sliced
3/4 cup thinly sliced and chopped fennel
1/4 cup finely grated carrot
1 cup chopped shallots
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves crushed
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp lime juice
Sea salt
Chili flakes
60 wonton wrappers

1 tbsp tamari or sushi soy sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp maple syrup (for vegans) or honey
1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce

1. Begin by draining tofu - wrap in a towel and place under a heavy pan or a stack of plates.
2. Meanwhile chop all of the vegetables finely: mushrooms, asparagus, shallots, and fennel. Grate carrots, ginger and garlic into vegetables and toss them all together.
3. Crumble the tofu and add to the vegetables.
4. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp sesame oil.
5. Stir in the vegetables and tofu and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often. When I cook tofu it often sticks to the pan so a non-stick skillet works best.
6. While cooking, stir in some lime juice, maple syrup or honey and season generously with sea salt. Stir in a pinch of chili flakes.
7. Remove vegetables from heat and cover with a lid or baking pan and let stand 10 minutes so the vegetables can soften thoroughly.
8. Uncover and let the vegetables cool.
9. Make the dumplings by spooning 1 tbsp of filling onto a wonton wrapper.
10. Moisten the edges with water, fold in half and seal while pressing the air gently out of the wonton.
11. Set aside on a cutting board or baking sheet and continue making the dumplings until all of the filling is used.
12. At this point you can freeze the dumplings or cook them.
13. To cook the dumplings, place a 1/2" of water in a pot and then place a steamer or a colander over the water and cover with a lid.
14. When water starts to simmer, place in dumplings (I cook about 8 or 10 at a time - this will vary depending on the size of the pot you use). 
*Note that the hardest part about this is keeping the dumplings from sticking together. So try not to overlap them too much, or brush the dumplings and steamer with a little bit of oil.
15. Cook/steam covered for about 6 to 8 minutes or to desired tenderness.
16. Meanwhile whisk together tamari or soy sauce and the next four ingredients.
17. Serve steamed and warm dumplings with the chili-lime sauce.


  1. Yay PhD! You win school!

    Freezer dumpling are a great idea--I love the fennel in there!

  2. I just bought a dim sum steamer and this recipe sounds like a delicious way to use it for the first time, thanks for sharing the recipe!

  3. Such deliciously healthy flavours... and making a big batch to freeze for later use is an awesome idea!

  4. Thanks gals :) And thanks for stopping by!

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