Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chinese chives pockets (韭菜盒子)

My mom is a phenomenal cook. She cooked everything from scratch, and my family and I had homemade meals 7 days a week. Occasionally, my mom would take a break and allow us to order a pizza or make boxed macaroni and cheese. My mom's friends were the exact same - everyone cooked homemade meals every single night of the week. I honestly don't know how they did it.

One of my mom's friends (who also happens to be my former Chinese school teacher), Julianna, was one of the best cooks of the bunch. She and her husband owned a mushroom farm and also planted numerous varieties of Chinese vegetables on their land. Every time we visited Julianna and her family, we would return home with a plethora of produce. Julianna was very known for her cooking, and all of my parents' friends loved going to her house because they all knew that they would eat well. In fact, an invitation to Julianna's house was considered a "golden ticket" because it was so coveted.

The dish that Julianna is best known for is her Chinese chives pockets (韭菜盒子). She grew Chinese chives (also referred to as Chinese leeks) in her backyard. When we were lucky enough to be invited over for dinner, Julianna would fry up about 50 of these Chinese chive pockets for us. My brother and I could each eat 5 or 6 of these as our appetizers. We could have eaten many more, but our mom told us to save some for the other guests.

I was lucky enough to obtain Julianna's recipe to share with you all. These are essentially Chinese empanadas that are filled with Chinese chives, vermicelli, eggs and dried tofu. The filling is good enough to eat on its own, but I think you'll agree that it tastes better when served inside the crispy exteriors. You can serve it with a side of sweet chili sauce, or eat them plain as we did. Yes, these are quite time-consuming to make, but they are so worth it. Thanks, Julianna, for keeping me well-fed, educated and for sharing your secret recipe.

Chinese chives pockets (韭菜盒子)
  • 3 pounds Chinese chives/leeks, washed and minced
  • 1/2 cup dried mushrooms, hydrated in warm water (keep the mushroom water)
  • 12 eggs
  • 2 packs dried bean curd (tofu), diced
  • 1 pack (8-count) of LungKou vermicelli
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 TBSP sesame oil, divided
  • 1 TBSP salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 7 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups cold water
  • additional flour for rolling out the dough (about 1 and 1/2 cups)
Directions
Soak the vermicelli in cold water for 10 minutes. Then remove from the water and cut into 1-cm (or so) pieces.

In a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, stir fry the eggs using 1-2 TBSP of vegetable oil. Then add the diced bean curd and chopped chives. Mix well and move quickly. Take it off the heat before the chives get soggy. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

In the same pan, heat up 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil. Stir fry the rehydrated mushrooms. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and the soy sauce, then the mushroom water. Add the chopped vermicelli and cook until it becomes clear. Turn off the heat, remove from the pan and mix together with the chives. Add the salt, remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 TBSP sesame oil and black pepper and mix well. Add more salt and pepper to taste if desired.

In a large bowl, add the flour. Add the boiling and cold water and mix well to form a dough. Knead it into a smooth dough and add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Once it is smooth and pliable, let it rest for 10 minutes.

Knead the on a well-floured surface and cut into 2 pieces. Roll each piece into a log and cut into 8-10 pieces.

Using a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. Place an abundant amount of filling in the middle and fold the dough in half and pinch to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces. You may end up with extra dough, which you can save for something else or discard.

In a heat-proof Dutch oven pan or another non-stick pan with high sides (or in a deep-fryer, if you have one), fry the chive pockets in about 1/2 inch of oil. Make sure the oil is hot before adding the chive pockets. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side or until the skin is golden brown.

Serve hot or warm. Chive pockets can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave, though it will get a tad soggy. You can also try baking them or popping them in a toaster oven to reheat. Obviously, these are best eaten on the same day.

Yield: I halved the recipe and it made 16 huge chive pockets

Source: Our family friend Julianna (her original recipe)

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