Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cooking on a Budget: Soup Weather, Dumpling Time

Parsley Dumplings with Chicken Corn Chowder
Thankfully it's been raining finally, although it is probably too little too late to stave off another year of drought in California.

$7.99 per pound for local asparagus, it's a tragedy!

Maybe food shortages and price hikes will get people thinking seriously about climate change.

Most of the world's "food" might grow in the great plains, but not the food you would recognize.

Industrial corn and soy that ends up in everything from the gloss in magazines to niacin and ascorbic acid to high fructose corn syrup and to that pink slime that everyone is talking about.

But the food that you recognize as food: broccoli, spinach, strawberries, lettuces, cauliflower, every kind of pepper imaginable, oranges, lemons, limes, avocados, artichokes, garlic, etc, etc all come primarily from California - San Joaquin Valley, Ventura County, Simi Valley, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and so on.

Rain is collected in lakes and reservoirs then distributed to these growing regions by pipe irrigation, but rainfall has been at record low levels for years, effecting everything from tourism (can't ski in Tahoe if there's no snow on the ground) to the color of the sunset (stunning, during a million acre forrest fire).

But for the last couple of weeks, there's been rain. Lots of it. Stay under the covers and listen to Townes van Zandt through the patter of the rain. Make a bowl of borscht (or it's sauerkrautted cousin, a soup called "shchiy") rain.

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The other night I decided to make dumplings to go along with. Long story short, a couple hours later I was feeding a motley crew of drunks and way-wards, late on St Patrick's Day night, borscht and dumplings and, yes, watching Miller's Crossing.

There was a magical moment where everyone shut the hell up and silently slurped soup.

That moment was brief.

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Cabbage Dumplings:
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup leftover cole slaw, excess juice drained
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
Mix. Should be about the consistency of a very wet bread dough or a very thick pancake batter. In fact, that's what it basically is, sans the baking powder.

Fill 3/4 of a large stock pot with water and a good amount of salt ("like the sea!") and bring to the boil.

Using a pair of large soup spoons, form "quenelles" of batter and drop into the rapidly boiling water one at a time, going in batches of 6-10. Your batter should yield about 20 or so dumplings.

Boil for 3-5 minutes. The dumplings will reach neutral buoyancy when they are done (that smart folk talk for "they all float...down here").

I have a brass "spider" strainer that I bought in Chinatown for $1. It's awesome for frying things. I use that to scoop out my dumplings, into a waiting pan (my trusty Lodge #9).

Once all dumplings are boiled, I drizzled a little bacon fat over the dumplings and opened up the flame to crisp them up.

You could serve the dumplings as is, but I like a little crunch to my dumplings. 

Another St Patrick's Day successfully navigated.