Once or twice a year, I get struck by an insatiable, somewhat crippling craving for dumplings.
Crippling because during this phase, my mind rebelliously dreams about nothing but dumplings: thick, doughy dumpling skins fried to golden crusts housing spicy-gingered cabbage or resilient, translucent-skinned steamed dumplings with perfectly pleated tops. Salty dark dipping sauce and the hot rush of steam that comes billowing out of every first bite. I didn’t even realize that this was a yearly occurrence until Erik recently brought up the Great Dumpling Search of senior year when we went on a fruitless, semi-hearted search (through a whopping three restaurants) for the best dumplings in Houston. It seems that my dumpling craze tends to manifest itself in late winter/early spring and occasionally in the fall–more often than pumpkin hankerings, but far less often than chocolate cravings. Once I get my fill, it’s like having the most satisfying itch scratched. I can get back to driving past Chinese restaurants without having to fight the hot surge of urgency coursing from brain to foot to stop and pick up two orders of dumplings.
A few weeks ago (during the throes of my most recent dumpling craze), a few friends came over to make potstickers and Karen started eating the leftover dumpling filling from a spoon. It occurred to me that the dumpling filling was very similar to this very successful spinach and artichoke dip and so the logical next step was to create a dumpling dip.
This dip starts with a creamy base of pureed tofu and the holy flavor trinity of golden onions, garlic and ginger; it’s kicked up with miso, soy sauce and a drip of vinegar, bulked with shredded greens and topped with sesame seeds for crunch, green onions for looks. It’s a solidly umami-packed dip. But it is nothing without yeasty, pillowy baos (aka steamed buns) to be slathered on and topped with avocado, more seeds and a few shreds of fresh herbs.
Can I tell you what a proud Asian I felt like when I had steamed my own baos? My very-Americanized-I-can-only-say-two-sentences-in-Chinese self felt like I could conquer the world. The yeast-based dough does take quite a bit of time to rise and fold and steam, but it is so worth it.
After seeing these failed steamed buns, I searched very carefully for a recipe to try before attempting this one, using this folding technique with parchment paper. I read some article that said the best steamed buns achieve the perfect balance between yeast and baking powder and I think the recipe I used is pretty decent. With up to four hours of waiting time, it’s not the quickest recipe and it didn’t quite yield restaurant-quality baos (i.e. silky-topped and rising to poofy, uber-soft open-crumbed heights) BUT it was easy enough for me to succeed at and it yields a pretty fluffy, tasty counterpart to this dumpling dip. (More bao resources: she is my guide to all Asian foods, this is a detailed step-by-step bao guide + review, and these are perfect-looking baos, in my opinion.)
If you refuse to try baos (sigh), I think wonton chips would also be awesome dippers, or you could use the dip as a hummus-like spread in a sandwich.
This creamy garlic- and ginger-packed dip was inspired by tofu and kale dumpling filling. It's absolutely best served on fresh, fluffy baos with slices of avocado and fresh herbs.
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 medium onion (about 2 scant cups), chopped
- 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 16-oz package soft or firm tofu
- 1-3 tablespoons miso (see note)
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2-3 cups kale, chopped
- 5 green onions, sliced
- 2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds
- Sliced avocado, extra sesame seeds, and fresh basil for serving (optional)
- For the baos, I used this recipe
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add the onion and cook until onions are softened and starting to brown. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or two before removing from heat.
Add the onion mixture and tofu to a blender and blend until smooth. Add the miso, rice vinegar, soy sauce and pepper and blend again until combined. Add the kale and pulse until the kale is finely chopped and dispersed throughout the mixture.
Pour mixture into an 8x8-inch pan and scatter with green onions and sesame seeds.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until top begins to brown.
Serve dip on steamed buns with toppings of choice.
A lot of the measurements listed here should be adjusted according to your tastes. If you love garlic, add more! The first time I made this, I added 3 tablespoons of miso AND a splash of soysauce and it was quite salty. The second time, I cut down the miso to 1 tablespoon and it wasn't quite the same. You can taste the dip before adding the kale and season according to your preference. If the dip seems bland to you, keep in mind that the flavor blooms after being baked. It seems to blossom even more after it's chilled a bit in the fridge.
If you, like me, tend to avoid garlic like the plague because of the dreaded garlic-breathing dragon breath, know that this dip mellows out enormously after the first day.
Can’t get down with dip? Try these vegan tofu kale potstickers: