Growing up in the east coast, winter does not feel like winter until there is snow on the ground and I can see my breath in the air. After a warm first week of December, it looked like my chances of bringing out the snow boots this season were pretty low. I didn’t want to relive the blizzard of ’96 — snow days are just not the same after a certain age when thoughts of snowball fights are replaced with how are you ever going to dig your car out — all I wanted was a dust of it. Just enough snow for my dog to pounce around in, but not enough to hold my car hostage in its spot for the rest of the week.
Well, you know the old saying “be careful what you wish for”? Mother nature must of heard my rants about spring in winter and gave me what I wanted — plus more. There were a few days of snow that quickly melted and then there was rain a few days before Christmas, but right on New Year’s Eve, polar vortex arrived. It brought along fun things like single and negative degree temperatures, the power to turn everything into popsicles, pipes bursting like fireworks, and snow-snow-snow plus ice-ice-ice. Hibernating at home on days like these are perfect for two things — do absolutely nothing or non-stop cooking. Since this post exist, of course I picked the latter.
Homemade wontons are one of the most convenient foods to keep around. They freeze well, quick to cook, and for me they are the perfect winter late night snacks. 2am and don’t know what to eat? Wonton soup to my rescue. The classic Cantonese Hong Kong style wontons are usually filled with shrimp, pork, and yellow chives. As for the broth or soup that it’s served in, the ingredients varies. Restaurants who are serious about their wonton soups have their own blend of ingredients for the broth. Usually it’s a mix of both chicken and pork bones, but other ingredients such as dried shrimp, dried cuttlefish, and/or dried flounder are also added to give the broth a hint of seafood flavor. Growing up my dad frequently made the classic wontons on his days off from work, but just like spring rolls and dumplings, one of the best things about wontons are you can fill them with almost anything you want. Shrimp with bamboo shoots are one of my favorite fillings and so is pork with napa cabbage.
These Shrimp and Kale Wontons are nothing like the classic. Instead of serving it in broth, they are tossed with sautéed cremini mushrooms and a Spicy Kale Pesto Sauce. Leftover pesto can be stored in the freezer for about 2 months. If you want to store the pesto longer, omit the cheese from the recipe and add it in when you are using the pesto. I like to freeze pesto in snack size zip lock bags. They defrost fast and perfect for a quick lunch or dinner. This pesto is also great toss with spaghetti and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice right before plating.
Not in the mood for pesto and prefer a hot bowl of broth instead with your wontons? Bring a pot of water to boil, cook the wontons, and set it aside in a bowl. Next, warm up your favorite chicken broth and add in scallions, chives, and/or napa cabbage. When the broth is hot, pour it on top of the wontons, and serve with a drizzle of sesame oil on top.
Shrimp and Kale Wontons with Spicy Kale Pesto Sauce
SHRIMP AND KALE WONTONS (makes about 40 wontons)
1 lb shrimp
2 oz kale, any variety
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp shaoxing wine
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 pack Hong Kong style wonton wrappers
Cut kale into thin strips and place in a bowl. Add the salt and using your hands mix and massage it with the kale. Mix for 2 minutes until the kale is wilted and there is a little kale juice in the bowl. Set aside.
Deshell and devein the shrimp. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Make sure each shrimp is very dry before using it for the filling. Place the shrimp in a food processor.
Time to add the kale. With your hands, squeeze as much of the kale juice out of the kale. Place the squeezed kale into the food processor with the shrimp.
In the food processor, add sesame oil, minced garlic, shaoxing wine, white pepper, soy sauce, sugar, and cornstarch. Pulse 4 times. Open the lid and mix the mixture with a wooden spoon or chopstick. Close the lid and pulse another 4 times. Take the mixture out and place in a bowl. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
After the mixture is chilled, it’s time to wrap the wontons.
Things you’ll need:
1) A small bowl filled with water. The water is used to seal the wontons.
2) A butter knife to scoop the filling out. If you don’t have a butter knife, you can use a chopstick or the handle on a fork or spoon. You want something that is flat.
3) Hong Kong style wonton wrappers.
4) A large plate with a sheet of wax paper sprinkled with flour on top. This prevents the wontons from sticking to the plate.
Place about 2 teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the wrapper. Dip your finger and line two sides of the wrapper with water. Seal the wontons and lay them flat on the plate with wax paper.
To cook the wontons, bring a pot of water to boil. Add the wontons. Do not overcrowd the pot with too many of them. Stir the wontons making sure they are not sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Fresh wontons – Wontons that are wrapped the same day should take about 3 to 4 minutes to cook after you place them in the pot and the water comes back to a simmer.
Frozen wontons – Should take about 5 to 6 minutes to cook after you place them in the pot and the water comes back to a simmer. Frozen wontons do not need to be defrosted before cooking.
When the wontons are done, use a straining ladle to carefully strain the wontons and place in a bowl.
If you are using the wontons for wonton soup, sprinkle with chopped scallions, a drizzle of sesame oil, and pour the broth on top of the wontons. If you are serving it with the Spicy Kale Pesto Sauce, see below.
SPICY KALE PESTO SAUCE (makes 2 cups)
For the pesto:
8 oz kale, any variety, chopped
1 cup walnut, about 3 oz, toasted
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic
1 tblsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup olive oil
For the sauce (serves 4 as an appetizer):
20 cooked wontons
2 tblsp kale pesto
8 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp nam prik pao, Thai chili jam
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
chives, chopped (optional)
la-yu, Japanese chili oil (optional)
In a food processor, add the kale, walnut, grated parmesan (omit the cheese if you are planning to freeze the pesto and add it in when you’re using the it), and garlic. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. Add in the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Pulse until everything is mixed. Taste for seasoning. If you need to add more olive oil, start with 1 tblsp.
Pesto storage tips:
Pesto will store in the fridge for 2 weeks. Make sure it is covered in olive oil and tightly sealed. To freeze pesto, divide it into individual servings. Remember to omit the grated parmesan when making the pesto and just add it in when you are defrosting it. Snack size zip lock bags and ice cube trays are good ways to store pesto in the freezer.
To make the spicy kale pesto sauce and to complete the dish, first divide 20 cooked wontons in 4 serving bowls. In a pan, sautéed sliced cremini mushrooms with a little bit of olive oil. When the mushrooms are golden brown, add add 2 tablespoons of the kale pesto, nam prik pao, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix until everything is combined.
Spoon the pesto sauce on to each bowl of wontons. Gently mix the wontons with the sauce. If desired, drizzle with la-yu and topped with chop chives. Served right away.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.