No matter how you consume a wonton, one bite and you understand why the word translates from the Cantonese as “cloud swallow,” as Grace Young writes in her masterful book “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.” That’s what it feels like to eat these slippery, ethereal, delicate creations.
I love wontons fried. I love them boiled and served in a spicy oil. But most of all I love eating them in a soup broth. I haven’t had a great wonton soup in ages, probably because it’s harder to come by vegetarian versions of them in my favorite Chinese restaurants. But a recipe in Kwoklyn Wan’s new book soon had me folding wonton wrappers around filling, boiling them for a few minutes and pouring steaming vegetable broth on them.
Wan, a third-generation Cantonese chef in Leicester, England, uses scallions and ginger – “two of the holy trinity of Cantonese cooking” (the third is garlic) – to make a simple broth rich and aromatic. The filling comes together from spinach, mushrooms, tofu, plus more scallions and ginger (along with white pepper), pulsed in a food processor. The only tricky part is the wonton forming, but all it took was a few watches of a quick how-to video starring my friend Andrea Nguyen, author of “Asian Dumplings,” among other great cookbooks, and I was in business.
This is the kind of thing that will go faster with more hands, so feel free to rope in anybody from your quarantine pod - significant other, spouse, child, roommate - who wants to partake in the result. You can promise them this: Swallowing a cloud, especially a warm one floating in fragrant broth, will make the labor worth every last minute.
Vegetable Wonton Soup
Time: Active: 45 minutes | Total: 1 hour
Servings: 4 to 6
Cloudlike wontons, filled with spinach and mushrooms, float in a clear broth flavored with ginger and scallions. This is a little bit of a project, but you can form the wontons in a very basic triangle shape to speed things up – or enlist another set of hands to help.
Make Ahead: The formed wontons can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Freeze on parchment-lined sheets until firm, then transfer to zip-top bags with as much air removed as possible. Boil from frozen; just add 2 or 3 minutes to the cooking time. The soup broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Where to Buy: Fresh or frozen wonton wrappers can be found at Asian grocery stores and well-stocked supermarkets.
INGREDIENTS:For the wontons:10 ounces baby spinach leaves2 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms2 ounces firm tofu, drained and cubed3 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger1 teaspoon cornstarch1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper36 to 40 square wonton wrappers (from one 12-ounce package)For the soup:5 scallions, trimmed and divided6 cups waterOne (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced and lightly smashed1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, or more to taste1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper1 tablespoon toasted sesame oilMethod:Make the wontons: Heat a wok or large skillet over medium heat.
Working in batches if needed, add the spinach and cook, tossing occasionally, until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop the spinach into a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much water as possible. Transfer the drained spinach into the bowl of a food processor.
Remove the stems from the mushrooms, lightly smash them with the back of your knife, tear into pieces, and set aside to use to make the soup. Tear or cut the caps into big pieces and transfer them to the food processor, along with the tofu, scallions, sesame oil, ginger, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped. Taste, and add more salt, if needed.
To form the wontons, fill a small glass with water. Place a wonton wrapper on the countertop and spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of filling into the center. Dip your finger into the water and moisten two contiguous edges. Lift the point on the opposite side of the moistened edges, and fold the wonton over the filling into a triangle, working out any air bubbles from the center and pressing the edges to seal.
You can leave the wonton like this for the simplest method, or form a flower-bud shape: Lay the wonton so the triangle is pointed away from you and the “spine,” the long edge where the filling sits, is horizontal. Roll the spine edge up and over once, then moisten the two points on each side, bring them together, and pinch to seal. Continue with the remaining wrappers until you have made all the wontons.
Make the soup: Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Chop 2 scallions and set aside. Smash the remaining 3 scallions, then cut into 2-inch pieces and add them to the pan. Cook, stirring a few times, until lightly charred all over, about 2 minutes. Pour in the water and add the reserved shiitake stems, ginger, soy sauce, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until the soup is simmering, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Strain out the shiitake stems, ginger and scallions. Taste, and season with more salt or soy sauce, if needed. Return to low heat, and cover to keep hot.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, then carefully slide the wontons into the boiling water and cook until they float and become translucent around the filling, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to serving bowls, diving them equally. Drizzle with a little sesame oil so that they don’t stick to each other. Ladle the hot soup over the wontons in the bowls, sprinkle with the chopped scallions and serve hot.
Nutrition: (based on 6 servings) Calories: 213; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 4 mg; Sodium: 799 mg; Carbohydrates: 33 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 7 g.
Source: Based on a recipe in “The Veggie Chinese Takeaway Cookbook” by Kwoklyn Wan (Quadrille, 2020).