I recently learned the term “your growing edge.” I really like it. I had heard about your comfort zone, and your growth zone, and so forth before, but not the actual growing edge. The growing edge is that area where your zones are pushing out, your comfort zone expanding into what used to be your growth zone and your growth zone dipping a tentative toe into your danger zone. It’s the space right when you go from skiing speedily down a slope concentrating on tough terrain to plunking yourself on the ground and bursting into tears because you find yourself surrounded by trees and signs warning of cliffs and it’s just not fun anymore. Or when you’re learning to drive a stick shift and you know you can get your d@#$ car into gear and started when you’re in a parking lot, but then you’re on a (admittedly not busy) road next to the parking lot, with a bus bearing down on you and your blinker is signaling that you’re going left, except you kill the car 3 times in a row and find yourself feeling thoroughly mired in the middle of the intersection, and, well, bursting into tears. And of course, the growing edge includes bigger moments of growth, pushing yourself in your work, in your ability to face your fears, in your acceptance of others. Like your lengthening legs during your teen years, your growing edge can give you a little pain, whether or not it’s serious.
I’ve been having a lot of encounters with my growing edges recently, which overall, I think, is a good thing. Mostly it has been in my work/school, taking on projects that I’m fascinated but intimidated by. It’s giving me the opportunity to repeat over and over to myself a little mantra. “Advice, edits, and suggestions are not attacks.” Say it again! “Advice, edits, and suggestions…”
Thinking about this got me thinking about my growing edge in cooking. What is it? I actually try to push myself often when I cook. Admittedly, I have a lot of fall-back dishes, which usually go something like: olive oil, salt, pepper, roast. But still, I try to change it up frequently and play with ideas and things I’ve never cooked/done before in order to stave off the food doldrums. But, one area where I rarely go exploring is Eastern Asian cuisine. Somehow it seems so very foreign to my die-hard Scandinavian self, so full of pantry items that I don’t stock up on or don’t even know what are, that I rarely even think in the direction of Asian cooking. Sure I’ll throw together a stir-fry now and then, or roll a sushi roll (with avocado, a thoroughly Western addition) but other than that, I’m a green-horn.
But, on Saturday I began thumbing through The Essential New York Times Cookbook, which I had bought several months ago because it seemed like a fascinating and important tour of cooking in America in the last century and a half and because I think Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs seem like truly awesome people, but which I have utterly failed to use until now because, to be perfectly honest, the thing is a hefty, kind of intimidating, tome and I just haven’t gotten around to it. (I do plan to make my way through it bit by bit though, not so much cooking it as reading it, because it is full of succulent little morsels about history, fads, and Amanda’s clever writing as well as interesting recipes.) The one recipe that really caught my eye, squirming in its seat, waving its hand and urging, “pick me, pick me!” was a broccoli and ginger puree. Heaven knows why. I don’t often fall for purees. They usually seem too insipid, spineless. But, the idea of a velvety, creamy broccoli puree with the subtle spice of ginger intrigued me. It gave me a little nudge and said, “you know, I don’t have to be just a puree. I could be a filling…” The ginger, garlic, and broccoli trifecta make me think of Asian cooking, and so I settled on making Chinese dumplings.
I didn’t know how to make dumplings when I started, or even very much about what technically “ought” to go into dumplings. So, you’ll have to forgive me for the fact that these are far from authentic. But, they are also incredibly delicious. Think of them as fusion food. Because, you see, the thing about the growing edge is, you can cross over more comfortably if you have some sort of scaffolding. A hand to reach out and hold on to as you step awkwardly across. And for me, with the foray into dumplings, that scaffold was dairy. It’s the Scandinavian thing. I’m a major sucker for dairy products. I’m pretty sure I was actually a dairy maid in another life. So, the gentle bath of cream you simmer the broccoli and aromatics in, plus a dollop of ricotta I had on hand to stir in, made the dumplings feel like an evolutionary transition on the way from ravioli to Chinese dumplings. And that, somehow, made them feel easier to cook.
And they turned out so supremely wonderful that I now plan to thoroughly familiarize myself with dumplings through many further experiments. The filling is subtly velvety and voluptuous, but still has that distinctly Asian balance of sweet and spicy and is permeated with the aroma of ginger and garlic. The wonton wrappers crisp up into plump golden packages that give way satisfyingly as you bite into the filling, which bursts with flavor. A sweet ginger-soy dipping sauce completes the picture and makes them into a downright irresistible snack, lunch, or appetizer. Trust me. You’ll nab one to nibble on as you transfer a batch to the serving tray, and then suddenly you’ll discover you’ve nabbed 5. They would also be amazing floating in a brothy mushroom soup. In fact, these little darlings are quickly going from growing edge, to comfort zone, to comfort food in my kitchen.
Broccoli Ginger Dumplings (makes 60 or so dumplings)
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 2 Tbs. grated ginger
- about 2 big heads of broccoli, stems removed and florets cut into thumb sized pieces
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- wonton wrappers
- cooking oil
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 Tbs. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbs. maple syrup (or brown sugar)
- 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- Steam the broccoli until bright green and cooked through. Let cool and then chop well.
- In a large saucepan, heat a Tbs. of olive oil over medium, add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until softened. Stir in the garlic and 2 Tbs. ginger, cover and cook for about 5 minutes until nice and soft. Stir in the heavy cream, turn the heat down to simmer, and cook for a couple minutes until thickened. Stir in the broccoli.
- Transfer the broccoli mixture to a food processor and puree until mostly smooth but with some chunks remaining, for texture. (This can also be done with a handheld blender.) Then stir in the ricotta until all mixed together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Lay out about 15 wonton wrappers at a time. Put a tsp. of the broccoli puree on one side of each square – resist the temptation to overfill! If they are overfilled, your dumplings won’t seal. Put filling on all 15 of the wrappers before starting to fold them. When ready to fold, keep a little bowl of warm water next to you to use for moistening your fingers. Use a wet finger to moisten the perimeter of each wonton square, then fold one side over onto the other and seal to make a triangle. Then, fold in the arms of the triangle and press them together with a little water. Set on a parchment lined baking sheet or plate. Once you have assembled the first 15, continue with another set of 15 and so on until you have used all your filling.
- To fry the dumplings, heat a pan to medium-high, add enough oil to coat the bottom. Put in one layer of dumplings, cover the pan and cook a couple of minutes until dark golden. Flip and cook the dumplings on the other side for another minute or two until golden. Continue, adding more oil if needed, until all the dumplings are cooked.
- If you’d like to bake the dumplings instead, heat your oven to 400F. Grease 1-2 baking sheets. Lay the dumplings out on the baking sheets, brush them all lightly with oil, then bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm with dipping sauce.
- To make the dipping sauce, just whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, and tsp. of ginger.
- If you don’t want to make all the dumplings at once, they freeze really well. (Then you can use them later in soup!) Lay a batch in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place in the freezer (finding room is never an easy task!) and freeze for an hour or two until hard. Then, transfer them to a freezer bag or container and freeze until ready to cook. You can cook them straight from being frozen, without defrosting.