Umami is the ‘fifth taste’ — in addition to the four basically recognized tastes: bitter, sweet, sour and salty. The word umami actually means “delicious” or “yummy” in Japanese. It’s that rich, savory, extra-satisfying taste you may find in mushrooms, shellfish, pork, steak, Parmesan cheese, cabbage or red wine.

Asians have known about it for centuries. Scientists have debated its existence for decades. It’s not something you can easily pinpoint when you eat, but you can definitely tell something else is there. Or maybe it’s all psychological? I guess that’s what scientists are debating! Either way, I like to think umami is real — makes my eating experience that much more interesting.

In honor of China’s Year of the Tiger we put together a lunch of homemade pork-shrimp potstickers and egg drop soup.

Shrimp, pork mince, wild Asian mushrooms, cabbage, garlic, ginger and green onions went into the food processor and then seasoned with lemon juice, soy sauce and sesame oil. The mix was spooned into round dumpling wrappers and then folded, pleated, sautéed and steamed. Dipped in a spicy sesame soy sauce, these potstickers were a concentrated source of umami.

Egg drop soup is a classic dish in many Chinese restaurants. As a picky, picky child, egg drop soup, wontons with sweet-sour sauce and pork fried rice were the only entrees I’d order when we’d go out to Yen Ching or Harvey Moy’s Nothing fancy, just your typical egg drop soup; something a seven-year old could tolerate. That’s not to say it’s bad. No, I’ve always found egg drop soup to be comforting. Many ancient cultures have a version of egg drop soup, such as Roman Stracciatella used for centuries to fortify weary souls for only pennies.

I read about a great tip for avoiding a cloudy or scrambled egg drop soup. Beat a 2:1 ratio of yolks to whites gently with a fork, then pour into the boiling broth. Count to ten — all the way! — then swirl your fork through. I learned of this only a couple days ago so our soup was a tad cloudy, but tasty all the same.

This egg drop soup was courtesy of Joy of Cooking Very authentic, right??

Pork & Shrimp Potstickers [makes about 18 potstickers]

Printable recipe

For the potstickers:

1/2 c green cabbage, thinly shredded

1/2 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined

1/4 lb ground pork, not lean

1 green onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 garlic cloves, minced

1, 1″ piece fresh ginger, grated

1 t cornstarch

1 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 t low-sodium soy sauce, plus some for dipping

1 1/2 t sesame oil

1/8 t salt, plus more for cabbage

1/8 t ground black pepper

18 wonton wrappers, cut into 3″-diameter circles with a cookie cutter or knife around a glass

1 T cornstarch + 1/4 c water, whisked in a small bowl for the slurry

+ + +

For the dipping sauce:

1/2 t Asian chili sauce, like Sambal Oelek

2 T soy sauce

1 t sesame oil

1/4 t brown sugar

1/4 t rice wine vinegar

1/2 t mashed garlic, optional

1/4 t grated ginger, optional

1 t minced green onion, optional

Place shredded cabbage in a bowl and add 1/2 t salt; mix well, let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature. Place salted cabbage in cheesecloth and squeeze [lots of!] water out.

Using a food processor, pulse together the drained cabbage, shrimp, pork, green onion, garlic and ginger until partly smooth but not completely pureed — it should have a little texture. Transfer filling to a bowl.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch. When liquids and cornstarch have thoroughly combined, add to the filling and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon about 1 t filling in the middle of a wrapper. Using your finger or a pastry brush, wet the edges of the potsticker with the cornstarch slurry to act as the “glue.” Bring up opposite sides and pinch the dumpling wrapper in the middle. Start with your right side. Hold the potsticker in your hand and fold over like a taco; pinch tight. Do 3 pleats on the right side [see Jaden’s photo tutorial to help with this]. Repeat on the other side but in the opposite direction, so all the pleats point toward the center. Make sure edges are sealed tightly. Cover loosely with a damp paper towel to keep from drying out.

When ready to cook, heat a large nonstick pan with 1 T vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the potstickers, flat side down, not touching, to the pan. Let fry 1 minute until the bottoms are light golden. Pour 1/4 c water into the pan and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid. Turn heat down to medium and steam for 3 minutes. Open lid and let the remaining liquid cook off, about 1 minute. If you like, cut into a dumpling to make sure the filling is cooked through. Remove to plate, wipe the pan clean with paper towels and repeat with remaining dumplings.

While the potstickers cook, stir together all ingredients of the dipping sauce. Serve alongside the potstickers.

Filling adapted from Tyler Florence; method from Jaden of Steamy Kitchen.

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