Wontons to the Rescue!

If you’re a fruit and vegetable junkie like me, and/or you subscribe to a service like Bountiful Baskets where you are surprised with a random assortment of produce at each pickup, your fridge is likely stocked with a variety of items that may not seem to go together. I am typically pretty creative when it comes to combining unlikely pairs (check out my bean salad, for instance), but when I stared into my fridge last night faced with romanesco, green bell pepper, baby carrots, and red onion, I wanted to push myself to try something new.

A few weeks back in our BB, we ordered wonton wrappers (vegan – no egg) in bulk and have been putting off doing something with them simply because prep and assembly of these adorable appetizers can be a bit laborious. I decided to take the chance and somehow incorporate my random assortment of veggies into a yummy filling that would finally use up the wrappers.

Before I get to the process, you may be unfamiliar with romanesco. Its unusual appearance resembles that of cauliflower and broccoli combined, although to me, it tastes just like cauliflower in both flavor and texture. It is similar to cauliflower in its vitamin and mineral content and is notably a low-calorie source of potassium. I generally prefer bananas myself, but romanesco/cauliflower is another healthy and delicious potassium option.

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Ok, back to the wontons. First of all, how do you flavor them? You could keep it simple with a little soy sauce or inject some deeper flavors with another sauce or marinade. I’m using the same sauce that I use in my lettuce wraps. The concept of flavorful, finely chopped veggies is the same in both applications; it’s simply the vessel that is different.

Secondly, should the filling be cooked or raw? This is a matter of personal preference. Since I aim for a solid 70%+ raw plant foods daily and happen to prefer the crunch and freshness of raw vegetables, I am leaving my veggies raw. I found that even after cooking the whole wontons, the veggies inside remained raw and crunchy since the cook time was so short. If you’d prefer your vegetables on the softer side, you can sauté your filling prior to assembling the wontons.

Thirdly, how do you cook them? Your healthiest option is to steam the wontons. Your least healthy option is to deep fry them. I love the texture of a crunchy-bottom wonton (often referred to as a pot sticker), so I’m going to lightly sauté and then steam. Keep in mind that if you deep fry and have leftovers that they aren’t likely to be as crispy the next day. Should you opt for a bubbling wonton oil bath, I would recommend peanut oil.

Lastly, how do you serve them? I see wontons typically served as an appetizer, but when you’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet, the traditional expectations for what constitutes a first course, main course, or side dish seem to go out the window. What is a meat-eater’s side dish, for instance, might be my main event. With that said, I make a MEAL out of these wontons, dipping them in leftover marinade.

Once covered in my lettuce wrap sauce, the seemingly atypical combination of pepper, romanesco, carrot, and onion tasted like those veggies were meant to be together, making for a delicious evening meal. If you want to get fancy in sealing up your wontons, these would certainly make for a pretty party dish, too. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: WONTONS

Yields approximately 10-12 large wontons or 16-18 small

  • 10-12 large vegan wonton wrappers or 16-18 small* –> I’m using large.
  • 3 cups of finely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using 1 small head of romanesco, 1 green bell pepper, ¼ of a red onion, and 10 baby carrots.
  • 1 ½ cups sauce or marinade of choice –> I’m using my lettuce wrap marinade.
  • Oil as needed for frying/sautéing –> I’m using peanut.

*Read the ingredient label on your wonton wrappers. Some doughs are made with egg.

Prepare your sauce/marinade.

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Finely chop your vegetables.

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Mix together and sauté lightly (if you wish) or leave raw. Pour approximately half of your sauce/marinade over the veggies and stir to coat. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for roughly 30 minutes.

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While you’re waiting for the flavors of your filling to develop, decide on a cooking method. If you are steaming, prepare a double boiler. If you are deep-frying, assemble your deep fryer according to manufacturer’s instructions. I will be executing a sauté-then-steam method, with directions provided below.

Have a skillet with a lid ready on the stovetop with your oil of choice sitting beside it. Lay out your wonton wrappers, open, ready to receive filling. Have a small dish with water (for sealing the wrappers) nearby. After the 30-minute marinade period as passed, begin spooning filling into each wonton wrapper. I am using large wrappers, which can hold roughly two heaping tablespoons worth of filling apiece. Make sure there is a large enough border around the filling that the wonton can eventually be closed.

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Closing the wonton wrapper can be as fancy—or not—as you’d like. I often see them in a sack/purse shape like this.

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Simply grab the corners of the wonton wrapper, bring them into the middle, and twist them shut. You may or may not need to lightly glaze different sections with water in order for the wrapper to remain sealed. No matter the closure technique or style, the wonton should be completely sealed so that filling does not leak out.

Put approximately 2 tbsps of oil in your skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is nice and hot, place your wontons in for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned. Then, turn the heat down to medium low and add a few tablespoons of water. Cover the skillet with a lid and allow the wontons to steam for 2-3 minutes. Most—if not all—of the water should be absorbed. **BE CAREFUL OF ANY SPUTTERING THAT MIGHT OCCUR WHEN ADDING THE WATER INTO THE HOT OIL.**

Remove the cooked wontons and continue the cooking process for as many batches as you need or want. Serve with remaining sauce/marinade as a dip, or simply with soy sauce. Travis said that the wontons were actually tastier the next day, which I did not at all expect! 🙂

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Veggie Burgers and Bites

Nearly since he started eating solid food, veggie burgers and bites have been a go-to of mine for getting Nolan to eat vegetables.  Hidden amongst other amazing plants—beans, lentils, grains, and seeds—he has never questioned one of my veggie-packed creations.

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Besides being amazing baby, toddler, and kid food, veggie burgers are delicious and nutritious for everyone.  I’ll admit, I very occasionally miss meat, but I rarely miss meat-based burgers.  To be honest, I feel kind of nauseous thinking about the fat and grease oozing out and soaking the bun (you know how I feel about soggy bread, ya’ll!).  I’ve been making my veggie burgers for my family and friends for years now without complaints…no one even asks for ketchup!

Naturally, the star of a veggie burger is the vegetables.  I finely chop or shred my vegetable(s) of choice and don’t typically precook it as it will cook just enough while baking in the oven.

The other powerhouse in these burgers are whole grains, which I use in many of my formulas, from my curry to multi-grain salad.  The grain of the day for this rendition is kaniwa.  I’m new to kaniwa and thought I would give it a try when I noticed it on sale in bulk next to the quinoa.  A smaller grain that is more like a seed, kaniwa is similar in taste and texture to quinoa.  It contains high levels of flavonoids and makes for an excellent gluten-free substitute that contains B vitamins and other nutrients coveted in whole-grain wheat.  Like many other grains, it is also packed with protein and fiber.

DSC_2203Speaking of protein, I have found that beans or lentils are an excellent “glue” (along with an “egg”) for veggie burgers and bites.  Since I don’t use a chicken egg and breadcrumb combo typical of meat patties and balls, I needed something else to bring the other ingredients together.  I puree my beans or lentils like a hummus before combining them with vegetables, grains, seeds, and spices.

One of my favorite things about this formula is that the burgers can be assembled quickly if you have precooked grains, beans, and lentils on hand.  I often, for instance, cook up a big pot of quinoa when I’m making my super food breakfast muffins knowing that I’ll use the extra quinoa in another dish later on.  Try and plan ahead when you can.

While I typically shape my veggie burger dough into patties or “meat” balls, you could certainly experiment with other shapes if you’re using this formula for entertaining as an appetizer or to entice a picky little eater.  Additionally, the flavor combinations are endless; this formula was born from black beans and quinoa with onions, corn, and bell peppers and today, will be a chickpeas and carrots with onions, garlic, and cumin.  Experiment and enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  VEGGIE BURGERS

Yields 6 patties (or a varying number of bites)

  • 2 cups finely chopped or shredded raw vegetables  –>  I’m using ¼ of a small yellow onion and 1 ½ cups of shredded carrots.
  • 1 cup cooked whole grains  –>  I’m using kaniwa, cooked in homemade veggie stock.
  • 2 cups cooked beans or lentils  –>  I’m using canned, sodium-free chickpeas.  (Remember, cooking dried beans is ALWAYS healthier, but for some reason, those do not agree with my system.)
  • ¼ cup+ liquid for pureeing beans/lentils (i.e. homemade veggie stock, citrus juice, water, unsweetened and unflavored plant milk, oil, etc.)  –>  I’m using lime juice and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.
  • 1 “egg” (1 tbsp chia or flax seeds + 3 tbsps hot water)  –>  I’m using chia.
  • 2-4 cloves raw garlic  –>  I’m using 3.
  • 2 tsps herbs and spices –>  I’m using 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp turmeric*, and ½ tsp paprika.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste  –>  I’m using ½ tsp salt and three grinds pepper.

*What’s this?  See my super food smoothie formula.  🙂

If you need to, cook your grains, beans, and/or lentils first.  Once they are finished, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Puree the cooked beans/lentils with the garlic until smooth.  Finely chop or shred your vegetables (peel first if necessary) and use a wooden spoon to combine all ingredients except the egg.

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Massage the egg in with your hands.  A thick dough will form.  It should be sticky enough that all ingredients remain together, but not so sticky that your hands are pulling it apart in trying to form shapes.

Lightly grease a baking sheet and assemble patties and/or bites.

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Cook times will vary depending on shape and thickness.  It takes me, for example, typically about 40-45 minutes for patties or shapes of comparable thickness, flipping halfway through.  Set a timer for twenty minutes to start, check back often, and flip as necessary until your burgers or bites are of a cooked and palatable consistency.

These burgers are so dense and filling that I eat them bun-less, but you can certainly serve them with your bread of choice.  Top with my creamy salad dressing, pesto, or hummus and fresh vegetables.  Travis particularly loves these with my low-sodium pickles on top.  🙂  If you’re serving bites, use one of these sauces as a flavorful dipper and spear with toothpicks.

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