Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I was a child when first introduced to wonton soup. During regular visits to the local Chinese buffet, I feasted only on the life-giving wonton soup and the occasional egg roll. I didn't know at the time that the strange-looking, meat-filled wontons floating in a delicate chicken broth were meant to represent clouds (the word wonton translates roughly into "swallowing a cloud"). All I knew was that I couldn't get enough of them.
When I was in junior college, I frequently met my friends at the local Thai restaurant for some brain food (aka wonton soup). The soup arrived at our table in a big silver tureen with a miniature ladle. I scooped up the floating wontons, pink curled shrimp and tendrils of spinach and ladled them into my bowl.
After that, I didn't have any wonton experiences for a while. Then recently, I visited a well-known Chinese restaurant in another city and ordered their wonton soup. It was just as I remembered it: slightly gingery and salty, and oh those wontons! I felt the strength of my youth return.
Back in Jackson, I had an overwhelming craving and went on a late-night excursion in search of wonton soup. I was prowling the aisles of the grocery store, secretly wishing a friendly waiter would come around the corner in slow motion, bearing a steaming pot of what I craved. Instead, I found a sketchy-looking can of what the label claimed was wonton soup. I was skeptical. Heck, the can itself was skeptical.
At home, starving, I dumped the contents into a pan. Ten minutes later, I was praying that I wasn't eating dog and trying to pretend the somewhat gelatinous broth was healthy. Right.
The next day, wondering what I had just subjected my digestive system to, I decided to take my fate into my own hands and embarked upon the greatest quest of my life—the Search for the Holy Wonton (also known as "just give me a freaking bowl of wonton soup").
My first step in the journey was finding a recipe. Thanks to Google, I found several different versions. Like every great world explorer before me (Indiana Jones comes to mind), I took the best from each of my discoveries (recipes) and came up with my own version.
My second step was finding the pre-made wonton wrappers, which supposedly you can buy at any grocery store. I guess wonton wrappers are more rare than the Holy Grail, because I couldn't find a single package. I decided to make some of my own. They must have been a success because even my 6'4" athletic husband was full after a few bowls. (Feeding him can be a Holy Quest in itself.)
The third step was actually making the soup. I don't think I have ever truly appreciated food the way I appreciated the sight of that little pot of soup bubbling away on my stove. It really was like finding the fountain of youth.
After I finished the last spoonful of rich broth, I leaned back in my chair, feeling content. My quest for the elusive wonton was over. But already, my heart was itching for the next adventure. Perhaps fried ostrich eggs? They would have to wait for tomorrow; I had to digest my wontons.
To make the wonton filling, I took one cooked chicken breast, some whole cooked shrimp (with the tails and shells off), 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of ginger, 2 garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon of salt, and pureed everything in my food processor. It came out in a meat paste consistency and was enough for about 15 wontons. To make the wontons, place about 1 teaspoon of the meat paste in the middle of the wrapper. Moisten the edges of wrapper with water, and then fold diagonally in half to form a triangle. Cook the wontons in boiling water for about 5-8 minutes, separately from the rest of the soup. They float to the top of the water when they are finished.
(Even though I made my own wonton wrappers, I recommend trying to find the pre-made ones, at least the first time you try this recipe.)
For the soup, I used 3 cooked and sliced chicken breasts and 2 cans chicken broth, along with 3 sliced green onions, 5-6 sliced mushrooms, one can of baby corn, ½ can of water chestnuts and about 12-15 shrimp. One-fourth cup of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of ginger, 2 teaspoons of salt and 3 chopped garlic cloves flavored the broth. (All these measurements are open for interpretation. If you
like your garlic, by all means add in some extra. Or throw in 5 or 40 more shrimp. It's all up to you.)
Simmer all the soup ingredients together for 15-20 minutes. Add the cooked wontons the last 5 minutes.