Vegetarian wontons are a delight to eat in this light, fragrant soup

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – 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 wrote 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 favourite 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 labour worth every last minute.

Vegetable Wonton Soup. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

VEGETABLE WONTON SOUP

Active time: 45 minutes | Total time: one hour

Four to six servings

Cloudlike wontons, filled with spinach and mushrooms, float in a clear broth flavoured 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 three days or frozen for up to three 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 two or three minutes to the cooking time. The soup broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

INGREDIENTS

For the wantons

10 ounces baby spinach leaves

Two ounces fresh

shiitake mushrooms

Two ounces firm tofu, drained and cubed

Three scallions, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces

One tablespoon toasted sesame oil

One tablespoon grated fresh ginger

One teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

36 to 40 square wonton wrappers (from one 12-ounce package)

For the soup

Five scallions, trimmed and divided

SIx cups water

One (two-inch) piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced and lightly smashed

One tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

One tablespoon toasted sesame oil

DIRECTIONS

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, two to three 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 one heaping teaspoon of filling into the centre. 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 two scallions and set aside. Smash the remaining three scallions, then cut into two-inch pieces and add them to the pan. Cook, stirring a few times, until lightly charred all over, about two 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, two to three 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 six servings) | Calories: 213; Total Fat: 6g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 4mg; Sodium: 799mg; Carbohydrates: 33g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugar: 1g; Protein: 7g.