Are you familiar with Chefsteps.com? It's a fun, brainy cooking website based in Seattle. I'd met with the founder and staff a couple years ago at their offices, and we had a ton of fun chatting about what goes into the fluffy, light bread that's suitable for banh mi. This spring, they asked if I would partner with them to produce how-to videos for some of my favorite foods. Chefsteps is expert at many amazing things, including a sous vide machine that they designed, but Asian food and techniques is not a strong point.
I began thinking of recipes that may offer home cooks lots of "a-ha" moments –- genius foods that have endured over time, that continue to feed imaginations. We settled on starting with Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao, XLB), soy milk, and fresh tofu. These are foods that I've extensively researched and written recipes for in my books, Asian Dumplings and Asian Tofu.
A little more about Shanghai soup dumplings. They are a graduate-level dumpling that I love to make as much as I love to eat. I've made many XLB and have taught them to others too. In fact, if you've made potstickers, you're likely ready for soup dumplings. They're challenging but totally doable at home, if you practice and get a little coaching(!). Making dumplings should not be filled with frustrations. My Shanghai soup dumpling recipe involves timeless know-how and mostly grocery store ingredients. It includes a shortcut involving chicken stock and gelatin, which produces a manageable filling that you can effectively shove into the very thin dough. (Traditionally, a rich pork stock is made using a pork foot – a special ingredient for many people.)
What’s actually the key to the dumpling has to do with the outside – mastering the wrapper, pleating and shaping. I’d rather that people concentrate on the exterior because here’s little compromise there. The beauty of the collaboration with Chefsteps is that you get a great overview of the process and hand motions before diving into the Shanghai soup dumpling recipe. To whet your appetite, here's the video:
Less difficult but equally revelatory is making soy milk and then making tofu from it. The process — and I'm slightly embarrassed to say this — thrills me to no end and I've made a lot of soy milk and tofu from scratch. I must sound like a simpleton but it's practically miracle to squeeze milk from the tiny soybean and then coagulate the soy milk into curds. I used excellent Laura soybeans from a family-owned farm in Iowa. The beautiful soybeans are rich tasting, have high protein and fat levels, and don’t have a beany flavor or smell when they’re cooking.
The resulting tofu is incredibly delicious, like the difference between fresh mozzarella and the stuff sold in vacuum sealed plastic, fresh bread versus store bought. Michael Natkin, a cookbook author and the chief technology officer at ChefSteps, and I have shared our love of fresh tofu over several conversations. We've also discussed ways to help people cook better and smarter.
I wasn't sure if his colleagues would agree with us about doing something about fresh tofu but they did! The video below goes with the recipes in Asian Tofu. Or, you can hop over to the full DIY tofu recipe and how-to video at ChefSteps.
Chefsteps hired Common Thread Creative to work with me on the videos. The videographers were new to fresh soy milk and tofu. They were totally blown away by the difference between from scratch and store bought. I let them eat most of the XLB dumplings since I’d eaten many of them. They gobbled them up and nearly burnt their mouths on the hot soup. (Be careful.)
The videos were shot near my home over the course of a few days and the end results are handsome, fun, and informative. I hope you benefit from them.
P.S. A fourth video and recipe will debut later this year so stay tuned.