Vegetarian Wontons and A Strange Tale of Meat Pills

Okay, I’ll be honest: sometimes I miss meat. Specifically, pork.

When people ask me if I’m ever tempted to order a steak, I can sincerely say no, I am not the least bit interested in a plate-sized slab of beef. It’s not just the horrible images in my mind of what happens to factory-farmed cows. No. The truth is, I never really liked beef. When forced to imagine myself eating say, prime rib, I think of how tiring all that chewing was.

Pork, on the other hand, still makes me look over at my husband Wayne’s take-out with a twinge. The pork egg rolls, mu shu pork, hot pink boneless pork ribs, or most devastating of all, wontons. I even miss the strips of roast pork with neon red edges floating in wonton soup.

Several years ago when I became a carnivore for one meal, I picked a Chinese restaurant, beginning with a bowl of wonton soup and following with dishes all centered on pork.

Here’s how it happened:

Earlier that afternoon I had visited a holistic nutritionist who was supposed to cure my headaches and anxiety. I expected him to praise my healthy mostly-vegetarian ways. His prescription, I imagined, might be to stop eating fish and instead consume say, vast quantities of seaweed.

After an examination and discussion of my medical and dietary history, I found myself shuttled to the receptionist who was handing me meat pills. Yes, the receptionist said, the doctor knew I was a vegetarian. The problem with my vegetarian diet, he had apparently concluded, was that it didn’t include meat.

Here’s where a more rational person might have said, This is ridiculous. I am not buying your meat pills. Instead, having already spent over $100 on the appointment and having gotten my hopes up that maybe alternative medicine could accomplish what all those specialists’ pills could not, I handed her my credit card.

It was not until after we returned from cross country skiing in the park late that afternoon that I got the courage to look at the ingredients. Horrifyingly, the pills were made of organ meats—brains and livers—the parts of animals I avoided even when I ate meat. All the toxins animals consume accumulate in those organs. In the news that year, people were dying of mad cow disease from infected cow brains. Wayne convinced me to call the “doctor’s” office.

The receptionist emphasized the safety and efficacy of the pills. She told me I could come back and get the more expensive and far less effective vegetarian versions of the pills, if I really wanted to. Again, here was my opportunity to say, I just want my money back. But no. I felt I had to give the meat pills a try.

Of course, eating meat pills kind of clashed with my vegetarianism. After all, I hadn’t turned to vegetables because meat, up to that point, hadn’t come in convenient little capsules. After I downed the foul-smelling pills I realized I was calling myself a vegetarian while consuming meat. Why keep up the pretense?

Hence, the feast of pork. And hence, the next morning, a big meat hangover. It appears that after a while of abstaining from meat, the gut doesn’t immediately remember what to do with it. The full absurdity of the situation finally hit me. I didn’t go back and ask for the vegetarian versions. Instead I threw out the meat pills and went back to being a vegetarian and never returned to that health center.

Since then, I don’t spend much time thinking about those pork Chinese dishes, because when I order take out, our local restaurant will prepare most of them with tofu. Not the wonton soup, however, which theoretically could be made vegetarian. So, if you’re wondering why I’d spend expend all this effort for wontons, it’s because I really miss them.

If you, too, miss wontons or want a healthier alternative to pork wontons or want to impress your friends with healthy homemade wontons, this recipe is for you. Wonton assembly takes awhile, but it’s worth it. And while the wontons don’t taste like pork, they are so good even my meat-eating husband requests them.

Vegetarian Wontons

Yield: Approximately 48 wontons

See Asian Ingredients for more information on many of the ingredients.

Wonton Innards

  • ¾ of a 14-oz package firm tofu (I use Nasoya Lite Firm). Squeeze out all the water you can to make sure the filling doesn’t become too moist.
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp soy sauce
  • 5 green onions, chopped
  • ¼ tsp minced fresh ginger root
  • 1 medium clove garlic, chopped
  • approx 10 slices of water chestnuts, minced
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms—I used a combination of fresh shitake, portabello, and oyster mushrooms
  • ¼ cup fresh mung bean sprouts, chopped
  • ¼ tsp ground white pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wonton Skins (I use a package of Nasoya wonton skins)

Preparation

  1. Mush up the tofu in a bowl
  2. Add the other ingredients and mix well
  3. Prepare your work station: bowl of innards with teaspoon, very small bowl of water, plate of wonton skins (open the package so you can reach the first pile but keep them well covered), and a plate for the finished wontons.

Assembling the Wontons:

  1. Add slightly more than a teaspoon-full of innards to the middle of your wrapper. Make sure they stay in the middle.
  2. Wet your finger and run it along all four sides of the wrapper
  3. Fold the wrapper into a triangle, and seal the edges by pressing firmly
  4. Carefully (without tearing the wonton skin) press in the middle of the triangle and bend two corners toward each other
  5. Wet your finger again and rub plenty of water on the insides of the two corners and then seal these two corners by pressing really firmly

Cooking the Wontons

  1. In soup: boil the broth and lower the wontons with a slotted spoon. Allow 3-5 minutes, until the edges are nicely softened and the middle begins to go translucent. (I made a roasted veggie broth).
  2. For pan-frying: pre-boil the wontons just enough that the edges begin to soften. Fish them out with a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Then coat a fry pan with peanut oil and turn up the heat to medium high. Brown on both sides and then add the spicy sauce just before removing from the heat.

Storing Wontons
If you are not going to use the wontons immediately, you can freeze them. Don’t just stick them in the fridge overnight, however. The parts contacting the plate will go mushy and rip open, creating a disaster. Trust me.

2 Comments:

  1. “Omnivore” for one day; not a “carnivore” for one day.

    That said, I pretty much have written off red meats (I eat poultry mostly) and when I do eat red meats I also feel some discomfort (and a horrible after-taste).

  2. Technically, yes, humans are omnivores while carnivores eat meat exclusively. But that meal I refer to was practically all meat. Calling myself a carnivore might be hyperbole, but I stand by it.

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