Celery Peanut Wontons

Over the last year this has become my go-to wonton filling. Celery is a classic pairing with peanuts or other nuts. Think celery sticks with peanut butter. In China, celery is often stir-fried with walnuts or cashews, one of my favorite Nanjing dishes. The lightness and freshness of celery is a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of nuts. Meera Sodha, the Guardian food writer created a lovely wonton filling based on this pairing in her useful book, East. Once I tried it, I was hooked. We make all kinds of dumplings on regular rotation in my home, and this is one of our favorite fillings, not only because it’s delicious and satisfying, but also because it’s so simple to make. Instead of a long list of ingredients, there are only 4: celery, peanuts, garlic, and soy sauce (which takes the place of salt). Add to that the ease of pulsing the celery and peanuts in a food processor, and it’s no wonder it’s become a standby recipe in my kitchen.

This filling is perfect for wontons cooked in a light broth. It also works for steamed dumplings or potstickers. Over time I’ve made a few changes that make this recipe my own, by increasing the proportion of peanuts to celery (which adds a little more umami and crunch) and also by tweaking the food processor method. Instead of processing the peanuts and celery together, I work them in separate batches so they don’t get ground too finely, avoiding a mushy filling. I enjoy hitting the crunch of the peanut bits. I also fold my wontons in a different shape from her book, going for something that more closely resembles a tortellini than a folded over triangle.

You can find square wonton wrappers in most Asian supermarkets. I am not partial to certain brands. I prefer Shanghai style wrappers if there’s a choice, and I choose the freshest, softest ones available that day.

You’ll need a kitchen scale to weigh the peanuts and celery. If you don’t own a kitchen scale already, they are affordable and incredibly useful. After I bought one for bread baking, I realized so many recipes call for more accurate weight measurements (which I had just estimated before), and I find I use it now several times a week.

I like to fill my freezer with wontons and other dumplings, weekend work that creates easy weeknight dinners. I find it works best to freeze them the wontons a cookie sheet until frozen hard. Then pile them in a big gallon ziplock bag. If you freeze them directly in the bag, some of them will inevitably stick together.

RECIPE

180g unsalted raw peanuts

800g celery

4 tablespoons veg oil

4 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

square wonton wrappers

METHOD

Place the peanuts in a food processor and pulse into a rough crumble. Remove the peanuts and place in a bowl. Roughly chop the celery, then place in the food processor. Pulse the celery until the pieces resemble coarse mince. Heat the veg oil in a pan or wok. When hot, add the celery and peanuts. Cook for 15-20 minutes over a medium heat, stirring frequently to remove as much water as possible. The celery will give off water as it cooks down. When appearing more dry, add the garlic and soy sauce, and cook for a further 5 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool. Transfer to a bowl.

Have a small bowl of water handy to wet the wonton wrappers, helping them stick. There are many traditional wonton folding shapes. This is the method I learned from my student’s mother in Shanghai, a woman I often cooked with. To fill the wontons, wet the bottom side of the wonton square. Add a generous teaspoon of filling in the middle of the square. Pull the wet side of the wrapper toward the top of the square, but not all the way to the top, aligning and attaching 1/2 inch from the top. Now you have a flat rectangle shape with the filling at the bottom and the seam at the top. At the top of the filling section, start folding the filling up toward the top, just partway. Leave the top edge of the wrapper still visible. Bring the open left and right sides together, wetting one side while you attach them, sealing well.

To cook as wonton soup, poach the wontons in a light broth at a rolling boil until the wrappers start to look translucent. Stir gently so the wontons don’t stick to the pot.

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