Vegetarian Potstickers and Burdock Root Syrup

When asked if my students would make appetizers to serve at the school auction, I gave an enthusiastic yes. I knew they would be eager to contribute, because they’ve taught me what research confirms, that teens are capable of more than we think, and thrive on a sense of purpose. But which appetizer? We would need a “make ahead” recipe, ruling out most canapés. Vegetarian would be inclusive, vegan even more so, and potstickers (who doesn’t love fried dough?) seemed like a good bet. I began by testing an asparagus-centric Smitten Kitchen recipe at home.

“Too bland,” my two teens pronounced, dousing them with chili sauce before inhaling them. “Pork is better.”

meganraisinghandI turned to Herbivoracious, the blog and gorgeous cookbook by Michael Natkin. Natkin uses tempeh, a soy product, in his version, but approves of seitan (wheat gluten) as a substitute. If subbing gluten for soy for pork seems a bridge too far, note that seitan is less processed than tofu or tempeh. You can even make it at home with ingredients in your pantry! For anyone wary of soy’s estrogen-micking compounds (hi, doc!), it’s a reasonable alternative. For the gluten-intolerant, well, this recipe looks good, but it features walnuts. (As Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, it’s always something!)

IMG_3127One challenge in working with seitan is that it doesn’t crumble easily, which can make for some bumpy, lumpen dumplings. The second time around, I diced it finely first. A little like dicing erasers, but it worked a charm.

IMG_2901We started out the class with a short review, the expected excitement about their first CATERING JOB, and some knife sharpening (thanks to my neighbor Eleni for giving us new chef’s knives). As most of the class prepped cabbage, onions, seitan, and sauce for the potstickers, I asked a few to make this Celery Root Soup recipe by David Lebovitz, the Californian in Paris whose charming blog and Facebook posts give me daily vacations at my desk. They made two versions of the soup, one according to the recipe (vegan) and one with chicken stock. My mission was to reveal the wonders of celery root/celeriac, whose gnarly Jabba the Hut appearance in our farm box had given them pause, and to challenge them to identify which version was vegan. Sadly, to quote another Californian in Paris, there simply was “no there there.” Generous lashings of salt, pepper, and chile failed to bring it. Unfazed, the kids declared both versions “good enough.” That’s Lilly above, being cheerful. And why not?  (Christina and I had fun imaging all the ingredients we would have added if we could, starting with dry white wine. When the janitor came by, we asked for his input. He tasted both soups and shook his head. “Needs meat,” he said. Not helpful, Hernando!)

kidsfoldingAfter the filling was ready, I showed the kids how to fold traditional pleats or simple half-moons (genius idea, stolen from Steamy Kitchen). I asked which kids already knew how to fold, and got an enthusiastic demonstrater in Dustin. Way to go, Dustin’s parents! We all got busy dipping our fingers in water and drawing around the circles of dough, then carefully filling and pinching. Making dumplings is a tranquil, satisfying activity. “Vulnerability researcher” and author Brene Brown says that many depressed adults were shamed out of creativity as children and if true, no wonder they’re unhappy. Creative work, especially making something by hand, is wonderfully calming. It occurred to me that this dough-origami might be the only art the kids had in their schoolday, as painting and pottery classes have, alas, gone the way of home ec and shop.

Soon our slyly redubbed “Seitanic” moons were layered with cling wrap and placed in the freezer, with the “least lovely” set aside for frying. According to Natkin, the first rule of potstickers is that there are never enough. A truism if there ever was one. And the dipping sauce of soy, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and chili sauce? Perfect. The kids lingered over their plates so long (even sipping the so-so soup) that parents came to fetch them home.

auctionpotstickersI love when parents come in the kitchen, because the kids get to share their handiwork with the people who matter most. (And kids, if you’re reading this, that parental praise was genuine. Your potstickers were the first things to disappear at the auction buffet, earning raves from people who had no idea you made them. Sorry the cell phone photo doesn’t do them justice.)

orange peelAs the others concentrated on potstickers, Eric, a returning student who is an enormous help in the classroom, mentoring new students and helping with photography, made a simple syrup with burdock root and orange peel. I showed him how to shave an orange with a sharp knife, preserving the flavorful oil while removing as much of the bitter pith as possible.

Burdock (arctium) is rather amazing. Called gobō in Japan, it is popular in Asia but also has a long history as a medicinal drink in Europe, and American natives candied the root with honey. It is mentioned by Shakespeare (which Eric happens to be studying), and its sticky flower burr inspired Velcro. Burdock is also the original flavoring of root beer. I don’t know how the students will like it; we chilled the syrup for use in a future class, but if my son is a clue, they’ll have mixed feelings.

joshandkids“Tastes weird, like something from Ikea,” he growsed when I tested the recipe on him (while our Swedish ancestors tossed in their graves). Then he took another sip, and another, until it was gone. It grows on you. If you find burdock root in your farmbox or at Uwajimaya, give it a whirl.

timmysmilingWe talk a lot about flavor in the cooking class, putting into words qualities that are evasive and fleeting. Mindful eating is truly a long and branched journey but it ends on the tongue, in paying attention to what is happening to the food, and to ourselves, while each is transformed by the other. Taste words — sour, sweet, bitter, umami, crisp, creamy, tough, tender, help us focus our attention, which is more important, I think, than precision or poetry. Even the rituals of eating, from sitting at a table to using a plate, from pausing for words of thanks to clinking glasses for a toast, serve to slow us down, to dilate the lens enough that we can feel the steam rise off the soup, hear the crackle of the crust, see the sauce glisten, and smell the fragrance of life itself, as it enters us.



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Vegetarian Potstickers

This recipe is adapted from Michael Natkin’s Herbivoracious. Makes 48.

For Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup good quality soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1 green onion, whites parts only, cut into tiny thin rings

Combine all ingredients, taste for salt/vinegar/heat balance and set aside.

For Potstickers:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 pound seitan, diced
  • 1 cup very thinly sliced Napa cabbage
  • 6 green onions, white and light green parts only, minced
  • 4 teaspoons dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 48 potsticker wrappers (that is about one normal package; if possible choose a “thick” variety)


  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet with a tight-fitting lid, over a medium-high flame. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Fry the seitan briefly until warm.
  2. Add the cabbage for a few minutes until browned and most water removed. Turn off the heat.
  3. Add the green onions, sherry and soy sauce. Taste and adjust salt as needed. You can also add more sherry or soy, but don’t make it too wet. When you are satisfied with the taste, sprinkle in the cornstarch and toss thoroughly to combine. (This will absorb any water released when the dumplings are cooked). Set aside to cool.
  4. To form the potsticker dumplings, take one wrapper and moisten the entire edge with a fingertip or pastry brush dipped in water. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center. Pick it up, fold in half, and seal the edge. Crimp if you like. If you want to be a pro-crimper, see this post from Jaden. Set on a plate or sheet pan, crimp side up and flat side down.
  5. To cook the potstickers, heat that big skillet back up again to medium-high and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Put the potstickers in in a single layer, flat side down, not touching but they can be close. Fry 1-2 minutes until they are dark golden brown on the bottom. Add 1/4 cup of water and cover the pan. Cook 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid and keep cooking until the water is totally gone – otherwise they won’t be crispy.
  6. Serve hot, with the dipping sauce.
  7. To store for cooking later, place on single layer without touching, on cookie sheet. Add shrink wrap between layers and over top and freeze. When frozen, gather dumplings into a ziplock bags until ready to cook. Don’t thaw. Proceed as you would for fresh, but steam longer (3-5 minutes) until heated through.

Burdock Root Syrup

Burdock root can be found in Asian groceries and lucky for locals, grows at Jubilee Biodynamic Farm in Carnation. This syrup is delicious mixed with in soda and tea. If you don’t care for the licorice flavor of star anise, omit it.


  • 2 cups water
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, chopped
  • 2 inches burdock root, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon or several strips of orange peel, to taste
  • 1 star anise (optional)
  • 2 cups honey or agave syrup


  1. In a small saucepan, combine water, ginger, burdock, orange, and star anise. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Take off heat.
  2. Add honey or agave and stir until dissolved.
  3. Pour mixture through a filter or sieve over a funnel into a Mason jar.
  4. Refrigerate for up to 2 months. To make soda, add ¼ cup syrup to 1 cup sparkling water and a squeeze of citrus.


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Categories: Appetizer, Beverage, Entree, Kid Favorite, Planning, Snack, Vegan, Vegetarian


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  1. Kale Potato Frittata and Dutch Baby with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce | FARM TO TABLE CLASS - May 4, 2014

    […] began class with a drink made from the Burdock Ginger Syrup prepared in our last class. Two weeks in the refrigerator had intensified and rounded its […]

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