Pork & Shrimp Gyoza

A few years ago, we went on a bike tour in Kyoto, Japan and the tour leader took us to his favorite gyoza shop in his neighborhood. It was hands down the best gyoza we have ever had. This inspired us to make our own homemade gyoza with a twist – gyoza with green spinach wrappers!

Gyoza is a dumpling filled with meat and vegetables, wrapped with a thin envelope of dough. Think of it as a delicious envelope filled with meat and veggies. Originating in China, these dumplings are immensely popular in Japan. During World War II, Japanese soldiers were exposed to jiaozi (Asian dumplings) in Northern China. The Japanese loved the dish so much, they recreated it. In fact, gyoza is the Japanese pronunciation of jiaozi!

Fun fact:
There are three main types of gyoza with Yaki Gyoza (pan fried) being the most popular. Yaki Gyoza are pan fried on a skillet, giving it a crispy bottom while maintaining the soft, juicy-ness within. Sui gyoza are boiled and often served in a light broth. Age gyoza are crispy deep fried gyoza found mostly at Chinese and specialty gyoza restaurants.

The green spinach wrappers we used are infused with spinach puree. It doesn’t taste different in our opinion, but it’s nice to know that there are added nutrients. And we just love the color!

Ingredients:

For gyoza:
0.5 lb lean ground pork
0.5 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
1 cup of minced green or napa cabbage
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Spinach gyoza wrappers
1 tbsp ghee

For dipping sauce
Soy sauce
Sambal chili sauce
Rice vinegar

Steps:

  1. Combine pork, shrimp, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a little bit of pepper and salt and pulse in food processor
  2. Microwave a tsp of the gyoza filling for about 50 sec to taste. Add more salt or pepper if necessary
  3. Place a tsp of gyoza filling into the center of the gyoza wrapper and use your finger to wet a line around half of the gyoza wrapper and fold it over. You can either pleat the ends or use a fork to seal the gyoza
  4. Heat a pan up and coat it with ghee
  5. Place wrapped gyoza into the heated pan and flip once one side is brown
  6. Then place 1/4 of a cup of water straight into the pan and close a lid over it.
  7. Remove lid and let water evaporate
  8. Flip gyoza over to brown both sides
  9. Enjoy with gyoza dipping sauce

Tips:
-Using less water is better than more water when making gyoza because the wrapper can break with too much water
-Smaller amounts of filling is better for gyoza to ensure a good seal
-You can use vegetable oil instead of ghee. We just wanted to try frying it with ghee because we like the buttery taste it adds to the gyoza

Gyoza is always a good compliment to any main dish, but really shines as one of our favorite bar foods. A good beer and gyoza will always put us in a state of nirvana – maybe that’s more the beer, but who knows. Let us know your favorite type of gyoza!

Norooz – A New Day!

Colin and I have been lucky enough to meet and befriend people of all different cultures. Coming from a Japanese and Vietnamese family, we both know a decent amount about Asian culture. However, we’re always looking to immerse ourselves in different cultures and learn customs and traditions that have been around for generations. This is one of the reasons why we enjoy traveling!

In my Master’s program, I met one of my good friends Shaghayegh (Sherry) who really bridged the gap between Asian and Persian cultures. She is purely of Iranian descent, but has an impressive knowledge of Asian culture. In fact, she speaks Japanese more fluently than Colin does! (And she even does so in the anime baby voice that makes the hairs on my arms stand up.) I’ve had a few Persian friends, but never really learned about the culture and traditions. When Sherry invited me over to her house for Norooz, I was like “helllll yeahhh.”

Norooz (meaning a new day) is the Persian/Iranian New Year celebrated on the first day of spring or vernal equinox and marks the first day of the month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar. Norooz has been celebrated for over 3,000 years in Iran, Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin and the Balkans.

In Iran, it is customary to begin spring cleaning and preparations for setting up a decorative table called Haft Sin two to three weeks before Norooz. The extent of the decorations can vary, but the same basic essentials are typically used. Haft means seven and Sin is the Persian (Farsi) alphabet for the letter S, together meaning seven items that start with the letter S. Haft sin as a whole represents humans progression from the material world to the spiritual world through constant renewal and rebirth which is represented by Norooz or the first day of spring. These seven items include:

  1. Sabzeh: wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish, symbolizing rebirth
  2. Samanu: a sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence
  3. Senjed: the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love
  4. Seer: garlic, symbolizing medicine
  5. Seeb: apple, symbolizing beauty and health, also heavenly fruit
  6. Somaq: sumac, a type of spice from the flowering plants in the genus Rhus, symbolizing the color of sunrise
  7. Serekh: vinegar, symbolizing age and patience

If one of the Sins is missing it can be replaced with:

  1. Sonbol: hyacinth flower, which grows in spring
  2. Sekkeh: coins, symbolizing prosperity and wealth

In addition to Sin there are also non-Sin items including:

  • Traditional Iranian sweets such as baklava
  • Dried nuts and fruits (ajeel)
  • Lit candles (enlighten and happiness)
  • A mirror (self reflection and introspection)
  • Decorated eggs (one for each member of the family, also representing fertility)
  • A bowl of water with goldfish (sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving)
  • A crystal bowl of water with an orange in it (the earth floating in space)
  • A book representing wisdom such as Zoroastrian’s Holy Book (the Avesta), Muslim’s Quran or Iranian poetry books (Shahnameh or Divine Hafez)

In Iran, Norooz is celebrated for the first 13 days of the first month of the year (Farvardin). On the first day, everyone in the family traditionally wears new clothes and gathers around the Haft Sin. Once the New Year begins, family members hug each other and wish each other a happy new year! The head of the family (typically the father) passes out Eidi; money hidden in the book of wisdom. Another custom of the first day is to eat sabzi mahi polo, a dish made of herbed rice and Caspian white fish. Throughout the 13 days of celebration, it is customary to visit relatives and friends, starting with the elders of the family. The number 13 is a bad luck number in Iranian Culture. Therefore, when the 13th day of Norooz arrives, “sizdah be dar” is celebrated and every family will go out in nature or have a picnic outdoors. Young girls will often tie a knot with the Sabzeh, wishing for a good partner. The Sabzeh is thrown in running water to protect the wishes from evil and bad luck. Jokes and pranks are played on sizdah be dar, similar to April Fool’s Day!

Learning about Persian culture was extremely fascinating and an honor to be part of, not to mention the incredible food! I was awestruck by the amount of detail and symbolism associated with each particular decoration. There were also a few similarities that paralleled Asian culture such as the Eidi and Li Xi (lucky money) given during Tet or Chinese New Year. We owe a big thanks to Sherry for teaching us about Norooz and letting us share everything we learned about her culture.

I hope that we can continue learning about other cultures through friends and traveling abroad. I find that even though various cultures seem drastically different at face value, they share many of the same core beliefs, such as the importance of family and respect. Let us know a little about your culture and your favorite traditions!