Seven Woks opened in the Golden Horseshoe shopping complex when I was a pre-teen in suburban New York. It served standard Chinese-American fare and fit the bill when we wanted to go out for something other than deli or pizza. I don't remember ever having steamed dumplings, though they must have been on the menu. I was all about the beef with broccoli back in those days. Sui mai simply wasn't on my radar.
Fast forward 10+ years. My husband and I did something genius, absolutely inspired, while waiting for our Peace Corps assignments. We pretty much knew we had a good year to kill. We were 24, and we moved to Europe.
I'm skipping a whole lot here, but we ended up in Paris for 8 months living in a tiny roach-infested apartment steps from Notre Dame. There was a creperie next door, a Greek place around the corner (with a sign that read: "We break plates"), and, at the end of the block, a little Chinese restaurant.
I had many revelations in Paris. Some architectural, many cultural, a handful artistic, and more than a few culinary. I also had sui mai for the first time.
I became fairly rabid in my obsession, thinking about the tender dumplings constantly. The way the moisture caressed the little packages as I moved them around with my tongue. The way the steamed skins gave way so gently to the delicate filling. The heady flavors of ginger, garlic, pork, and shrimp that popped but never overwhelmed. Yes, I was gaga for Camembert and cuckoo for crepes, but my mouth really watered when I thought about those sui mai.
It still does. I bought some wonton skins the other day and see them every time I open the fridge. I'm trying to screw up enough courage to make the dumplings, but I'm terrified, really afraid, that they just won't be as good as the ones I remember. So I'm working up to it.
In the mean time, I'm playing with the wrappers.
Recipe for Summer Fruit Wonton Napoleans
It's imperative that you use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to keep the oil as close to 375 degrees as possible when frying up these lovelies. The napoleans are beautiful enough to serve at a party but a bit on the messy side to eat. Make sure your guests are good friends, not business associates, if you catch my drift. I also don't see why you couldn't use pastry cream, whipped cream, or even pudding for the filling if you felt you must.
Makes 4 two-tier napoleans
8 wonton wrappers
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, or a little more for sprinkling
1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar, or more to taste
a handful or two of assorted berries, sliced peaches, or cut-up fruit of your choice
Attach a candy thermometer to the side of a deep skillet. Fill to a depth of 1/2-inch with canola oil, and set over medium-high heat. When the oil reaches 375 degrees, you're ready to fry. Have a slotted spoon (or a "spider") at hand. Line a large plate with a few paper towels.
Carefully lay 1-2 wonton wrappers, no more, into the hot oil. They'll immediately puff up and bubble. Cook for about 45 seconds, gently flip, and cook about 30 seconds longer or until uniformly golden brown. Remove to drain on the paper towels.
Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers, keeping an eye on the thermometer. Adjust the burner, if necessary, to maintain the 375 degree heat.
To assemble, lay all the wontons in front of you. Place the powdered sugar in a mesh sieve and let it fall, snowflake-like, over the wontons, covering the surface as thick as you like. Stir the yogurt and sugar together in a small bowl.
Place one wonton on each of 4 plates. Dollop with a little sweetened yogurt. Top with a few berries and/or pieces of sliced fruit. Lay a second snow-covered wonton on top. Top with more yogurt and fruit. Repeat with remaining wonton pairs until you've made 4 napoleans. Serve.