Commit to Home Cooking -- and Try These Wontons!

Mark Bittman recently suggested in his New York Times blog that the government “encourage and subsidize home cooking ... [because] when people cook their own food, they make better choices.” I wholeheartedly agree that we make better choices when we cook our own food.

Because I love to cook, I tend to cook most of my family's meals. Still, over the past couple of years I found that it was getting easier to either go out or pick something up instead. So, last fall I renewed my commitment to home-cooking; call it a New School Year’s Resolution. We would eat out just once or twice a month, and the rest of the time we would eat our own home-cooked meals.

Let me know if this sounds familiar: You make a menu plan packed with homemade goodness for the week; soups, stir-frys, pastas, meals that will make leftovers for next-day lunches or can be transformed into new meals the next night. Your grocery list looks great -- and includes loads of produce you plan to buy organic. A few canned foods, milk, cheese, meat, and a few international foods, and you're all set for the next six delicious days.

Then day four rolls around. It’s Sunday. It's five o’clock before you know it. Your menu plan says that you once thought making wontons, dipping sauces, and a tofu stir-fry for dinner was a good idea. Super.

For me, this is when visions of delivered pizza and Thai takeout begin to dance in my head. Even though I've already defrosted the ground chicken, I really don't feel like making wontons, tofu, or sauce. But we went over the finances last night, it's minus 15 degrees outside right now, and I've already committed to that whole home-cooked meals thing. I'm not letting myself off the hook.

Not entirely, anyway. First I make a deal with myself. No tofu stir-fry tonight. If wontons are not enough, the Indian leftovers in the fridge will have to suffice. Then I get out the big yellow bowl. (Sometimes a big yellow bowl can make a difference.) I'm grumbling as I start pulling scallions and ginger from the fridge, cans of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots from the pantry. That’s okay; the only one who can hear me is the cat, patiently waiting by his dish, not realizing that his dinnertime is still two hours away.

Finally, it happens. While I mince the ginger, I start to think that wontons sounds pretty good. I'm using a new recipe, which means I'm making progress on my “one new recipe a week” New Year's resolution. The two dipping sauces, one a lime-cilantro sauce and the other plum, will come together fast. There's a 50/50 chance my daughter will try a wonton.

Soon, twenty wontons are lined up like plump pillows on a platter, and I'm about to start slipping them into a pot of boiling water. My husband and daughter are happily grading papers and sounding out words (you can guess who's doing what) in the dining room. I break down and feed the cat early. I find I am almost cheerful.

As it turns out, my daughter wants nothing to do with the wontons, even though I try to sell them as both "Chinese ravioli" and "meatballs-inside-a-noodle". She's content with a sandwich and celery. It turns out to be a good night after all, and a good dinner full of choices we can feel good about.

Good Choice Wontons adapted from a recipe in Dim Sum, by Vicki Liley


1 Cup ground chicken

5 scallions, sliced thin, including about half the dark green

1 Tbsp ginger, minced

½ can water chestnuts, diced small

¼ can bamboo shoots, diced small

2 tsp mirin

½ tsp salt

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp roasted sesame oil

1 tbsp cornstarch

Square wonton wrappers (the recipe made about 20 wontons for me)


Mix together all ingredients except wonton wrappers. Lay a wonton wrapper on your work surface and brush all four edges with water. Place a spoonful of filling in the middle. I find it easiest to hold the wrapper in my palm and then lay another on top, pinching the edges together evenly all the way around; in this case, a cupped palm is more accommodating than is a cutting board. Repeat until you run out of filling or wrappers.

In a stockpot, bring at least eight cups of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, slip four wontons, one at a time, into the pot. Boil for 4-5 minutes. When the wontons are done boiling, submerge them briefly in cold water and then lay them on your serving plate.

For the lime-cilantro dipping sauce: mix together 2 Tbsp lime juice, 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sugar, and about 1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro.

For the plum dipping sauce: melt ¼ C plum jelly or jam in a small saucepan. Stir in 3 Tbsp white vinegar. Remove from heat and cool.

 Merie Kirby grew up in California, moved to Minneapolis for grad school, and after getting her MFA stayed for fifteen more years. She now lives in Grand Forks, ND with her husband and daughter. Merie writes poetry and essays, as well as texts in collaboration with composers. She also writes about cooking, reading, parenting, and creating on her own blog, All Cheese Dinner. Her most recurrent dream is of making cookies with her mother. This is an excellent dream. Merie's last piece for Simple, Good, and Tasty was Generations of Fresh and Local Cooking.