Header photo credit: The Food Queen
Why vegetarian wu gok?
After we hit it out of the park with our Let’s Get Ballsy fish ball workshop, the second round came with our equally successful dim sum workshop. If you attended this workshop, you would have tasted all the dim sum varieties made with sustainably sourced seafood supplied by our friends at Pacific Rich Resources, as well as the vegetarian Wu Gok (芋角) made by Chef Neil Tomes.
We know how much dim sum is a part of our daily lives here in Hong Kong, whether we’re grabbing some frozen dumplings at the local supermarket or going for yum cha with the fam at the weekend. However, it’s never clear as to what exactly goes into each dim sum treat. As we dive into our baskets of dim sum, most of us are unaware of the hidden substances or replacements (flour mixtures and flavour enhancers) that are often used for mass production and cost efficiency.
If you regularly go for yum cha, you may have noticed that many dim sum options out there contain seafood such as shrimp, scallop and even shark’s fin. The seafood used often comes from unsustainable sources and may also be treated with chemicals to enhance its appeal and flavour. Take the shrimp in our favourite har gow, for example.
Many shrimp farms in Asia and South and Central America often overcrowd their ponds, leading to high rates of disease and parasites amongst the shrimp. These farms then use large quantities of antibiotics, disinfectants and pesticides to address the disease outbreaks, even though many of these chemicals are illegal and also pollute the environment. The conditions have become so poor that reports show failure rates in shrimp farming as high as 70 to 80 per cent. Shrimp farming not only threatens human and environmental health, but it can also impact other fish species – shrimp catching usually involves bottom trawling, a process that can potentially implicate non-target species caught along with shrimp, and sometimes these non-targets include overfished or threatened species. Shrimp farming has also been linked to unethical labour practices, with cases of slavery having been uncovered in shrimp factories in places like Thailand, where illegal immigrants and child labourers are involved. Yep, we’re talking about that shrimp in your dumpling from a dubious source.
Looking at all the concerning facts about seafood and meat in today’s world, it’s good to eat everything in moderation and indulge in more greens. When Chef Neil Tomes did a demo at our dim sum workshop, he made a vegetarian version of one of Hong Kong’s favourite dim sum, fried taro dumplings (wu gok), which taste just as good as the original ones that are typically filled with meat.
Make these delicious vegetarian wu gok taro puffs at home:
Vegetarian Fried Taro Dumplings (Wu Gok)
- 600 g taro root
- 115 g wheat starch
- 115 ml hot water
- 115 g vegetarian margarine
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 30 ml vegetable oil
- 45 g wood ear mushroom diced
- 75 g white mushroom diced
- 165 g white onion diced
- 120 g shiitake mushroom diced
- 12 g ginger diced
- 14 g garlic minced
- 19 g garlic chive diced
- 110 g potato diced
- 12 g spring onion diced
- 88 g bamboo shoot diced
- 10 g veggie seasoning
- 10 ml sesame oil
- 2 g salt
- 1 g white pepper
- 15 g black bean paste
To deep fry:
- 2 L vegetable oil
For the dough:
- Peel and cut the taro into 1-cm-thick slices, cover and steam for around 20 minutes, or until soft.
- Using a motorised mixer with paddle attachment, add the wheat starch and hot water along with the steamed taro slices and beat until combined.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until combined. This should form a smooth dough. Set the dough aside while making the filling.
For the filling:
- Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed pan, add all the ingredients and stir-fry (adding the bean paste last). Cook for 8 minutes, covered, or until the potato has softened.
- Form the dough into rounds the size of a golf ball, smaller if you prefer, then flatten them using a bit of flour.
- Place a dollop of filling in the centre of each disc. Don’t overfill or underfill them – add just enough filling to allow the sides to come together. The final dumpling shape should look like a small rugby ball.
- Heat 2L vegetable oil to around 170°C, then slowly submerge the dumplings to deep-fry them, cooking a few at a time.