Sometimes magic just happens. Not the boogidyboogidy-kind of magic, but the real fairy-dance kind that ignites sparks around your head when the perfect time of day, place, lighting, mood, company and all other good things come together by some sort of cosmic miracle and give you a little kiss. This recipe is one of the results of one such perfect moment that occurred at around 8am on Sunday the 23rd of September 2018 on a hiking trail hugging the side of a steep valley on the beautiful island of Madeira.
I’m pretty sure that there really aren’t words in any language capable of fully catching and expressing all the details, sounds, visuals, aromas – let alone the feelings all these things call forth – that make up an experience like this, but I’m going to try anyways, so here goes.
Hubby and I had just enjoyed a monumental sunrise on top of one of Madeira’s highest peaks – Pico do Arieiro – and had a long trip along the scenic route of the northern coast to look forward to. On our way back down to sea level, we decided to have the breakfast picknick we had packed at a vista high above a valley racing down into the ocean. The vista, called “Balcões” in case you’re looking for it in a travel guide, and the short trail leading up to it (PR11 Vereda dos Balcões) is easily reached from the starting point of one of Madeira’s oldest Levada Walks (PR10 Levada do Furado from Ribeiro Frio to Portela) located at the trout farms of the Posto Aquíola do Ribeiro Frio, but leading into the opposite direction around a couple of corners and up a perfect early-morning-comfy slope into a neighboring valley seemingly untouched by humanity.
When we passed around the first bend of the path, we walked right into the first rays of sun reaching into the Ribeiro Frio Valley and couldn’t help but stop in our tracks for a moment. It seemed like mother nature was giving off a little comfortable good-morning-sigh-and-stretch, and right on its tail, the first sounds of life in the valley stirring started to reach us. Over the gentle murmur of the water and the occasional flutter and victorious chirp of the early birds in the thickets of the UNESCO protected Laurissilva behind us: the bells of a couple of sheep moving below. A dog making its displeasure at the sight of an empty breakfast bowl known. A flock of chickens clucking and scratching somewhere nearby. The local bees taking up their day’s work… All while the early sunbeams were warming up the side of the mountain just enough to tickle the laurel trees and hydrangea bushes to fragrant life… and something else. Something that made my mouth water but I couldn’t put my finger on. Not until I found a slightly disheveled patch of the source at the side of the trail: wild leeks! And the fairies started dancing around my head. Here I was, in island-induced Zen mode, the most important person in my life right next to me, the early sun warming our faces while we were standing on a mountainside under a green canopy, staring out onto the distant ocean and the scents and sounds of our surroundings sent my neurons into a backflipping frenzy, throwing recipe ideas at me on every jump. Bay leaves, leeks, lamb, chicken, honey. Those were the words I kept chanting in my head until we arrived at the vista where I finally got to collect my scattered thoughts and regained enough sense to realize that writing the words down might just be the key to remembering and putting them to good use later on while making room in my head for the day’s wonders and sights of Madeira.
Many fantastic recipes start with one or more of those ingredients and right then and there I decided to create and add some more of those into my personal repertoire of Favorites, all linked to this perfect morning. The first result of that tasty resolution is today’s dish, simply because “Lamb and Leeks” was the first yumtastic combo that popped into my mind at the time, what with the leeks in front of me and the sheep a bit further down the slope – and the pair took on the shape of Gyozas because Hubby and I had shared another wonderful and delicious moment involving Lamb – wrapped up into insanely tasty Gyozas, of course – just a couple of weeks back. I’ll get to that particular evening in just a couple of blinks~ So, before I go ahead pouring more fuel onto the roaring pit of fire my Travel Bug has going in the back of my mind already, I’ll give you guys the details on the recipe.
The Herby Lamb Gyoza
Just a word in advance: I’ve always soldiered through the whole – to someone who’s not doing this professionally, very testing – process of neatly pleating the rims of Gyozas closed. (I’ve described the technique in my Chicken & Leek Gyoza with Mango-Papaya and Sage Salad Recipe over here if you want to give it a go.) Until last summer, that is, when Hubby and I were celebrating our Wedding Anniversary at a 2-Michelin Star-studded restaurant in town and were served a pair of Gyozas as part of the huge and simply mindblowing array of Amouses – and, you’ve guessed it, they weren’t pleated shut, but finger-curved-and-pinched shut. Of course, I thought to myself “Ha! If a Michelin starred Chef gets to keep his head, staff and stars going that way with Gyozas, why should I feel compelled to do it the hard way?” all while I was somersaulting in my head a) at the prospect of many, many Gyozas out of my own kitchen in the future and b) enjoying the incredible taste of the Gyozas in front of me. So, here’s the easy way to seal something delicious into a delicate Gyoza skin~!
You will get about 35-40 Gyoza out of these, depending on the size and quality of your wrappers. Salad and sauce included, this will translate into 4 main-dish sized servings.
400g Lamb Mince
A very generous dusting of Sea Salt
4 Leafy Sprigs of Marjory
Alt: 4 heaped Tsp Freeze Dried Marjory
2 Sprigs of Garden Savory
Alt: 1 heaped Tsp of Dried Garden Savory
3 Leafy Sprigs of Thyme
Alt: 2 Tsp of Dried Thyme
2 Cloves of Garlic, ground into a smooth paste
2 Spring Onions, white and green parts finely chopped
2 Tsp Red Miso Paste
1 Eggwhite, beaten into a soft foam
1 Pinch Hot Chilli Flakes
1 Tsp Togarashi Pepper Blend
½ Tsp Brown Sugar
30-40ish Round Gyoza/Dumpling Wrappers – they usually come frozen, in tightly stacked piles of 40-50 that will drive you nuts if you try to separate them before they’re thawed or if they were defrosted too quickly or kept in the warmth for too long. Take them out of their packaging, set the stack on a small plate, cover it with clingfilm and place it in the fridge to thaw. Roll up your sleeves and get going once you can easily peel off the first 4-5 skins, the rest will follow at the right pace once they’re out in the heat of the kitchen.
2 Tbsp Mild Peanut per Batch of Gyoza
4 Tbsp Sparkling Water per Batch of Gyoza
2-3 Drops of Chilli Oil per Batch of Gyoza
1 Pinch of Salt per Batch of Gyoza
1) The filling is pretty much done and delicious in about 2 blinks – simply place all of the ingredients, sans the eggwhite, peanut oil, water, chilli oil, and the skins, of course, in a mixing bowls, snap on a pair of CSI gloves and knead the dough with your hands until all of them are very well combined. Done~!
2) And now that I’ve written down my thought process, I realize why I keep forgetting the silly eggwhite… so, here’s a “Do as I say, not as I do” step:
No, you’re not done already. Beat the eggwhite into a soft foam and keep it near the bowl holding your filling.
3) Fold the eggwhite into the filling just before starting the “real” task at hand, filling the skins.
Just for the record: the foamy addition will make the filling more fluffy and light, which, considering that a couple of them might cool down a bit before you’re able to fry all of them, plate up and eat them, will keep the filling from turning a bit firm and maybe even a bit grainy in the sub-temperature minced-meat kind of way. Of course they’re still juicy and delicious, but the eggwhite gives them that little dot-on-the-i lift when it comes to texture.
4) Crunch-time! Make sure you’ve got the dipping sauce and the prep-work for the salad wrapped up already, from this point on, the whole enchilada will go down in one go.
5) Line a large tray with a sheet of baking parchment and rub it with a couple of drops of sesame oil.
6) Fill a small bowl with cold water and place it in easy reach.
Unlike with the pleating-method, you’ve got two easy options at this point.
a) you could hold the skins in the palm of your hand, high enough up towards your fingertips to be able to move your thumb freely.
b) you could line your work surface with a lightly oiled sheet of clingfilm and place the skins there.
7) No matter which way you’re going, pick up the first Gyoza skin and lightly rub the rims with a bit of water.
8) Place a neat little oval-shaped teaspoonful of the filling into the center of the wrapper.
9) Fold both sides of the oval over the filling like a crown and, starting in the middle, use your thumb and index/middle fingers to press the rims together and out-/downwards in a sort of wavy pattern, squeezing out air pockets as you go.
10) Place the dumpling on your lined tray and repeat the process with the remaining filling/skins.
11) By the way, if the number of Gyozas dictated by the amount of now-thawed skins is too high for your dinner plans, you can easily freeze them at this point. Place the ones you want to save for another time on a plate (make sure they’re not touching each other in places), loosely cover them with clingfilm, and freeze them. Once they’re frozen solid, transfer them into zip baggies.
12) The same goes for morning-prep occasions – make sure they don’t stick to eachother, cover them with clingfilm or use an airtight container to begin with, and refrigerate them until you’re ready to roll.
13) If you’ve made them in advance, make sure to slowly get them back up to room temperature before proceeding.
14) I’m going to assume you’re breezing through in one go, so once your last dumpling has hit the tray, place a large, heavy-based pan with a fitting lid onto medium heat.
15) Drizzle in 2 Tbsp of peanut oil and 2-3 drops of chilli oil and sprinkle the entire surface with a bit of salt.
16) Place your first batch of dumplings inside once the oil’s hot – feel free to fill the pan but make sure the skins don’t touch, otherwise they will stick to each other and tear when you’re attempting to take individual dumplings out of the pan.
17) Allow the dumplings to cook and work up a sizzle for 3-4 mins and a sneaky peek beneath reveals a deliciously golden-brown and crispy crust or, like my grandma used to say “leave them in until they’ve grown feet”. Other type of dumpling, same concept~
18) Come to think of it, having feet also implies the ability to move, which is another marker showing you to move on to the next step: if they come loose and slide around in the pan at a gentle shake and tilt, it’s time to add some steam.
19) Add 4 Tbsp of sparkling water to your pan and pop the lid on.
20) Check up on the Gyoza after 2 min. You’re looking for the filling being somewhat visible through slightly translucent skins. A gentle pinch of the nearest dumpling should tell you the meat had time to set and develop a bit of a spring. If that’s the case, keep the lid off and keep the dumplings in the heat until the water has evaporated and that delicious sizzling sound returns. 2 more mins should do the trick.
21) Transfer the dumplings onto a warmed plate and cover them with some form of lid or tinfoil, then repeat the previous steps with the next batch of Gyoza.
22) If you find yourself looking at a gang of dumplings stubbornly clinging to the pan, threatening to stick, tear and drop the filling all over the place, move the pan off the stove, add 2-3 drops of water and pop the lid back on for 1-2 mins. That always solved the case for me.
23) Once your last batch is done, don’t turn off the stove, simply proceed to the pan-part of the Leek & Nasci Pear Salad~
The Dipping Sauce
3 Tbsp Ponzu Sauce
2 Tbsp Lamb Stock
1 Tbsp Mirin
1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
2-3 Drops of Chilli Oil
Alt: 1-2 Drops of Toased Sesame Oil – be reeeeeeally careful with this and use an oil you’ve used before. Overdosing on toasted sesame oil is really easy and really unpleasant.
1 Pinch of Brown Sugar
1) Add everything to a fitting bowl and give the lot a good whisk to combine.
2) Keep the bowl in easy reach once you’ve reached the pan-phase of the Gyoza prep.
The Leek & Nasci Pear Salad
1 Large Nasci Pear, finely julienned or spiraled – Nasci Pears have a very limited season but recently I’ve discovered them to be available all year round in the larger Asian Supermarkets in town. I’ve also noticed them to be a bit more affordable there, so in case you’re having trouble getting your hands on them, it might be worth having a snoop-around~
Alt: 1 Granny Smith Apple
1 Lime, Juice only
1 Leek, finely half-mooned
Coriander Leaves and toasted Sesame Seeds for decorative purposes
1) Stir the lime juice into a bowl of water large enough to hold your julienne and add a few ice cubes for good measure
2) Dump the nasci/apple julienne into as soon as you’re done with the knifework it to keep it from browning and to boost its crunch.
3) Just to recap: Right now, you’ve just taken the last of your Gyoza out of the pan and only a couple of roasted bits and (unburnt!) remains of oil are left behind in the pan. If there’s an excess of water left behind, discard it. Add the leeks to the pan as soon as you’ve set it back onto the heat.
4) Close the lid and give the veg 2 mins to heat up and work up a serious sizzle.
5) Deglaze the lot with the dipping sauce, and give the pan a couple of hearty flips to incorporate the sauce in the veggie ribbons.
6) Immediately tip everything out into a bowl and get ready to plate up.
Assembling the Dish
1) Divide the nasci strands into 4 bowls or deep dishes.
2) Top the piles off with the piping hot leek mixture.
3) Arrange the Gyozas around the heaps.
4) Dot the servings with coriander leaves and sesame seeds.
5) Grab a pair of chopsticks and…
Oh and by the way… if you ever find your way to a forest-covered part of Madeira in general or this wonderful vista in particular, I highly recommend picking up an apple or two somewhere on the way and, if possible, having a swiss army knife (or something similar) in your backpack. Odd advice? Well, here’s why: every time we had a picknick breakfast or lunch in a foresty part of the island, we were soon visited by these little pretty greenfinch’y fellows…
…and, being prepared for these visitors this time around, we presented them with a few crumbs of our Bolo do Caco as sort of a first peace offering. Hm. Not interested, but something else in our packs seemed to be interesting. The Portugese chorizo that I would recommend to anyone with even the slightest bit of interest in delicious charcuterie? Surely not! The Madeiran honey-glossed goat’s cheese actually received a half-hearted peck but neither of us really believed it. And then we struck gold when I started peeling, coring and segmenting the apple I always pack for such occasions. I slowly approached the “Buffet” corner of the stone slab we were using as a table and laid out a piece of peel, a piece of apple and a quarter of the core. In a flurry of wings and green feathers, the bravest of these little ones swooped down on the core and treated it… let’s say the similarities to a gator treating its lunch-buffalo were uncanny, until the seeds popped out.
They then proceeded to wow us with their claw-and-beak skills, neatly skinning the seeds until only the yellow’ish kernel of the apple seeds remained – which they immediately devoured before another fight could break out. And all of a sudden, a line of birds were sitting quite close to our part of the stone, eyeing my apple and giving me that slightly unsettling “What’cha waitin’ for, it ain’t gonna peel itself!” look. I obliged and even picked the seeds out of the core for them. Hurray! In the meantime, they had brought in some more family and differently colored friends, that were hopping up and down the table, inspecting our packs, gear and Hubby’s camera (Not cool! Claws can’t find hold on that silly black thingymabob! Beep! – he excitedly fluttered around Hubby’s head after slipping off the damn thing. Hubby didn’t approve but got the message and stashed the offensive doohickey away for the time being).
I’m well aware that one shouldn’t feed wild animals with “human” food or get them too used to humans in any other way, but I think a few apple seeds and maybe a splash of water in a wooden stump won’t hurt anyone~ Madeira’s bird population agrees! On that note: For someone with an eye and a heart for birds, this might just be the perfect opportunity to get close and personal with a couple of rarities on the island~