Who doesn’t like surprises wrapped up in neat little packages?

Almost every cuisine has a specialty that encloses a savory filling in an edible wrapping.

In French food, there’s chicken cordon bleu. Mexican and South American cooks make tamales.

Italian cuisine wraps pasta around an endless variety of fillings to create ravioli and tortellini.

Perhaps no cuisine has wrapped as many foods in as many ways as Chinese cooking has.

Little packages of meat, vegetables or sweet fillings can make up a whole meal, as anyone who has enjoyed a dim sum meal, where cartloads of appetizing little plates are rolled through the restaurant for diners to pick and choose, will attest.

Many of those Chinese packages are wrapped in wonton squares.

And now that wonton wrappers are widely available in almost

every grocery store, American cooks are using them to make shortcut versions of turnovers, taquitos and ravioli.

Wonton wrappers, thin squares of wheat-based dough, are pliable enough to roll, twist and pinch into a variety of shapes.

Because they are so thin, they can be quickly baked into a crispy shell that has the satisfying crunch of fried food.

Delivering that crunch with only 20 calories per wonton wrapper has led enterprising cooks to substitute them for pie crust and pasta sheets.

Actually, making ravioli with wonton squares isn’t anything new. According to food historians, the explorer Marco Polo enjoyed wonton-wrapped meat during his travels in Asia, and brought the idea back to Italy.

There, the concept was adapted to thin sheets of pasta around meat and cheese fillings, creating ravioli and tortellini.

Wonton wrappers are easier to work with than fresh pasta since the dough is made of little besides flour, eggs and water.

The wrappers also are dusted with cornstarch to keep them from sticking

They are sold in the refrigerated section of the produce department in almost all local groceries near the tofu.

Even cooks who consider themselves all thumbs when it comes to wrapping presents will find it easy to work with wonton wrappers.

It’s important to start with a dry surface, since getting the squares wet will make them gummy.

When the filling is ready to be wrapped, that gumminess becomes an asset.

By wetting the edge of the wonton, it creates its own adhesive to form a seal around the filling.

Once the two wet edges are pressed together, they will hold whatever shape the recipe calls for, whether it’s a triangle for a turnover, a cylinder for a taquito or a traditional Asian envelope.

Although some of the wonton’s newfound popularity is because of its no-fat crunch, they also have a softer side.

Steamed dumplings made with folded or crimped wrappers are more yielding, with just a bit of chewiness.

Assembling the dumplings is not as time-consuming as it might appear.

It doesn’t take an origami-master level of dexterity; anyone who can fold a towel can produce a batch of tidily folded dumplings.

The squares only hold about a tablespoon of filling, but as long as they’re not overfilled, the dumplings will hold their shape through browning and steaming.


Shrimp Dumplings

SERVES: 8

  • 1 3⁄4 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 1⁄2 cups napa cabbage, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 4 small cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 48 wonton wrappers
  • Cornstarch for sprinkling
  • 8 teaspoons canola oil, divided
  • 2 cups warm water, divided

Pulse the shrimp, cabbage, scallions, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce and pepper in a food processor until finely chopped.

Set out the wonton wrappers, a small bowl of water and a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with cornstarch.

Place 6 wrappers at a time on a clean work surface and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into the center of each.

Wet your finger and run it around the edge of a wrapper, fold two opposite corners toward the middle of the filling just until they overlap, then fold the other two corners over the top to form a square.

Press the dumpling to seal in the middle. Place the dumplings on the prepared baking sheet, not letting them touch.

If all the dumplings won’t fit in one layer, place parchment paper between layers.

To freeze

Freeze uncooked dumplings, uncovered, on the parchment-lined baking sheet until solid, at least 8 hours.

Once frozen, transfer the dumplings to an airtight container or freezer bag and return to the freezer.

To serve

Heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Add 12 dumplings in a single layer, seam-side down and not touching.

Add 1⁄2 cup warm water to the pan. Cover and cook until starting to brown on the bottom, about 8 minutes.

Turn them over and cook, uncovered, until brown on the other side, about 1 minute more.

Repeat with the remaining oil, water and dumplings, if desired.

(SOURCE: Recipe courtesy Eating Well magazine)

Apple Turnovers

SERVES: 6

  • 2 spray(s) butter flavor cooking spray, divided
  • 2 medium fresh McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and minced
  • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 24 wonton wrappers
  • 1 1⁄2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the apples, brown sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon; toss to coat apples.

Place the wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Drop the apple mixture by teaspoonfuls onto center of each wrapper.

Moisten the edges of the wrapper with wet fingers, fold over one corner to make a triangle and press sides together to seal.

Transfer the filled wrappers to a prepared baking sheet and coat surfaces with cooking spray.

Bake until wontons are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Place the wontons on individual plates and sift powdered sugar on top.

Serve with ice cream, if desired.

(SOURCE: Recipe courtesy Weight Watchers International)

Firecracker Beef Dumplings

SERVES: 6

  • 2 sprays cooking spray
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1⁄2 pound cooked lean ground sirloin
  • 2 ounces low-fat cheddar or colby cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons green chilies, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 30 wonton wrappers
  • 1⁄2 cup fat-free salsa

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.

Add the beef and cook until it is browned, breaking up meat as it cooks, about 5 minutes; drain meat.

Add the cheese, chilies, chili powder and cumin; cook until the cheese melts, stirring frequently, about 1 minute.

Place the wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Drop meat mixture by teaspoonfuls onto center of each wrapper.

Moisten the edges of the wrapper with wet fingers, fold over to cover filling, press down firmly to seal and gently twist ends to form a firecracker shape.

Transfer the filled wrappers to a prepared baking sheet and coat surfaces with cooking spray.

Bake until the wontons are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve with prepared salsa.

(SOURCE: Cope Courtney Weight Watchers International)

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