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Young Pumpkin, Little Jewel of Fall

Starring in juicy, fried meat dumplings

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Fall, my favorite season of all — the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, the joy of celebrating the Harvest Moon, and the brilliant sunsets in the still warm evenings. This fall, I'm extra happy because my parents have come to visit. I have been busy in the kitchen with my mom experimenting with few new recipes. One of my all-time favorites is cooking with the young green pumpkins from the Oriental Food and Spices market (306 W. Harris St., Eureka). If you missed the first season for them, usually in late August and early September, you can still find some at the pumpkin patches in October. I usually pick few immature pumpkins of the green varieties when l go to the patch for big ones — sometimes they let you keep them for free.

Some farmers like to trim some pumpkins off the vines when they are little over a month old after flowering so the rest can grow bigger. When cooking young pumpkin, there's no waste: You can eat the skin, seeds and all. According to some studies, they help regulate blood pressure, boost your immune system and promote heart health. They are also high in vitamin A for healthy looking skin. I like them for their mild, refreshing flavor, their crisp and juicy texture, and the vibrant green against the soft yellow, like a jeweled bowl. I often sauté them with garlic and black bean sauce, make pumpkin pancakes or stir-fry slices with meat.

I remember my dad used to grow our favorite kabocha and Jarrahdale pumpkins in their huge yard when they lived in Humboldt. He would call me up, excited, and invite me to come over and count how many pumpkins were growing. Then he'd decide how many young pumpkins to pick, how many to grow to maturity and how many we were going to share with others.

While my dad loves spending time in the garden, my mom loves spending time in the kitchen. During this visit, we decided to make something new: dumplings with young pumpkin and meat filling. l showed her how to roll super thin wrappers but it wasn't easy for her since she can't keep her hands as steady as she used to. I told her she could just use the store bought potsticker wrappers and roll them out a bit to spread them thinner. I let her grate the pumpkin and l chopped the meat. Our dumplings turned out deliciously juicy inside and crispy outside. She said she likes them much more than the ones from the dim sum places in San Francisco and she can't wait to make them again once they get back home.

Young Pumpkin Dumplings

If you don't want to make your own wrappers, you can always use store bought. Just flour your rolling pin and roll each wrapper outward from the center to make it little thinner. But making your own is fun and tastes much better. I like these dumplings plain, but you can serve with a soy and vinegar dipping sauce.

For the filling:

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups grated young pumpkin

1 cup minced pork or chicken

2 tablespoons chopped green onion

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

½ teaspoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon sesame oil

For the wrappers:

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup warm water, 110°F

1/8 teaspoon salt

For frying:

1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil

½ cup water

1 teaspoon flour

Stir the flour and salt. Add the water, reserving 1 tablespoon, as you might not need it, depending on the moisture content of the flour you use. Mix and knead until a soft dough forms. If it still feels crumbly, add the remaining teaspoon of water. Cover and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes.

While the dough rests, make the filling. In a large bowl, toss the grated pumpkin with the salt and let stand for 5 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as you can from the pumpkin. Add the minced pork or chicken, chopped green onion, white pepper, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ½ teaspoon vegetable oil and sesame oil. Mix well using your hands and refrigerate, allowing the flavors to meld.

Now roll out the wrappers. Divide the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into 5 or 6 pieces for a total of 20 to 24 pieces. Lightly flour your palms and roll the pieces into little balls. Yes, they will be very small. On a floured surface, roll each ball with a flour-dusted Chinese rolling pin or small beer bottle to form a 3 ½-inch circle. The dough will be stretchy and should be easy to work with.

Remove the filling from the refrigerator. Holding the wrapper in one hand, place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center. Use the other hand to pleat the edges of the wrapper, pinching your way around in a circle until you have sealed the top. Place the sealed dumplings on a heavily floured tray or platter. The flour is important since the wrappers are thin and you don't want them to stick to the bare tray. Once you finish wrapping, it's time to cook.

Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat for a minute before adding the oil. When the oil is hot, place the dumplings in the pan and cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes before lifting one up to check whether the bottom has turned just golden. Mix the ½ cup of water with 1 teaspoon flour and pour it around the edge of the pan. Cover and turn the burner up to high. Once you hear sizzling or see all the water has evaporated, about 4 to 5 minutes, turn the heat off. Let the pan sit for a minute before removing the cover. The dumplings will be juicy and hot, so let them cool for a minute before serving.

You can find Home Cooking with Wendy Chan (she/her) classes benefitting local charities on Facebook.

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