I spent yesterday morning in my mom’s kitchen making wonton soup. It was a cloudy grey day and just seeing the wind whipping the trees made me feel even cozier standing by the stove. I’d made the chicken broth for the soup the day before and the room still smelled faintly of its warm, heartening scent. Now it was time to mix the filling for the wontons.
I learned how to make this soup from my sister-in-law Jennie, who is Filipino. She made it for us on a bad, hard day when my dad was dying. None of us had an appetite, but Jennie knew we needed some sustenance. So she ran to the grocery, got the ingredients and then went to work pinching. Soon, we were all helping her and were wonderfully distracted.
Pinching is, after all, the bulk of the work in making this soup. Essentially, you are wrapping a wonton wrapper around a meatball made with ground pork, shrimp, water chestnuts, carrots and garlic. You can find the wonton wrappers in the organic dairy section at Kroger, usually around the tofu. I’m not sure who else actually buys them, or what they make with them, but, like bok choy, they’re always stocked and ready for purchase.
It must be the Ukrainian blood I have in me, but I find this pinching process very soothing. The wrappers are square, so you dip your finger in water and then trace the wrapper’s periphery with it to make a kind of glue. Then with two small spoons you drop about a teaspoon’s worth of filling in the center. Then it’s pinch, pinch, pinch. It reminds me of my grandma making perogies at her kitchen table, with the huge mound of dough rising in the bowl beside her. She would chat and laugh while working, finding, I think, peace in the repetition of the process.
Anyway, when Jennie made us this soup for the first time it was a revelation. After we ate, even though nothing had changed, we felt better anyway. It never ceases to amaze me how food can do that.
Yesterday, my best friend Kristin likewise needed a boost. She’s been in hospital for two weeks after becoming very ill following the birth of her perfect son Henry. She’s recuperating, slowly but mightily, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
As soon as I saw her for the first time upon my arrival in Winnipeg, I’ve been thinking of this soup. At least for me, when someone is sick, my first instinct is to feed them a bunch of healthy stuff. I like to imagine, however unscientifically, that vitamins are traveling like worker bees to all the places they’re most needed and slowly stitching the damaged parts back together. If anything can do this well, it’s got to be this soup.
So I pinched the morning away, warmed up the broth, added kale and soy sauce, then the adorable wontons, which float to the surface when they’re done.
I thought of my dad and Jennie, my mom and stepdad, William and Gabrielle, and of course Kristin, who just has to be OK. When it was ready, I poured myself a bowl to test it out, adding a little Sriracha to keep things spicy. I tasted the richness of the pork, the silk of the wonton, the crunch of the water chestnuts, the bitter nuttiness of the kale. But more importantly, I tasted restoration and a strong, healthy future. And that’s exactly what I was going for.
Jennie’s wonton soup
1 pound extra-lean ground pork
8 to 10 shrimp, peeled, deveined and minced
1 large or 2 small carrots, minced
1/3 cup water chestnuts, drained and minced
¼ cup minced onion
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
1 package wonton wrappers
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
8 to 10 cups chicken broth
4 cups kale, chopped, and/or 3 cups broccoli, separated into florets
4 green onions, chopped
Splash soy sauce, to taste
Splash fish sauce, optional, to taste
In a mixing bowl, combine first eight ingredients to make wonton filling.
Working one at a time, wet periphery of wonton wrappers with water. Place about 1 and ½ tsp filling in center of wrapper. Pinch wrappers closed to form a triangle. Wet ends of triangle and pinch them together to make a tortellini shape. Reserve 1/4 cup filling mixture.
In a large pot, heat oil at medium heat. Add reserved filling mixture and fry. Heat chicken broth. Add kale, broccoli, if using, and green onions. Add wontons and cook until they float. Add splash soy sauce and splash fish sauce to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.