Veggie Dumpling Filling

Residency is in full swing now. Sarah has gotten up at 4 AM every single day this past week to go to work. I rarely see her prior to 7:30 or 8 in the evening. I have spent my first week down in the Emergency Department with most of my shifts running from 2 in the afternoon to 1-2 AM the next morning. Those days are a bit tougher considering we only get about 2-3 hours together. We both agree that it is both nerve-wracking and exhilarating to be making decisions that directly impact the well-being of our patients.

Without further ado, here is the addendum to the last post where I promised to share a veggie dumpling filling alternative.

Veggie Dumpling Filling

  • Carrots                                 2, peeled and shredded
  • Napa cabbage                     1.5 cups, diced
  • Shiitake mushroom         1 cup, diced
  • Egg                                        1
  • Garlic                                    3 cloves, minced
  • Ginger                                  2 T, minced
  • Sesame oil                           1 T
  • Soy sauce                             2 T
  • Oyster sauce                        4 T
  • White pepper                      1/2 T
  • Corn starch                           Varies

The directions are pretty much the same:

Place napa cabbage into a bowl and add salt. Toss the mixture and let it sit for around 10-15 minutes. By this time, the cabbage be leaking water on the bottom of the bowl. Squeeze out your cabbage and place it into a large bowl. To the same bowl, add egg, shredded carrots, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and white pepper. Use your hands and mix everything together trying to evenly incorporate all the veggies and sauces. Add corn starch to help bind it together.

You can also feel free to add bits of crumbled tofu if you want additional protein.



Fathers, Family, Friends, and Dumplings

On the residency interview trail, I remember being asked, “Tell me about your childhood.” I responded by starting with my upbringing in the suburbs of California before I was interrupted by my interviewer with “No, I mean before that.”

I am actually a 1st generation immigrant to the United States. My father left for the US before I was born in order to help set up a path for my mother and myself to follow. In my conversations with him, he told me that he arrived in the states with $200 total. He was fortunate enough to have received a work study scholarship to attend a university, and tuition was provided. While that was great, the scholarship did not cover a place to live, food, books, or school supplies and there was the issue of the language barrier as well. So my dad worked multiple jobs in order to support himself. He worked in the school cafeteria. He worked in some Chinese restaurants. The pay wasn’t fantastic, but they would at least feed him once during his shift. The rest of the time was a lot of instant noodles (which he still hates to this day). He lived with multiple other students in a tiny,crowded apartment. And here’s the kicker, he did this while somehow juggling a full class load and doing ridiculously well. Apparently, a stipulation for receiving the tuition scholarship was that he must be a full-time student. I sat down with him a few years ago and asked him how he did it. His responded without hesitation, “Because not doing it was not an option.”

I didn’t meet my father in person until I was 3 years old. At that time, he already found a job and an apartment for us to live in. He had even bought me 3 toys (a ray gun, a truck, and a jet fighter). I recall it not taking any time at all for me to love and respect the man that is my father; the man who taught me to be honest, the man who taught me to be humble, and the man that I feel so incredibly fortunate to call “dad.”

Sarah and I made a large batch of dumplings last night. Dumplings have all kinds of symbolism in Chinese culture, but they will always remind me of home and family. Dumpling making should always be a communal activity. I grew up making dumpling with my family. My mom would prepare the filling, and we would all sit down around the table for hours folding, telling stories, and chatting. Dumpling making is a tradition that I’ve shared with my wife (Sarah is some kind of dumpling folding savant. I even sometimes think she folds them better than I do.) It is a tradition I plan to share with our children. It is a tradition I’ve shared with many of our close friends.

Should we ever get the chance sit down and make dumplings together, please know that in those moments, we are family.

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

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  • Ground pork                                           1lb
  • Napa cabbage                                         1.5 cups, julienned
  • Salt                                                            0.5 T
  • Shiitake mushrooms                           1 cup, diced
  • Garlic                                                        3 cloves, minced
  • Ginger                                                      2 T, minced
  • Sesame oil                                               1 T
  • Soy sauce                                                 2 T
  • Oyster sauce                                            4 T
  • White pepper                                          1/2 T
  • Corn starch                                              Varies
  • Dumpling skins                                      1 package (I prefer the circular shape)
  • Water                                                         1 small dish.

For the dipping sauce:

  • Soy sauce                                                   3 T
  • Black vinegar                                            2 T
  • Sesame oil                                                  1 T
  • Honey                                                          1-1.5 T
  • Garlic                                                            1 clove, minced
  • Ginger                                                          1 T, julienne
  • Green onion                                               1 stalk, diced


Begin by placing your julienned napa cabbage into a bowl and adding salt. Toss the mixture and let it sit for around 10-15 minutes. By this time, the cabbage be leaking water on the bottom of the bowl. Squeeze out your cabbage and place it into a large bowl. To the same bowl, add ground pork, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and white pepper. Use your hands and mix everything together trying to evenly incorporate all the veggies and sauces into the ground pork. This is your dumpling filling. It should be somewhat sticky and retain its shape if you mold it. If your filling is a bit too wet, add a bit of corn starch to help thicken.

Sit down with your bowl of filling, a small dish of water, and the dumpling skins. Use a small spoon to put a dollop of filling in the middle of the dumpling skin. Wet the outer edges of the dumpling skin with your finger. You are only going to fold one side of the dumpling skin in order to make the pleats. As you continue folding pleats, the dumpling should begin to take shape. Repeat the process for the rest of the dumpling skins.

Once you have a batch, take a pan with a lid and heat up some oil on the bottom. Make sure the entire bottom of the pan has a thin coat. Place your dumplings in the pan and let them cook for around 5-10 minutes. The bottoms should develop a nice golden color. Carefully add a small amount of water to the pan and cover it with the lid. Allow the dumplings to steam and finish cooking. This should take another 5-10 minutes depending on how many dumplings are in your pan.

As your dumpling are cooking, place soy sauce, sesame oil, black vinegar, and honey in a small bowl and mix it all together. Add ginger, garlic, and green onions to complete your dipping sauce. Serve on the side.


Dumpling fillings can be made with pretty much anything. Be on the lookout for a mini post where I’ll provide you with the recipe for a vegetarian version that I make as well.



Nuts about Noodles

Sarah and I are both in the midst of orientation now. Hard to believe that in less than a week, we will be introducing ourselves as “Dr. Ren.” FYI Sarah changed her last name partially because she realized that pediatric programs often feed their residents unlike surgery programs and has every intention of stealing my lunch…I only partially jest.

One of our go to simple recipes in a time crunch is a version of Chinese cold noodles or “涼麵.” This particular dish originated in the Sichuan province and traditionally involved sesame paste. Growing up, this was my family’s version of spaghetti and meatballs, especially suited for a hot day. My mom made her own version and would take Jif peanut butter and mix it with soy sauce as a base for the noodles. A DIY assortment of condiments, julienne veggies, and minced meat was laid out for us to customize the meal as we saw fit.

In the version that Sarah and I make, we’ve blended a lot of the flavors into a more uniform sauce that still retains the original nutty base with hints of acidity, spiciness, and sweetness. It continues to be a crowd pleaser. In fact, I remember making this noodle dish for Lunar New Year for a group of friends in New Orleans. I spent all day cooking and yielded a fairly impressive spread of dumplings, steamed fish, short ribs, and eggplant in addition to the noodles. To my surprise and chagrin, it was the humble peanut noodles that stole the show.

Spicy Peanut Noodles


Spicy peanut noodles with kale and garnish of red pepper flakes, green onions, toasted sesame seeds, and Thai basil.

I’m not going to bore you with the details on how to cook noodles. I tend to like wider flour noodles for this dish. You can also customize it with any vegetables that you want. We just happened to have some leftover kale from the farmer’s market.

Ingredients for spicy peanut sauce:

  • Peanut butter              3 T
  • Rice wine vinegar       3 T
  • Green onions               2 stalks, chopped
  • Thai chili                       2-3, chopped
  • Ginger                            1 T, chopped
  • Garlic                             3 cloves, chopped
  • Soy sauce                      1 T
  • Honey                            1 T
  • Sesame oil                    1 tsp
  • Water                             2 T

Put all ingredients into blender and blend until uniform consistency. Pour over noodles and toss until noodles are coated. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, sliced green onion, and Thai basil.



Strawberry Fields Forever

It’s been a busy few days. Sarah and I have visited the (no longer a baby) Bei Bei panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo, brewed a new batch of kombucha, and purchased a set of mid-century modern chairs our living room. Yesterday, we found ourselves in Poolesville, MD. We had been throwing around the idea of finding a place to go fruit picking for a while and stumbled upon the idyllic, Homestead Farm, less than an hour drive from where we live. To say the farm is beautiful seems like it would be an understatement. With 230 acres at their disposal, the Allnut family is busy almost year round. We visited during strawberry season, but these guys grow quite the variety of pick-your-own fruit including apples, cherries, peaches, blackberries, blueberries. I spotted a fledgling X-mas tree lot as well.

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We ended up picking 6 lbs of vibrant, juicy strawberries before calling it a day. You can probably add a margin of error of +/- 1.5 lbs to that number simply due to my “one for the basket, one/two for me” tactic of picking. I’m proud to say that I did exercise much better self control compared to past berry procurement expeditions where I’ve stuffed myself silly and been forced to join the line of berry-picking newbies uncomfortably pacing and hopping around while waiting for the port-a-potties that seem to be smelling progressively more suspect. Berries have compounds that really aid digestion.

Now with a preponderance of rapidly ripening strawberries and a new SodaStream machine…

Strawberry Lime Fizz

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  • Strawberries                    5-6, roughly chopped
  • Lime                                   2-3 medium sized, juiced
  • Sugar                                  1.5 T
  • Seltzer Water
  • Ice cubes

Place the strawberries, sugar, lime juice, and around 5-6 ice cubes into a blender. Blend the mixture until the texture is uniform. Fill a small drinking about half full with the mixture  and top it off with seltzer water. Garnish with a twist of lime. To really unwind, no one is judging if you want to add a shot of tequila.


So fresh and so green

Now that we’re unpacked, we’re starting to poke around our neighborhood a bit, trying to find some new favorite spots before we get down to the actual business of residency. A few days ago, we found a place serving heaping plates of Dominican food within a 20 minute walk from home. Yesterday, we found an herb vendor at a nearby farmers’ market and re-established our little herb garden with thai basil, genovese basil, and rosemary. Today, we finally found the entrance to Rock Creek park and took the trail all the way from our place to Georgetown, finding deer, wild mulberries, and wood ear mushrooms along the way (for the record, we did not eat them; we were tempted, but no one really wants to be the person with crazy diarrhea the first week of work). We’ve been a bit bummed about the prospect of living in such an urban jungle for the next six years (turns out our 4-year tenure in Louisiana kind of killed the ‘city-person’ part of me), so the herb garden and park walk went a long way toward reminding us that our experience in DC can be and green and leafy as we want to make it.

Along with all of this other newness, we’ve also been trying to shift our eating habits a bit, becoming more meatless. This is largely a personal challenge, not particularly motivated by ethical concerns, slightly influenced by environmental issues and our budget. Though we aren’t exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel, meat is expensive, and we’re both curious to see how much we would actually save if we ate less of it, filling the space left behind with more alternate proteins and vegetables. The weather is definitely helping us out these days – after a long, sweaty day exploring outside, all either of us really want to eat for dinner is salad. Well, and popsicles, but, for the sake of this post, salad.

For whatever reason, I haven’t really put much effort into my salad dressing game in the past. I usually stick with simple vinaigrettes at home and occasionally supplement with a creamy store-bought dressing that I always finish embarassingly quickly. However, a few days ago I was catching up on a ‘recipe-a-day’ calendar my mom gave me for Christmas and found a recipe for Green Goddess dressing that looked too good not to attempt. The dressing is yogurt-based and laced with tons of green herbs and other veg. We tweaked the recipe only a little – upping the jalepeno and dialing down the sweetener a bit (not that the original called for much, we just have really aggressively flavored honey).  We ate the dressing over a simple salad of grilled romaine and tomatoes and loved it. If we had it on hand, I think the whole thing would benefit from a sprinkle of cotija cheese on top, but we cleaned our plates as is. I also may or may not have licked the blender clean. This dressing is that good.


Grilled Romaine Salad with Green Goddess Dressing (dressing recipe slightly modified from ‘A Couple Cooks’) 

For the salad: 1 head of romaine lettuce, 1 handful of cherry tomatoes, split

For the dressing…

  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
  • 2/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 t honey

Place all dressing ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Grill the romaine until you have developed some nice char. Top with tomatoes, drizzle with dressing, and top with some freshly cracked black pepper.

*Notes: we originally used 1/2 of a seeded jalapeno pepper but discovered that the dressing did not have nearly enough zip for our taste. We added the other half of the pepper, seeds and all, and thought it was perfect. Feel free to add the jalapeno bit by bit until it tastes perfect to you. Also, as I mentioned above, we have some particularly strong honey, so I scaled the amount down from the original recipe. I didn’t really feel that the dressing needed the honey at all and will likely try it without the next time, or perhaps use a small pinch of white sugar instead.


Cool as a Cucumber

We’re officially moved in! We spent most of yesterday emptying our pod and maneuvering and ‘Tetris’ing our leather couch through a labyrinth of garages, elevators, and other suspiciously small openings (thanks Jake!). By the end, we were covered in a sticky sheen of sweat and dust but feeling quite accomplished.

Today for lunch, I turned to a recipe that is both deliciously simple and sure to help you stay cool during the summer. I fondly recall having it with a bowl of hot porridge in the morning during childhood. You can also serve it as an appetizer/mezze before a meal.

Cold Crushed Cucumber


Cold crushed cucumber with pot stickers and black vinegar dipping sauce


  • English cucumber                                         1, refrigerated
  • Garlic                                                                2 cloves, minced
  • Salt                                                                    1 tsp
  • Sugar                                                                 1.5 tsp
  • Rice vinegar                                                    1 tbsp
  • Sesame oil                                                       1 tbsp
  • Sambal Oelek                                                 1 tbsp


  1. Slice cucumber in half lengthwise. Slice into pieces 2′ in length and 1/4′ in width. Take the flat part of your knife and gently smash the cucumber pieces until some seeds separate and the skin breaks.
  2. Place cucumber slices in bowl. Add salt and sugar and toss well. Let sit for 10-15 minutes in the refrigerator as the cucumbers will begin to leak water. Drain the water from the bowl, retaining the seasoned cucumber.
  3. In same bowl, add minced garlic, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sambal oelek. Toss well, coating the cucumber slices in the mixture.
  4. Transfer to serving dish and enjoy.

I like using English cucumber for this dish for a few reasons. I find that it is often times crunchier. The skin is also less bitter so you don’t have to peel them which saves time.