Rare Spring Treat: Lotus Heart Wontons

After a couple of hours tasting the 2009 spring harvest Lotus Heart and Imperial Dragon Well, Grace, Shirley, and I had an impressive pile of lightly used ultrapremium green tea leaves. Thrifty Chinese know better than to discard this treasure. These teas are picked so early they're as tender as young vegetables. Shirley and I scooped up the moist leaves and headed to Chinatown to get the other ingredients for exotic Lotus Heart Wontons!

Shirley is known around the teahouse as a good cook, especially of Northern Chinese specialties in the dumpling family. She took the lead in the lotus heart wonton experiment. I just tagged along making pictures, asking questions...and of course evaluating the outcome! Here's Shirley's recipe:

1 lb ground pork, not too lean
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp tea oil (or you can substitute canola oil)
1 tbsp finely minced ginger
1 tbsp Shao Xing Chinese cooking wine (or you can substitute sherry)
1 tsp light soy sauce + 2 more tsp per serving for broth
1 green onion, diced
Salt to taste
1/2 cup of previously brewed dragon well tea leaves (Note: use more or less as available. Don't use the leaves of other types of tea, such as oolong or puerh. They're too large and tough. No need to chop up the leaves, they're very tender.)
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
1 package medium-sized square wonton wrappers
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Place the ground pork in a large bowl. Stir in the dark soy sauce and tea oil (try Shirley's technique of stirring the ingredients into the meat with chopsticks). Add the minced ginger and then the Shao Xing and 1 tsp of the light soy sauce. Stir in the diced green onion and add salt to taste. Next, stir in the tea leaves, then add the dark sesame oil.

Now it's time to make the wontons. There are different techniques for wonton-folding. Shirley's yields small pouches that resemble Chinese ingot coins. In addition to the ingredients you'll need a small bowl of water to moisten the wrappers and glue them together.

Take one wrapper and place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center. Moisten a finger and run it around the perimeter of the upturned wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half, making a rectangle with a bulge of filling in the middle. Now bring the two ends of the rectangle together and glue them together with a bit more water (see illustration below). Place completed wontons on a sheet of waxed paper.

When you're ready to cook the wontons, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil (about 1 liter of water per dozen wontons). Add wontons, return to boil, and cook briefly, about three minutes, until the wrappers begin to look slightly translucent. Using a slotted spoon, transfer wontons to a large bowl.

Place 2 tsp of light soy sauce in the bottom of each serving bowl, then add a few ladles of the cooking liquid. Add wontons, garnish with chopped cilantro, and enjoy!

Place filling on wonton wrapper
Fold wrapper in half, making a rectangle
Bring the ends together
Finished wontons await boiling