The key to a Soldier’s heart is through his stomach- recipes included


When I was a young adult, I had my own apartment and a very bad case of depression. There were times when I hurt so badly emotionally, I became numb. It was like I turned off the switch to my feelings and tried to not have any. I’ll leave it at that.

But there was something that softened my heart and it was when my dad would call me and invite me over for dinner. My mother’s cooking represented comfort and familiarity. How could I say no? At the time, I couldn’t cook a thing, I couldn’t even boil water (no exaggeration) so a dinner at my parents’ house meant that some of my emotional and physical needs were going to be met. Just thinking of my mom’s sour cream cucumbers, roast beef, perfectly flavored gravy, fluffy potatoes activates my salivary glands. A part of me melted and healed when I was at my folks’ house despite the substantial dysfunction that existed.

Now I have children of my own. My oldest OS returns to West Point tomorrow and I have only cried a few times in anticipation of that heart-tugging farewell which will happen all too soon.

But I have a few tricks up my sleeve that like my mother, will hopefully tether my OS to his home.

Tonight I’m making Jiao Zi (Chinese Pork and Cabbage Dumplings). If I want Nate home for dinner, all I have to do is ask if he’s interested in pork dumplings and I’m usually assured of about two hours of his time.

If you have a college-bound child or are a West Point Mama with a Soldier of your own, here are the recipes. It’s time intensive but the rewards are oh so great. As an example, Nate invited a few friends over for dinner the other day and one of his buddies asked if we were making those pork dumplings. I wasn’t but that sure made me smile. In December, we hosted a dinner party for Nate and his friends where we featured the pork dumplings, they were a hit!

I have documented our recent Jiao Zi experience just for you including the purchasing the round dumpling wrappers at the Grand Asia Market and the Hubs’ awkward moments therein to un-retouched photographs of my OS enjoying them later at our humble abode which I know is not the Chinese word for home.

Chinese Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Jiao Zi)
1 ½ c. Napa cabbage, finely chopped

1 T. salt

1 pound lean ground pork

3 T. light soy sauce

2 T. dry sherry (may substitute water)

1 t. freshly ground ginger or ginger (I use Gourmet Garden ginger in the tube in the produce aisle)

½ t. white pepper, optional

1 T. sesame oil

pinch sugar

1 T. green onion

1 T. cornstarch

1 egg white

1 (1 pound) package round dumpling wrappers (found in Asian grocery stores)

Place cabbage in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together salt, pork, soy sauce, sherry, ginger, pepper, sesame oil, sugar, green onion, cornstarch and egg white. (Some Chinese cooks advise stirring the filling only in one direction.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while cabbage finishes draining.

Squeeze excess water from cabbage by hand. Add to pork and mix well.

To assemble dumplings, pour a little water in a bowl. Hold a dumpling skin in the palm of your hand and spoon over 1 tablespoon of filling in the center. Moisten the edges of the dumpling skin, and fold into a crescent shape. Make sure the dumplings are well sealed or they will lose their filling while they cook!

Fill a large stockpot about halfway with water, and bring to a rolling boil. Add the dumplings (you may need to cook in batches.) When water boils again, add a little cold water to lower the temperature. Repeat. When dumplings boil, for the third time, they are done. (They will float to the surface and the skins will look translucent.)

You can also fry the dumplings up with canola oil. We usually boil some dumplings and fry a bunch of other dumplings.

Note: Round dumpling wrappers are available in the refrigerated section of the Chinese market. Use these instead of square wonton wrappers, which have a different thickness and texture.

Serve with Sesame-Soy Dipping Sauce

Sesame Soy Dipping Sauce

½ c. soy sauce

4 T. sesame oil

two dashes vinegar

2 t. chili paste, optional

crushed red pepper flakes

sliced scallions

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve in individual dipping bowls.

Do you have any food that brings you home? I’d love to hear it!

2 thoughts on “The key to a Soldier’s heart is through his stomach- recipes included

  1. Wow! This sounds a lot like the korean dumplings we have called Mandu – when you fry them they are called Yaki Mandu, which is one of Emma's favorite Korean dishes. She would only eat that, and rice and seaweed. Go figure! I may have to be brave and try to make them. Thanks for the encouragement that it is doable 🙂

  2. There IS something comforting about mom's home cooked meals. What struck me most about this post was your honesty about depression. Thank you for that. I think more people need to share their depression struggles and what they did to heal, seeing that nowadays it's awfully taboo. I wish it weren't. I'd be interested to hear more of your story…..

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