It didn't take long to figure out my contribution to an election night potluck: celebratory jiao zi dumplings made with bipartisan dough.
Inspiration came from the toothsome, homemade, two-tone dumplings served during a recent 9-course dinner at China Stix in Santa Clara. The meal, hosted by the Association of Chinese Cooking Teachers, included a hands-on demonstration of dumpling making with owner Frank Chang and his head chef. Tucked in the corner of a nondescript strip mall, the restaurant is nothing much from the outside. Once inside, though, you'll find some of the best northern-style Chinese food in the Bay Area.
[Photo by Frank Jang]
Instead of green and white, though, my own dumplings would promise the peaceful, delicious coexistence of Red State and Blue State in every single mouthful. For the Republicans, I still had some powder ground from trai gac, a fruit used in Vietnam to color sticky rice a lucky red.
For Blue State representation, I turned to local writer and cooking teacher, Linda Tay Esposito, for a small handful of bunga telang, the petals of dried clitoria flowers that are used to color sweet rice and other desserts in Malaysia. (Yes, Southeast Asians are addicted to brightly colored food.) The flowers are very difficult to obtain, but Linda was willing to sacrifice some of her stash for the Democratic cause. In gratitude, I passed along some of my Republican powder.
Most natural colors are not any more difficult to use than the fake stuff in those little bottles. Most flowers, leaves or barks are best extracted during a cold-water soak. If needed, strain out the solids.
If you're coloring rice, start with a smaller amount of colored water for soaking, to infuse as much concentrated color into the grains as possible, then follow with a second soaking before cooking. (This is a handy trick for deeper golden hues in saffron pilafs, too.) Beets, hibiscus, pandan, turmeric, ube -- we're blessed with many brightly hued foods to lend artistry to our plates.
As we head into the holiday season, with lots of colorful cookies and festive breads to share, it's time to stock up on food colorings. This year, try out natural food colors. If making your own is not appealing or possible, you can find convenient natural colors online. Nature's Flavors offers organic food coloring in both powder and liquid forms.
As for those two-toned, Green Party dumplings at China Stix: Round up some friends and reserve a table, as a full banquet is the best way to experience their excellent variety of dishes. House favorites include the crispy-skinned duck, the tender pork spareribs cooked and presented dramatically inside a whole pumpkin, crazy flaky thousand-layer bread, and refreshing greens punctuated with extra tiny pinenuts.