This recipe hasn’t been tested by The Washington Post.
There’s plenty of conversation about when a first kiss should be, when sex should happen, and when you might meet a new significant other’s friends and family. But there is very little conventional wisdom about when the right time is to bring a potential paramour into your kitchen, pour him or her a glass of wine and cook a romantic meal. Recently, I chatted about this conundrum on the Solo-ish podcast with Lisa Bonos.
When I first began my career as a food writer, it was easy to impress men by offering up a home-cooked meal on a first or second date. Who doesn’t love food cooked expressly for them, by a girl doing her best to look cute while doing it?
At first, my plan seemed to be working. They’d compliment the food, eat every last morsel and occasionally offer to help with the dishes. But then one of two scenarios would happen:
- I’d never hear from him again.
- We’d continue seeing one another, but the power dynamic would get weird. It would become expected that I would keep cooking. “You’re so good at it!” he would say. Confusing my suitor’s affection for my butternut squash lasagna with his affection for me, I’d be flattered and continue whipping up gourmet meals for the two of us, but a tiny seed of resentment would be planted. It never ended well.
Of course, there could be all sorts of reasons it didn’t work out. Maybe he didn’t really like me that much, and my slightly underdone risotto was what made it obvious? Who knows. But the second reason was more of a problem: Because cooking is an integral part of who I am, and perhaps also because it is associated with antiquated gender roles, bringing it into a budding relationship too early inevitably made things weird.
When I met Evan, to whom I am now engaged, I didn’t want to make this mistake again. After two dates in bars, one in a restaurant, one picnic in a park, I came up with a way that he and I could cook together.
My thinking was that, if we worked on our meal together, it wouldn’t be exclusively on me to replicate it in the future, nor would it have me feeling like a housewife. Plus, it would be an opportunity for me to gauge his interest in cooking and food — both of which are important to me.
Because we lived in little apartments with even littler kitchens, I had to come up with something that wouldn’t require much counter space. I also knew it should be something relatively simple. (I had no grasp of his cooking skills, and I didn’t want to overwhelm him.) I also wanted to make something that didn’t require a complicated recipe I would have to continuously check throughout our date. I decided that we’d make dumplings.
I bought dumpling skins at my local Asian grocery store, we made a simple filling out of sweet potatoes. And together, we sat at my kitchen table and filled, rolled and pinched little rounds of dough, until we had more dumplings than we could eat. Because the dumpling-rolling process takes a while, it was also a great time to talk. I got to show off my skills, but we shared the work, as well as the eating, and the cleanup (which was pretty minimal). After that, I determined: Dumplings are the perfect cooking date.
Sweet Potato Dumplings
- Peel and dice two medium sweet potatoes or garnet yams (the kind with orange flesh).
- Cook them in a covered pot of salted, boiling water until very tender, about eight minutes.
- Drain and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch. Transfer sweet potato to a mixing bowl.
- Use the back of a fork to mash the sweet potato until smooth. Add a few dashes of soy sauce (just enough to make the mixture flavorful), a few drops of sesame oil, a couple cloves of minced garlic, a couple of thinly sliced green onions, a small nub of peeled, grated ginger (or use dried, ground ginger, to taste), and a few dashes of Asian chili sauce (check with your date about their tolerance for spiciness first).
- To assemble the dumplings, brush the edges of a dumpling skin lightly with water (use a clean finger or a small pastry brush).
- Place about 2 teaspoons of the sweet potato mixture in the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half and make five to six small pleats as you seal the wrapper together, pinching gently to ensure total closure.
- Transfer the folded dumplings onto a floured baking sheet or platter.
- Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers until all the dumplings are made.
- To cook the dumplings, heat a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil (or vegetable, canola or grape-seed oil) in a large frying pan (make sure it has a fitted lid and set it near the stove), over medium heat.
- Working in batches, arrange the dumplings close to one another (but not touching) in the pan, flat-side-down, and let cook for two to three minutes until a golden crust begins to develop on the bottom.
- Carefully pour about 3 tablespoons of water over the dumplings, then cover the pan quickly and let steam for about three minutes.
- Remove the lid and let the dumplings aerate until the excess water is cooked away and the bottoms become crisp again.
- Transfer the cooked dumplings to a serving platter, repeat with the remaining uncooked dumplings, adding more oil as needed, then serve immediately, with a half-and-half mixture of soy sauce and rice vinegar for dipping.
We ate these, dipped in soy sauce and lots more chili sauce — this meal helped us discover our shared love of spicy food — with cold beer and a crunchy kale and cabbage slaw. Nearly four years later, this is still a favorite meal to cook together, always together, and always with chili sauce.
You can listen to my conversation with Lisa Bonos here — or subscribe to the Solo-ish podcast on iTunes.