Charles Phan's Hoi An Wontons with Spicy Tomato Sauce

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[Photograph: Eric Wolfinger]

As Charles Phan explains in Vietnamese Home Cooking, Chinese cuisine has a strong influence in certain places in Vietnam like the port town Hoi An. There, much of the food is a mash-up of cultures, so serving fried wontons is not a major leap, cuisine-wise.

Phan's fried wontons use the same filling as his wonton soup—mainly shrimp, pork, mushrooms, and chestnuts—but here they are sealed like ravioli (no tricky folding!) and fried in canola oil. The richness of the dumplings is balanced by serving them with a spicy tomato sauce spiked with fish sauce.

Why I picked this recipe: Fried wontons are not only a fun weekend project, but they also make for a fantastic snack to grace a Super Bowl spread.

What worked: Between the pork, shrimp, chestnuts, mushrooms, and sesame, there's a lot going on in this dumpling filling. It all works together in harmony, though, especially when dipped in the potent spicy tomato sauce.

What didn't: Be sure to fry the wontons in very small batches (in other words, no more than can fit in a single layer in your frying vessel). If you add too many at once, they lower the oil temperature too far and become greasy. I also found that I needed more than 50 wonton wrappers to use up all the filling. Buy two packages just to be safe.

Suggested tweaks: You could certainly tweak the filling to suit your taste, but if dietary restrictions are a non-issue, I'd recommend trying the written version first. Also, these wontons can also be simmered in soup if you'd like to skip the fryer this time around.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Vietnamese Home Cooking to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer out of Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, Berkeleyside NOSH, and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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