Archive / Dumplings

Asulia’s Anniversary: A Year in a Food Start-up

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year!  I’ve been working on Asulia full time since September 2012. Looking back at the past 12 months, I see that I’ve made a lot of progress as a food start-up, all while being self-funded. No matter what happens, I can be proud of that.

While there’s still more to do, when I write it down, I can see that I’ve gotten a lot done. The life of an entrepreneur is never dull. No wonder I’m tired some times! Some key things I’ve done since September 2012:

  1. Tested, tasted, and developed 3 vegan dumpling recipes: taro root, chickpea and kale.
  2. Changed the hand cut dumpling wrapper from white to wheat.
  3. Became ServSafe certified.
  4. Sourced dumpling ingredients, as locally as possible.
  5. Made nutrition labels.
  6. Purchased bar codes.
  7. Found a food photographer.
  8. Reshot food photography multiple times.
  9. Looked through hundreds of logos.
  10. Reworked various logos multiple times.
  11. Branded and then rebranded – I actually started with a different name.
  12. Went through 3 graphic designers until I found the right fit.
  13. Completed packaging development and design.
  14. Ran a trademark search.
  15. Legally formed the company.
  16. Found a kitchen to make the dumplings. This took months to do!
  17. Found an environmentally-friendly printer to work with, after calling dozens of places and researching for hours on end.
  18. Became a certified YouthTrade company.
  19. Obtained vegan certification for all three fusion dumpling flavors.
  20. Blogged, emailed, tweeted and posted updates on FB.
  21. Launched a website.
  22. Figured out Asulia’s personality. What does she like? What matters to Asulia? What matters to me? This is a key part of our brand.
  23. Started blogging for Huff Post.
  24. Walked through what felt like football fields of food at two Fancy Food Shows in San Francisco (thanks to air miles) and in NYC.
  25. Attended (and will continue to attend) numerous food networking events.
  26. Attended the Stonyfield’s annual entrepreneurship institute and was selected as a case study.
  27. Launched a crowd-funding campaign.

Along the way, I’ve laughed, cried, and met some truly great people. I’ve lost sleep and skipped meals, but I’ve also eaten some great food in the name of research! I’ve made mistakes. I’ve gotten lucky. I’ve learned so much about business and myself.

But most importantly, I never gave up.

dumpling debut

Wednesday, 9/18 was the first official public Asulia dumpling tasting held at MIT’s Innovation Series “From Farm to Tablet”.  That morning, I dropped my mom off at the airport at 5am. I’ve done this many times before, but that day felt different. I was extra concerned about her safety as she leaves for a month overseas. I got choked up because, not only does she mean the world to me, but also because I want her to be able to continue to see that her decision to become my mom was not for nothing.

Then, I was nonstop all day. Kinda of surprising huh? A dumpling tasting that lasted an hour and a half took a full day of prep! I had to pick up fresh veggies, coordinate with my graphic designer, pick up the Indiegogo info cards from the printer, buy napkins and a table cloth, pack, eat something, and, oh, shower! There wasn’t an oven on site, so I found a friend that lived close by and borrowed hers. I couldn’t have pulled it off without my crew of 3 amazing ladies.

It was awesome to sample to the Boston and MIT community. Over 100 people stopped by Asulia’s table to try our our chickpea dumplingskale dumplings, and taro root dumplings. People loved the taste of the fusion dumplings and wanted to hear more about Asulia and my story. They couldn’t believe the average calorie count is only 44 per dumpling. Many can back a 2nd and 3rd time for more dumplings! I loved seeing people’s faces as they bit into the dumplings and hearing their comments. Instant feedback! I can’t wait to do more demos and share my dumplings with more people.
Special thanks to Suzanne Brendle, Sarah Howes, and Taylor Rose for assisting!
Sue Liang, Asulia Foods

Sue Liang of Asulia Foods setting up for the MIT Dumpling Tasting

Taro Root, a better starch

unpeeled taro root, peeled taro root, taro root smoothie, an earlier Asulia packaging idea

Above, counter clockwise: unpeeled taro root, peeled taro root, taro root smoothie, an earlier Asulia packaging idea

Above, counter clockwise: unpeeled taro root, peeled taro, taro root smoothie, an earlier packaging pic of an idea I had for a taro & scallion boat before we knew a wheat dumpling wrapper was possible.

Asulia uses taro root as the main ingredient in our Taro Root dumpling.

Taro root is a staple root vegetable in Southeast Asia, Africa, India, China, the Caribbean and the Polynesian islands. It’s often used like a potato. I grew up eating taro root in China, where I lived until I was five years old, in braised dishes and steamed with savory ingredients. Then, my mother and I moved to New York and then to Montana where I spent the vast majority of my childhood. Needless to say, it was hard to find taro, let alone any exotic vegetables back then.

When my mom and I would travel, we would make sure to eat taro. Taro root can be roasted, boiled, fried or baked. The leaves can be eaten just like spinach! Unlike potatoes, its texture is custardy and it has purple tinge once it’s cooked. It has a nutty flavor from natural sugars that come out during the cooking process. What sets this root vegetable apart from it’s starchy cousins is it’s nutrients. Taro contains three times as much fiber as a potato, is a great source of potassium and is a low glycemic index food. It’s also is very easy to digest.

The glycemic index measures how your blood sugar levels rise after you eat carbohydrates. An index number from 1-100, with 100 as the reference score stands for pure glucose, a.k.a. sugar. Foods are rated high (greater than 70), moderate (56-69), or low (less than 55). On the GI scale, taro is rated low with a score of 18. A low GI means that it’s absorbed into your body slower, which allows you to feel fuller longer since it takes longer to metabolize.

It’s important to keep in mind that you can’t eat taro raw, it needs to be cooked. To prepare taro root for cooking, peel it with a vegetable peeler under running water. This will help you to avoid any sensitivity to the juices, which can cause a mild stinging sensation. You can also a knife to remove the skin. Shield your hands with a towel or gloves.  Keep your taro covered with water in a bowl or pan until you’re ready to use it. It pairs nicely with with milk or other calcium-rich foods. I love taro with coconut milk. Here’s a recipe for a taro root smoothie.

Sue’s Taro Root Smoothie

1 1/2 cup ice
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup taro powder or ½ cup steamed fully cooked taro
1/4 cup of simple raw cane syrup or ¼ cup of sweetened condensed milk

Blend together and get your taro on!

 

Kale, a look into the leaves and kale smoothie recipe

Kale

Kale is one of my favorite vegetables and I wanted to be sure to use it in my products. That’s why we make kale dumplings.

There’s more to kale than meets the eye. This highly nutrient dense vegetable gives you more bang for the buck than your average green leaves. Let’s break down the numbers. One cup of chopped kale has 33 calories, 9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and a get this, 684% of vitamin K! Kale is also packed with phytonutrients, flavonoids, copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Move over multi-vitamin, I’d rather eat kale than pop another horse pill. I’m no MD, but I believe that we’re made to eat food and get our nutrients by making use of our chompers.

Kale is versatile. You can put it in anything and everything – including dumplings! I love that Dr. Drew Ramsey loves kale. You could call him a kalexpert. In his new book, 50 Shades of Kale, he shares recipes using kale you probably never thought about, like cocktails! I thought I was using kale in everything, and he outdid me.

It’s possible that kale can make you look better too. Beauty starts from the inside. Bobbi Brown is known for her line of make-up but I came across her coconut kale smoothie and it sounds delish. I can’t wait to try it out!

Here’s my Kalefull Smoothie recipe I use on a regular basis.  When I don’t drink a green smoothie in the morning, I notice  I don’t have as much energy, feel a bit unsatisfied and therefore get hungry more easily.

Sue’s Kale-full Smoothie
1 cup packed, chopped kale
1/2 a banana
1 wedge of lemon
1/2  an apple
1 scoop of original vega or pea protein
1/4 cup mango juice or berries
1 – 1 1/2 cup of water
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp flaxseed

Blend all ingredients together and enjoy! I’m in need of a new blender though. If you have a suggestion on what blender I should pick up, let me know!

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Dumpling Preparations

Dumpling test run - Taro Root Dumpling Filling

Dumpling test run – Taro Root Dumpling Filling

I ran a large-scale test batch run of dumplings earlier in this week. That’s the filling for the Taro Root Dumplings pictured above.

I’ve never cooked a few hundred pounds of dumpling filling before! I found that I needed to adjust my recipes a bit. The dumpling recipes are final now, so next up is working on new nutrition labels.

 

I’m also planning a crowdfunding campaign. I’m self-funded so far, but I will need to raise money.

I had a meeting with Jill Rosenwald about the possibility of co-creating a special line pottery for Asulia’s kickstarter supporters, that you can serve dumplings on. So fun! I love Jill’s work.

command lines

I never thought I’d be programming anything on my computer. It all started because the nutrition software I’m familiar with didn’t seem to suit the needs of the labels I need to make. I’ve contact some food labs, but I went online to see what I could find. Long story short, I came across open software programs that I want to test out. Luckily, a friend of mine used to work in the industry and when he couldn’t get remote access to my computer I became the default. I found myself entering commands in terminal today. I can fully say now that it’s not a fit for me.

I’m finally starting to see quotes from printers trickle in. It’s pricey to say the least when you’re just starting out. I’m trying to decide how to go about this dilemma. I don’t want to end up with boxes extra boxes I won’t use during the first run. There will be changes as I’ve been told by nearly every entrepreneur in the industry when we chat about packaging. Print a small quantity.

Every morning I wake up instantly thinking about all the things that need to done. Nutrition labels still need to be made, packaging design needs to be finalized, our permanent website needs to be completed, the blog needs to become active, run a large scale test batch and more…

Dumpling Fillings and Fears

Last night I was in my mom’s kitchen to test three different kinds of vegetarian dumpling fillings: kale, taro root with toasted sesame seeds, and curry cauliflower with toasted pepitas, a new recipe idea I developed.

When all the dishes were washed, my mom and I sat down and chatted. Over the years she’s been slowly revealing more of her past, most of which I’ve never heard before.  After she was abandoned in China, she would spend nights walking the streets because she had nowhere to sleep. Fearing something bad would happen, she kept moving because she felt that if she was at least on the move, it would be harder for others to harm her. She encountered challenging situations through the years to say the least.

During my commute to meet a buyer at a store this morning, I reflected on what my mom had told me the night before and was over come with emotion. So many things had to happen in order for me to be here today.

Staying with friends and having my stuff around town makes me feel extremely unsettled. I view this as another day of opportunity to turn things around, not only for myself, but also for the girls that need me. I’ve never wanted to succeed at something so much before. I want to bring hope to girls and know it’s one of my life’s mission. I would love for my mom to still be around to see the impact she’s made not just for me, but in how it’ll be paying it forward.

We have to overcome our own self doubts, fears, and take a risk.

Start-up

It’s been a few months since I started working on this food start-up. At first I was thinking I would make my mom’s traditional dumplings and sell them at farmers markets. I couldn’t find the right commercial kitchen with USDA approval. I ditched the idea and set out to create something different that would meet today’s taste buds. Deciding to go veggie and using nutrient dense ingredients made sense. People don’t get enough veggies in their diet.

I’m learning what it really takes to make a living selling food. I have a new found appreciation for retail pricing!

I often ask myself, “what’s it really like to be an entrepreneur?” The reality is that I’m living it. If this works out and even if it doesn’t, I’m learning a great deal about my relationships with friends both new and old and myself.

My belongings are temporary being hosted by different friends in the city. Instability and downsizing is part of the process as a start-up. I can understand more than ever, how people end up homeless. If I didn’t have some sort of community I’d be on the streets! Thanks to all my friend out there!

On days that I’m making headways and days it feels insurmountable, I think about how fortunate I am. I have the opportunity to share my love of food, ongoing issues that are still impacting girls, and  give back to those around the world still fighting for basic rights.