I've always semi-lamented the fact that I never came from a strong cooking cultural heritage. Like many Americans I never learned to make pasta or shape chapati at my grandmother's side - I've mostly had to make my own way and muddle through whatever I'm interested in. So, it's not surprising that I remain fascinated by any kind of heritage food - the sort of food you learn from that (for me, nonexistent) Nonna or Popo.
Dumplings fall in that category. For me, a dumpling was something you made out of bisquick and dropped into chicken stew. Not to blast my mom's Chicken and Dumplings, which were an awesome and integral part of my nutrition growing up - but I know that there is so much more to the category.
Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen gives a fantastic overview of the world of dumplings as far as China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia are concerned - from the dim sum favorites that I love to Tibetan Momos -which I've never heard of, but sound delicious. Most of all, Andrea walks you through making various kinds of dumpling wrappers from scratch and shaping by hand. Apparently she also has a very informative website, Asian Dumpling Tips.
This is an entirely new area for me, but by the second day I was making dumpling dough and shaping wrappers with confidence enough to start applying them to my own recipes.
A few things I learned, and wanted to pass on so that you don't make the same mistakes:
- You need a small straight rolling pin for making wrappers. A regular size rolling pin is cumbersome and doesn't do the job. I ended up buying a 1 inch diameter, 8 in long fondant rolling pin at Sur la Table for 7 bucks which worked perfectly - plus it came with the added bonus of 1/16th inch removable bands so that you get a consistent thickness.
- You DON'T need a tortilla press, or the entire plastic/heavy object setup that the author suggests for flattening bits of dough in preparation for rolling them out. Maybe if you are making a ton of dumplings. For the amount I make, I have these things called hands, and I am not afraid to use them. There is a particular twist of the wrist and smacking of palms involved in turning a lump of dough into a flat, circular disc, but it is easy to accomplish. Maybe the setup is necessary for dumpling doughs other than the ones I made, but for the basic dumpling dough, it is unnecessary.
I advise making either the wrapper dough or the filling, or both, in advance, so that when it's time to eat you don't have a hungry husband whining about it not being done yet for an extra 45 minutes.
For the dumplings in my soup, I used the first recipe in the book, pork and napa cabbage boiled dumplings (jiaozi). I made a few tweaks to the recipe, including adding some tumeric to the dough for a nice color, and substituting shrimp for half the pork.
This recipe would have taken a lot less time if I had not rather stupidly decided to peel and de-poopshoot-ify a half pound of shrimp instead of just buying them ready to go. If you get the filling and wrappers ready to go the day before, you can assemble dumplings while the soup is heating up and it takes about half an hour all told.
You WILL have leftover filling. I froze mine, but you could easily double the recipe for the wrappers and just make extra dumplings to freeze.
Makes 32 dumplings plus leftover filling
Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings
Adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen
10 oz. (about 2 cups) unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric, for color
3/4 cup just-boiled water (as in, boil the water, then let it stand for about a minute before you measure)
2 cups lightly packed finely chopped napa cabbage (about 7 oz)
1 Tablespoon freshly minced ginger
4 chinese chives or scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1 spring onion, minced (white and green parts)
1 spring garlic, minced (white and green parts)
1/3 pound ground pork, (fattier is better) coarsely chopped to loosen
1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined, chopped
1/4 cup good chicken stock
small splash of Mirin rice wine
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Wrapper dough:Measure out the flour into a large bowl. Dribble in the hot water a little bit at a time while stirring the dough, until all the water is incorporated. It should be shaggy but not too dry and come together when you pinch a bit in your fingers. Mix until it becomes one mass, then turn out onto a floured counter and knead for a few minutes.
The result should feel smooth, not too dry or too sticky. Poke the dough with a finger - if the depression slowly fills back, you're golden.
Put the dough in a ziploc bag and press the air out, then seal and leave on the counter for 15 minutes to two hours, until the dough is soft and pliable.
Filling:Put the cabbage in a bowl with a healthy pinch of kosher salt, and toss to cover. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw the moisture out. Drain in a mesh strainer, flush with water and drain again. I actually did this procedure twice to remove extra water from the cabbage. After rinsing again, take cabbage by the handful and squeeze it hard to get as much excess water out as possible, then put into a large bowl. You should have about 1/2 a cup of firmly packed cabbage.
Add the ginger, chives, onion, garlic, pork and shrimp. Use a fork to lightly mash the ingredients together.
Stir together some salt, pepper, the soy sauce, chicken stock, rice wine and oils. Pour over the meat and cabbage and stir together into a thick, cohesive mixture.
Cover and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes, or refridgerate overnight (but bring back to room temp. before making the dumplings)
To make wrappers:Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface (you might need to turn the bag inside out if the dough is sticky).
Divide in half and set half aside - roll the other half into a long snake about 1 inch around. Divide this into 16 peices ( cut in half, then quarter, then eight, then sixteen, for even pieces). Flour lightly each piece if you need to, but the dough should not be overly sticky.
Take a piece in your hands, smushing slightly into a squat shape - then with your hands, shape into a flat circle. There is a twist of the wrist involved to get it circular - don't worry though, an oblong dumpling tastes just as good.
Put the disk on the floured board and use your small rolling pin to roll the wrapper out into a circle. This is best accompished by holding an edge with one hand and rolling the pin with the flat of your other hand. Use the hand holding the wrapper to turn the wrapper as you roll it out, for even edges. This takes a bit of practice but you should end up with a round, thin wrapper (maybe 1/16 of an inch).
Assembly:Hold the wrapper in one hand and put a little bit of meat mixture into the middle with a spoon. Be careful not to overfill your dumpling!
There are many different ways to shape a dumpling, but the easiest is to simply fold the wrapper up like a taco around the filling, and seal the edges with your fingers. Unlike store bought wrappers, you do not need water or anything else to seal the two sides together - just pinch with your fingers.
For a nice tortellini-type shape, grab the two end points of this half-moon shaped dumpling and bring them around to meet in the middle, and seal the two ends together.
Place on parchment paper as you work, covered with a paper towel so they don't dry out. If you plan to freeze them or refrigerate overnight, flour the paper so they don't stick.
You can panfry your dumplings, boil them in water (they're done when they float) or, as I did, make...
Soup of Awesome - a southeast Asian flavored soup with jaozi dumplings
1/2 cup chopped chinese chives (white and green bits)
1/4 cup chopped spring garlic (white and green bits)
about 6 crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
toasted sesame oil
grapeseed or other flavorless oil
Good chicken stock, Homemade if possible - 1 quart
16 finished jao-zi (give filling, wrapper and how to)
Finishers: chili oil, rice/champagne vinegar, lemon juice, cilantro, salt/pepper
Get a drizzle of sesame and about a tablespoon of grapeseed oil going in a large stockpot. when the oil is sizzling add the rest of the base ingredients. quick-fry for a few minutes.
Add the chicken stock and season to taste.
Once the soup boils, lower to a simmer and carefully slip in the wontons. nudge them a little so they don't stick together.
Wontons are done when they float, and look a bit puffed up and glossy.
Finish the soup to taste with salt/pepper, lemon/lime, vinegar, and chili oil. garnish with torn cilantro leaves.