Eating dumplings is a Chinese custom which begins with Zhang Zhongjing, the man from Chinese history known as the “Medicine Saint.”
He decided to make food to keep people from frostbite in winter by wrapping mutton, chilli and some warming medicinal herbs in dough, folding them into the shape of an ear and boiling them in water. Nowadays, dumplings have become the quintessential dish in celebration of China’s Lunar New Year, symbolizing home and warmth.
You can make dumplings with traditional fillings — or you can go beyond Asian ingredients. Just be sure to follow some basic rules in making perfect dumplings then you can start tweaking the ingredients and adding your favorite flavors.
You can put in anything you like but the most common filling is typically pork. Fatty pork is better than the lean mince as you don’t want your dumplings hard and dry.
Some food writers put prawns in the filling but some people might want to let the pork stand alone given the soy and vinegar onslaught.
You can go with any choice of vegetables you like besides the traditional Napa cabbage. You can use baby bok choy, courgette or Chinese chives. If fresh, all of these vegetables need to go through a blanching process.
The soy sauce that almost everyone puts in the filling can be balanced with the spicy sweetness of ginger, along with nutty sesame oil and savoury rice wine. Some people mix in water and chicken stock to make their fillings juicier. If you’re an amateur wrapper, you might want to cut down on water as the filling might be too wet to seal but an egg is helpful though.
Balancing the ingredients is an art in making dumplings. You should avoid strong flavour such as five spice or pepper powder.
People often prefer using frozen dumpling wrappers as they are easy to find and help to speed up the process. You can also give the dough a go if you prefer a thicker skin.
You can steam, or pan-fry your dumplings but boiling seems to be the most popular method. The plainness of a boiled dumpling makes for a more interesting contrast with the flavours of the filling and the dipping sauces.
The usual suggestions for dipping your dumplings are black rice vinegar, soy sauce and chilli oil.
You can also try mixing the soy sauce and vinegar, sweetening them with a little sugar, and adding freshly grated ginger for a spicy and aromatic kick.
If you’re making your first batch of dumplings, check out the recipe below for 25 dumplings.
300g plain flour
180ml warm water
225g Chinese cabbage (or pok choy, if unavailable)
200g minced pork (not too lean)
1tbsp grated ginger
1tbsp light soy sauce
1tbsp shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1tbsp sesame oil
½ egg, beaten
55g finely chopped Chinese chives
2tbsp light soy sauce
2tbsp chinkiang (black rice) vinegar
1tbsp chilli oil
1tsp grated ginger
Step 1: Prepare the filling
Finely chop the cabbage. It’s easiest to do in a food processor, as Chinese cabbage has a very large stem. Put in a colander or sieve over the sink or a large bowl, sprinkle with salt (about ¼tsp), and leave to drain for at least 30 minutes.
Put the pork in a bowl and stir in the ginger, soy sauce, wine, sesame oil and egg until well combined. Squeeze out the cabbage thoroughly and add to the bowl along with the chopped chives. Mix thoroughly. Heat a little oil in a small frying pan and fry a pinch of the mixture to check the balance of your seasoning – add salt if necessary. At this point you can leave the filling to sit if you like.
Step 2: Prepare your work station
Clear a good amount of counter space. Set the filling, the dumpling wrappers, a small bowl of water, and a parchment-lined baking sheet nearby.
Step 3: Lay several dumpling wrappers on your work surface
Step 4: Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of each wrapper
Step 5: Moisten the edge of the dumpling wrapper
Step 6: Make the dumplings:
Basic Dumplings: Simply fold the dumpling into a half-moon (or a triangle, if using square-shaped wrappers) and press closed. No fancy pleating required.
Double Pleats: Fold the dumpling in half like a taco and press the very top closed. Using your thumb and first finger, fold a pleat into one side and then then fold an inverse pleat into the other side. Press firmly to seal.
Multiple Pleats: Fold the dumpling in half like a taco but do not press it closed. Starting at one end, use your thumb and first finger to fold pleats into the side of the wrapper closest to you (ie, the front of the taco facing you). After making each pleat, pinch it closed against the back half of the wrapper (the back of the taco furthest from you). In this way, zipper the dumpling closed.
Gathered Pouch: Gather the sides of the dumpling around the filling and pleat the top closed like a pouch. Pinch the opening to seal, using extra water if necessary.
If you want some extra fun, check out this tutorial video that covers 7 ways of wrapping dumplings
Step 7: Freeze the dumplings:
If not being cook right away, freeze the dumplings on the baking sheet. Make sure none of the dumplings are touching or they will stick together. Once frozen solid, portion the dumplings into freezer containers and freeze for up to three months.
Step 8: Cook the dumplings:
While cooking, whisk the dipping sauce ingredients together.
Dumplings are a good project to tackle with a few friends because making dumplings is a group effort that guarantees good times. If you want to get inspired for your first batch of dumplings, why not pay a visit some local restaurants in Langley like Fork N’ Chopstix, known for its healthy and tasty foods that use very little oil to prepare.
Address: 102 9292 200 Street, Langley BC