ADVERTISEMENT

The Recorder – Dumplings for Prosperity

Happy Lunar New Year! We have just entered the Year of the Rabbit. As readers may know, the Chinese zodiac consists of 12 signs. Each is assigned an animal and the animals repeat in a 12-year cycle. This roughly corresponds to the time it takes for Jupiter to orbit the sun.

This holiday falls on the moon and falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. It can arrive anywhere between the end of January and the end of February. This year it started quite early, on Sunday 22 January. The holiday is usually celebrated for a full week, so we still have plenty of time to enjoy it.

I had no plans to celebrate this holiday…until my temporary neighbor Emma Qi decided to have a dumpling party. Emma is a talented Chinese artist and art teacher who stays nearby with her American husband, Andy Lewis, while they wait for Emma’s green card paperwork to be processed.

Emma and Andy are supposedly in the area for winter sports. While the amount of rain and ice we’ve had has made these sports difficult, they get exercise when they can and otherwise keep busy.

Andy works remotely for a video game company. Emma paints portraits of cats and dogs. She is also working on a children’s book concept that combines her colorful illustrations with blank pages for her young readers to illustrate.

Emma couldn’t let the Lunar New Year go by without making dumplings.

She and Andy generously hosted a dumpling-making (and food!) party for the immediate neighborhood.

Emma told me that making dumplings at this time of year is a traditional activity that gives families and communities (especially women) in her homeland a chance to bond. “Ladies in the village hang out together making dumplings,” she confided with a smile.

Elders are an especially important part of the dumpling assembly, Emma said. She kept up that tradition by including our 97-year-old neighbor Alice in the gathering. Alice was relieved of the duty of assembling dumplings, but she happily ate her share of the finished product.

Emma’s family likes to make a version with meat (beef or pork) and also a vegetarian version every year. She also often makes a vegan version in which tofu becomes the protein. (In the vegetarian version below, eggs fulfill that function.)

She prefers frozen to fresh tofu; she thinks the change in consistency from freezing makes the tofu spongier and helps it absorb the flavors around it.

She told me that in parts of China near the sea, fish and/or shrimp are often used in dumplings. In Shanghai, it is traditional to use eggs to make not only the dumplings themselves, but also their wrappers. The fillings are folded there into a kind of omelette or crêpe.

For our neighborhood party, Emma made four kinds of dumplings: pork, beef, vegan and vegetarian. I’m only sharing two of her recipes below, the beef and the vegetarian, for the sake of common sense. Loads of filling ingredients swirled through the kitchen at Valley View, Emma and Andy’s home.

Emma seemed to have no problem keeping all the fillings straight. After all, she has been making dumplings for the Lunar New Year all her life. Her agility was a sight to behold; she formed her dumplings with little ridges on the edges that made them resemble mice or porcupines.

My own dumpling work was less skillful; my dumplings looked like blobs rather than any particular animal. However, they tasted fine.

Emma’s dipping sauce, which gets much of its flavor from sesame paste and peanut butter, isn’t traditional, she told me. Peanut butter in particular has only become fashionable in recent years. However, the sauce was smooth and flavorful.

Below are Emma’s beef and veggie dumpling recipes. I’m afraid I can’t tell you how many dumplings the recipes make. Somehow we lost count while putting it together and eating it. There were certainly many.

Emma explained that “a lot” of dumplings are just what people want to produce when they get together for the New Year in China. They freeze batches of dumplings to enjoy throughout the week at the party… and beyond.

The dumplings, which are thought to resemble purses filled with coins, represent prosperity for the new year. They also represent the coming together of families. Emma gave us that family feeling as we cooked, chewed and talked.

Emma’s dumplings

Ingredients:

for the dipping sauce (all ingredients here are optional, but I like them all):

chili oil to taste (no more than 4 teaspoons)

3 teaspoons of black vinegar

2 teaspoons of soy sauce

grated white pepper as desired

1 tablespoon of sesame paste, mixed with 1 tablespoon of warm water

1 tablespoon of peanut butter

for the meat filling:

1 spring onion, plus another spring onion later

5 long slices of ginger root

1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

1 pound beef

3 carrots, grated and briefly stir-fried

1/2 small purple onion, finely chopped

1 egg

3 teaspoons of soy sauce

2 teaspoons oyster sauce

ground white pepper to taste

1 teaspoon of sugar

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

2 teaspoons of sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons 13-spice mix (omit this if you can’t find it, but it’s okay!)

for the vegetable filling:

1 zucchini, grated

1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen and thawed is fine)

1 handful of bean sprouts

4 scrambled eggs, cut into small pieces

3 teaspoons of soy sauce

2 teaspoons oyster sauce

ground white pepper to taste

1 teaspoon of sugar

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

2 teaspoons of sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons 13-spice mix (omit this if you can’t find it, but it’s okay!)

for cooking and assembly:

2 cups water, mixed with 1 teaspoon flour (you can add this if needed.)

1 pack commercial dumpling wrappers (or more for a large party)

canola oil as needed for frying

3 to 4 garlic cloves, sliced

4 sprigs cilantro (coriander) leaf, coarsely chopped

Instructions:

For meat or vegetable dumplings: Whisk the dipping sauce ingredients together and set aside.

For the meat dumplings: Put 1 spring onion, coarsely chopped, in a glass or mug together with the ginger root and the Sichuan peppercorns. Pour in 10 ounces of hot water and let the vegetables and pepper steep in the water for 2 hours to form a spicy tea.

At the end of the two hours, put the meat, carrots, onions and egg in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the remaining filling ingredients and mix again. Drain the spicy tea and add half to the meat. (You can discard or freeze the other half for more dumplings.)

Take a dumpling wrapper and use a finger to spread some of the water/flour mixture on one side. For each dumpling, place about 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of a wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half to cover the filling and seal tightly. Shrink as desired.

Place the filled dumplings on a plate or plate to wait for their relatives while you fill more wrappers.

For fried dumplings, pour a good splash of canola oil into a frying pan. Heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add enough dumplings to make 1 layer.

Cook the dumplings until their undersides begin to brown, then flip them over and lightly fry the other side.

Reduce heat to low and add a splash of water/flour mixture (about 1/4 cup). Watch out for hissing and splashing as the water hits the oil. Cover the dumplings. Boil for a few minutes.

Cover the dumplings and cook them until the moisture is almost gone and the bottoms are crispy. Place them on a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining dumplings. Serve with the dipping sauce and garnishes.

For steamed dumplings, line the layers of a bamboo steamer with parchment paper and cut small slits in the paper to allow the steam to rise through. Lightly sprinkle a little flour on each round of parchment. Place dumplings in a single layer on each layer of the steamer.

Place the steamer over a fairly deep pan with plenty of cold water. Bring the water to a boil and steam the dumplings over medium heat until they smell nice, puff up a little bit and become slightly translucent (cooking about 20 minutes total). Serve with the dipping sauce and garnishes.

For the vegetable dumplings, first put the grated zucchini in a colander in the sink. Sprinkle with salt; then let it sit for an hour or so. At the end of the hour, squeeze out the excess liquid. (The salt will help make the zucchini less wet.)

Put the zucchini in a bowl and add the other vegetable ingredients.

Mix well. Proceed to assemble and fry and/or steam the dumplings as indicated above for the meat version.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is ‘Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking’. Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.