It was a gloomy November Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after I had arrived back from Beijing. Winter had sneaked up on Ireland while I was away, the evenings were closing in and there was a noticeable nip in the air. I was jet-lagged and disoriented, my head and heart still drifting between two worlds, seeing in my mind’s eye the now familiar rituals of Shane, Shan and Dermot’s Sunday afternoon.
I took refuge in cooking. I made two large batches of dumplings while catching up on the episodes of Downton Abbey that I had missed. As I punched and kneaded the dough and found the rhythm of rolling out near perfect discs, I felt the connection with my family and the world I had left behind in Beijing. Cooking is therapy.
It was Li Dong on 7th November, the first day of the Chinese winter. As if on cue, the weather in Beijing had changed from a balmy 17 degrees to a sharp, dry chill in bright sunshine. Legend has it that if you don’t eat dumplings on Li Dong, your ears will fall off when the cold snap comes. I was taking no chances and tucked in with gusto to Shan’s MaMa’s pork, cabbage and shrimp dumplings served with her homemade chilli paste.
The previous day I had attended a dumpling class at Black Sesame Kitchen. This was my third dumpling class. I had been to one at Hutong Cuisine in March and another led by the chefs at China Sichuan in Dublin during the last Spring Festival. But you can never learn enough about making dumplings and every class brings it’s own tips and tricks plus some lovely new recipes for fillings. Besides dumpling lessons are great fun and a great way to make new friends over a glass of Chinese beer (loosens the dumpling wrapping skills I’m told!) as you compare your misshapen efforts. I came home with left-over dough which MaMa turned into noodles for Dermot’s dinner. No waste in China, ever.
Now back in Dublin, I wasn’t taking any chances on the falling off ears thing (it wouldn’t be a good look for the wedding!) and I also wanted to put the techniques into practice before I forgot them again. First I had to find the right flour and pick up a few ingredients that weren’t in the store cupboard.
The flour we used at Black Sesame Kitchen was described as all-purpose flour. I consulted Niamh Shields - Eat Like a Girl - as to what I should use here in Ireland as I knew she had recipes for dumplings in her cook book Comfort and Spice. On her suggestion, I tracked down high gluten dumpling flour at my local Asian Market in Bray where Tony has adopted me like a member of his extended Chinese family. It worked like magic to create a supple, pliable dough.
If you can’t get hold of dumpling flour, Niamh suggests you mix plain flour with cornflour in a ratio of 90:10 or up to 75:25 to make the dough more “gentle”. Make sure it is plain flour though and not a cream flour or the like with added raising agents. Check the label, it should only contain wheat.
I’ve set out below the instructions for making the dough along with filling recipes similar to those I learned in Black Sesame Kitchen. You will find other filling recipes in one of my earlier posts here. The technique for rolling out the wrappers is hard to explain. I described it in some more detail in this post after I attended the class in Hutong Cuisine last March. You can pick up frozen gyoza wrappers at the Asian Market but once you have experienced the taste and texture of freshly made wrappers there is no going back.
I’ve used cup measures below as Chinese cooks would never weigh ingredients for dumplings, they judge by eye and taste. Thanks to this handy infographic from James Whelan Butchers, I just fill to the 250 ml level of my measuring jug to gauge a cup.
Start by making your dumpling dough and, while it is resting, make up your fillings. At that stage you can start rolling out the dumpling wrappers and filling them as you go. A dumpling party where your guests fill and wrap their own dumplings can be a fun way to spend an evening. I’ve every intention of putting my ten Chinese guests to work when they visit over Christmas. The dumplings freeze well and can be cooked from frozen, just allow a little longer cooking time, and a little more water for the pot-stickers.
Dumpling dough (makes about 50 jiaozi)
- 6 cups high gluten dumpling flour
- 3 cups water
Kneading the dough
- Place the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Stir in 1 cup of water, working the water into the flour with your hands.
- Slowly add more water, about ¼ cup at a time, mixing thoroughly so the water is fully incorporated before adding more.
- Stop when the dough is springy and soft, not too dry and not slippery.
- Transfer to a clean work surface and knead for 3 to 5 minutes until the surface is smooth.
- Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes covered with a damp cloth.
Vegetarian Dumpling Filling
You can experiment with vegetarian fillings. The mix below is the one we made at Black Sesame Kitchen. Just think about colour, texture and your protein source. I used fried tofu for the protein. Fresh soft tofu would not hold it’s shape.
- ¾ cup rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
- ¾ cup rehydrated glass noodles (mung/ green bean or rice)
- ¾ cup shredded and chopped carrot (use a mandolin to create julienne strips and then chop into fine dice)
- ¾ cup diced dry tofu
- 2 tbs leek (white part), finely minced
- 2 tsp ginger, finely minced
- A handful of fresh coriander finely chopped
- 1 tbs light soy sauce
- 1 tbs sesame oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp chicken bouillon – ji jing (optional)
- 1 tsp five spice powder
- A handful of toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- Rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms overnight in a bowl of warm water or, if your stuck for time, place them in a bowl of boiling water and leave until the water cools.
- Rehydrate the glass noodles by pouring warm water over them in a bowl for 5 minutes and leaving them to drain.
- Make sure your mushrooms, carrots, glass noodles and tofu are very finely chopped in similar sized pieces and mix well.
- Add the leek, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, pepper and five spice powder.
- Check your seasoning to ensure that it is sufficiently salty to complement the unseasoned dumpling dough and then it is ready to use.
Lamb and Butternut Squash Dumpling Filling
The trick with this and any meat filling is to have the mixture wetter and saltier than you might think necessary. This creates a delicious, melt-in-the mouth texture in the steamed or pot-sticker filling. I was lucky to have my husband around as a willing assistant to dice the butternut squash. It was a slow job and can be short-circuited by using a mandolin to julienne the squash first.
You can substitute pork, beef or prawns for the lamb. Chicken is not traditional as it is regarded as too dry but I have used it successfully in a Gok Wan recipe featured in this post where you will also find recipes for a few other fillings. You can also use your choice of shredded or finely minced vegetables. If using vegetables with a high water content such as Chinese cabbage, aubergine or courgette, chop them up, salt them and place in a colander with a weighted plate on top for at least 30 minutes to drain out excess moisture.
In class we made pork and butternut squash dumplings without added cumin and these were equally delicious.
- 350g minced lamb
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbs Shaoxing rice wine
- 1½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 1 tbs ground cumin
- ½ tsp chicken bouillon
- 1½ tsp finely minced ginger
- 1 tbs finely minced leek, white part only
- About ½ cup water
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups of finely minced butternut squash seasoned with salt, pepper and a dash of sesame oil
- A handful of coriander, finely chopped
- I tbs sesame oil
- 2 tbs vegetable oil.
- Place the minced meat and all the other ingredients, except the water, egg, vegetables and sesame oil, in a large mixing bowl and mix well. I use long chop sticks for this.
- Add the water, about ¼ cup at a time, and beat into the meat mixture in a clockwise direction. Ensure all the water has been incorporated before adding more. When all the water has been beaten into the mixture it should resemble a thick cake batter.
- Add the egg and beat, in the same circular direction, for about 20 to 30 strokes.
- Add in the vegetables and sesame oil. Blend well.
- Add in the vegetable oil and mix well so that the filling has a sloppy consistency and is ready for use.
Rolling out the dumpling wrappers
- Divide the dough in 3 equal parts. Cover two with the damp cloth until you are ready to use them so that they won’t dry out.
- When ready to use, roll each piece into a long rope about ¾ inch thick.
- Slice the rope into ½ inch long pieces, making a half turn of the “rope” between each cut.
- Sprinkle the pieces with flour, roll lightly to form balls and flatten with the palm of your hand into discs.
- Working with a short, skinny rolling ion and one piece of dough at a time, start from the centre of the dough, roll outward, then back to the centre. Turn the dough a few degrees, pulling it away from you lightly and roll again. Keep going until you have made a full revolution. The trick is to get a perfectly round and flat disc, a bit bigger than the palm of your hand and slightly thicker at the centre. It’s a knack that comes with practice (and lots of misshapen wrappers along the way!)
- Keep your wrappers covered with a damp cloth as you go so they don’t dry out.
Wrapping the dumplings
- Place a dumpling skin in your palm. Place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the centre.
- Fold the skin in half and pinch the top of the semicircle together.
- Starting from one side to the centre, at the back of dumpling only, and continuing with the other side, pleat and pinch the edges until the filling is fully sealed and the dumpling has the shape of a crescent.
Boiling the dumplings
- Fill a large pot with boiling water and bring back to the boil over high heat. Add the dumplings in batches.
- Cook for five minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and serve immediately.
Cooking “pot-sticker” dumplings
- Heat a flat bottomed deep frying pan and add a good layer of oil to coat the bottom.
- Place the uncooked dumplings in a single layer on the pan, shaking a little to make sure each gets a bit of oil on the bottom.
- Add hot water ¾ way up the dumplings. Cover for 7 to 8 minutes and cook until the bottoms are crisp and golden and most of the water has evaporated. Do not turn the dumplings during cooking.
To serve – home made chilli oil and Chinese black vinegar
In Beijing dumplings are usually served with a a small bowl of Chinese black vinegar for dipping. MaMa and I like to mix this with some chilli oil to taste. See this recipe on the blog for home made chilli oil or make a simple version by heating vegetable oil or rapeseed at 140 degrees C for about 3 minutes and pouring it over a few tablespoons of ground chilli or chilli flakes, with finely chopped garlic, ginger, leek and coriander added to taste. Allow to cool before using and store in an airtight jar.
If you ever get a chance to go to a dumpling-making class, do. It’s great fun. In fact I must see if I can get another one organised here in Dublin sometime soon.
And, if you ever get to Beijing, make sure to attend a class at Black Sesame Kitchen. Classes run from 10 am to lunch time and cost 300 rmb or about €37 including eating the proceeds of your efforts (and drinking some beer). The classes are very popular so book well ahead.
Meanwhile Dermot has been enjoying his weekend in Beijing. See you this day three weeks Dermot, Shane and Shan. Let the celebrations begin then.