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You Little Dumplings

February 16, 2012 By:
Linda Morel
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WHAT'S COOKING?

Last fall, my husband and I visited China, spending four days traveling down the Yangtze River aboard a ship. Besides the breathtaking scenery of the Three Gorges, the highlight of the riverboat excursion for me was the day a chef demonstrated how to make dumplings.

He kneaded dough into ropes and cut off small nuggets. He rolled out these nuggets, placed dollops of fillings inside, and pinched them into dumplings, which he steamed or fried.

When he asked who wanted to try dumpling making, I was the only volunteer. I found it surprisingly easy to get the dough edges to stick together. Decades of hamentaschen-making had finally paid off.

Wherever we traveled in China, we encountered sumptuous dumpling fillings, anything from meat to vegetable medleys to red bean paste. In southern China, rice grows abundantly so dumpling dough is prepared with rice flour. But in northern China, around cities such as Beijing, wheat is the dominant grain crop, giving rise to wheat dumplings.

In Old China, some of the most spectacular dining occurred not in restaurants, but in teahouses, where delicate dumplings were served with tea as part of a dim sum, a lavish array of bite-sized portions of food.

Surprisingly, tea was not usually served at main meals, and dumplings did not introduce a dinner.

Today, dim-sum restaurants abound in China. Starting in Hong Kong and traveling East through China, my husband and I sampled dumplings galore. Although we intended to eat a snack, we often got tempted by the variety of dumplings and ended up consuming a substantial meal, a tidbit at a time.

At home, we've started our own tradition, eating dumplings as hors d'oeuvres. Sharing a bottle of Tsingtoa, a popular Chinese beer, we spend hours debating which dumplings we like best.

If finding a block of time is challenging, break up dumpling prep into two steps: Make one or two fillings and refrigerate them; the next day, fill the wonton wraps.

Vegetable Filling

(Pareve)

1 egg, beaten 
3 carrots, peeled and grated 
1/4 lb. mushrooms, chopped fine 
1 cup (about half a bunch) of spinach, stems discarded, and leaves chopped fine 
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine 
3 scallions, white bulbs and 1 inch of green stems, chopped fine 
1 and 1/4 inch length of ginger root, peeled and minced fine 
1 tsp. light soy sauce 
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil 
2 tsps. fresh cilantro leaves, minced fine

Pour about half of the beaten egg into a mixing bowl and use the rest for other purposes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well, until thoroughly blended.

Fills about 48 dumplings.

Turkey Filling

(Meat)

1/2 lb. ground turkey 
1 and 1/4 inch length of ginger root, peeled and minced fine 
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine 
1 small onion, chopped fine 
1/8 tsp. curry powder 
1 tsp. light soy sauce 
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Mix ingredients well, until thoroughly blended.

Fills about 34 to 36 dumplings.

Beef Filling

(Meat)

1/2 lb. ground beef 
1/2 of an 8 oz. can of water chestnuts, drained 
1 and a 1/4 inch length of ginger root, peeled and minced fine 
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine 
3 scallions, white bulbs and 1 inch of green stems, chopped fine 
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper, or more, if you like it hot 
1 tsp. light soy sauce 
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Mix ingredients well, until thoroughly blended.

Fills about 34 to 36 dumplings.

To Fill the Dumplings:

1 package of wonton wraps (Nasoya brand is kosher and pareve; the package contains 50 wraps) 
1/4 cup warm water 
2 Tbsps. cornstarch

Open the package of wonton wraps and cover it with a damp, fragrance-free linen towel, as you make the dumplings.

Prepare a corn starch slurry by mixing together the warm water and cornstarch, until thoroughly dissolved. While making the dumplings, stir the slurry occasionally to avoid thickening. If necessary, add a little warm water and stir again.

With your index finger, spread a small amount of the slurry around all four edges of one wonton wrap, which is a square. Do not saturate the edges. If soaking wet, the edges won't close tight.

Spread 1/2 teaspoon of turkey, beef or vegetable filling around the top half of the wrap.

Do not put filling on top of edges where you've spread the slurry.

Fold the wrap in half to form a triangle. Squeeze together the edges with your fingers until they stick. Place the triangular dumpling on a platter and follow the steps above, until the filling is consumed.

Cooking Instructions:

You can either steam or fry the dumplings. Serve dumplings with the dipping sauce recipe below.

Steaming: Place water in the bottom portion of a wok. Lightly coat its tray inset with peanut oil.

Place dumplings on the tray. Cover wok and bring water to a boil. (You may also cook dumplings in a bamboo steamer basket.) Once boiling, steam meat dumplings for 15 minutes and vegetable dumplings for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Frying: Generously cover the bottom of a large skillet with about 1/4 cup of peanut oil, adding more oil as needed. Place skillet on a medium-flame. Arrange dumplings in the skillet.

Fry until the bottom halves brown and then flip the dumplings to brown other side. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Dipping Sauce

(Pareve)

6 Tbsps. light soy sauce 
1 and a 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil 
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Whisk ingredients till well blended. Serve immediately.

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: lindam212@aol.com.

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