Wang Family Dumpling Recipe (Makes 45-50 dumplings)
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, AAV Contributing Editor
Put flour in food processor (or a large bowl), add water slowly and mix/knead until a nice dough forms. Knead again on a floured cutting board. Cover with a damp cloth and let dough rest 1 hour while you make the filling.
¼ head of a Chinese/Napa cabbage, chopped fine (easiest to do in a food processor, but make sure the leaves are completely dry before you do so)—add a little salt and squeeze out the liquid. (As alternatives, you can also use ¼ head of American cabbage or 1 rice bowl full of finely chopped Chinese/garlic chives, neither of which need to be salted or squeezed. You can use a food processor to chop the cabbage, but not for the chives.)
Mix everything together.
Making the Wrappers or “Skins” (pi)
Shape the dough into a long cylinder about one inch in diameter, and cut the cylinder into ½ inch pieces. Roll each wad of dough into a ball just smaller than a walnut. Flatten each ball slightly with your palm, and dust with flour. It is important that they are all exactly the same size and shape. Then, on a floured cutting board, use a Chinese rolling pin (basically a one inch dowel) to roll from the outside of the flattened ball towards the center, then turn the ball a little, and repeat—roll, turn, roll, turn, roll, turn—until you get a relatively round, flat wrapper, about three inches in diameter. Ideally it should have a slight “pillow” in the center.
First tip: When you buy rolling pins at your local Chinese market (or lumber yard), buy three or four so that more than one person can roll the wrappers at a time while the rest of the people fill them. This is especially important if you are just learning how to make them. They should cost $1 to $3 each.
Second tip: You could forget about making the wrappers and just buy them already made. You can buy a package of 45 for about $1 at your local Chinese market. They are machine made, so they are not as thick or as good as homemade, but are a million times easier. They will be called either dumpling or potsticker wrappers (jiao tze pi or guo tie pi). The wrappers intended for potstickers will be slightly thicker than the ones for dumplings. Buy the thicker ones if you can for a dumpling with more bite. The wrappers must be round. Won ton wrappers and egg roll wrappers are square and will not work.
Filling the Dumplings
To make the dumpling, put one wrapper in the palm of your left hand and put a tablespoon of filling in the middle. The beginner’s way to seal the dumpling is to then fold the wrapper in half and press the edges together so that the dumpling assumes a half-circle shape. If you are using store-bought wrappers, dip your finger in some water, then run it along the outer edge of the wrapper before sealing.
Another way to seal the dumpling is to fold the dumpling in half and make one pinch in the center of the half circle. Then pinch together the right corner, then pinch together the dough between the corner and the middle. Repeat on the other side. Seal whatever gaps remain. The dumpling will sit up in a slightly curved shape.
There are many ways to crimp dumplings, but somebody may have to show you how, because it is too hard to explain with words. The key is to seal each dumpling tightly, without any meat or vegetables hanging out of the seam or else it will fall apart during cooking. Using less filling will help, although you want them to be as fat as possible.
Cooking the Dumplings
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put in 25-30 dumplings, and stir. Wait for the pot to come back up to a hard boil, then douse it with one cup of water. Wait for the pot to come back up to a boil, then douse it again. Repeat one more time (you bring the dumplings up to a boil a total of three times). They will float when done. Taste one to make sure. Do not overcook or the dumplings will fall apart. Lift out the dumplings with a bamboo strainer and put them on several large dinner plates to serve family style.
Sometimes restaurants will mix the dipping sauce for you in the kitchen, but it is better if you mix it yourself to fit your own tastes. My father, for instance, prefers more vinegar; my mother prefers more soy sauce; I like a touch of sesame oil; my Aunt Suzie uses Worchester sauce. We keep soy sauce and vinegar in a set of pretty oil and vinegar bottles to bring to the table just for when we eat dumplings. Start by pouring equal portions, about a tablespoon each, of soy sauce and vinegar into your rice bowl, then add Chinese hot sauce to taste and maybe one drop of sesame oil. I like to use balsamic vinegar because it is spicier, but most people use rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Also, I think Yank Sing Chili Pepper Sauce is best, but any black bean hot sauce will work. In Shandong province where my other grandparents are from, dumplings are served with a raw clove of garlic, and you are supposed to take one bite of the garlic then one bite of your dumpling. That’s hot! For special occasions, you can also add garlic and ginger and cilantro to the dip, but I find them unnecessary if you have a good hot sauce.
Frances’ Vegetarian Dumpling Filling
A good vegetarian dumpling is very hard to find, which is why I always make them from scratch. The filling should have the texture and bite of a meat dumpling to be really satisfying, and you need more than cabbage for it to taste good. If you substitute other vegetables, use your eye to see that amounts and colors are balanced. Mince ingredients one at a time in a food processor, then transfer to a big bowl. If you do not have a food processor, then you will have a lot of chopping to do. Try to get all the pieces about the same size so they can bind together more easily. Cook them very gently as they break apart much more easily than meat dumplings.
First soak 6-8 black mushrooms and 1 small package of bean thread vermicelli (1.31 oz.) together in boiling water for 30 minutes.
Then finely mince and mix the following in a large bowl:
The small package of rehydrated bean thread vermicelli—make sure they are all cut very short or they will get caught in the seam when you are folding the dumplings
If there is excess water in the bottom of the bowl, tilt the bowl to drain the water away from the filling.
As the dumplings begin to cool, they will stick to the plate and get soggy underneath. Pick up any leftover dumplings with your chopsticks and turn them over so that their undersides can air dry. Make sure they are not touching each other or they will stick. Before you go to bed, cover the plate with plastic wrap, and in the morning you can pan fry them in oil for breakfast. My favorite.
Cooking Potstickers and Steamed Dumplings
Boiled dumplings, potstickers, and steamed dumplings are basically the same thing, cooked in different ways. Potstickers technically should have slightly thicker skins and can be longer, and steamed dumplings can also be round.
To cook potstickers, put 2 Tbl oil in a flat frying pan. Arrange the dumplings neatly around the pan like the petals of a flower, and fry for one minute over medium heat until the bottoms are browned. Then add one cup of water, covering almost ¾ of the dumplings. Cover tightly and cook over medium heat until the water is almost all gone. Uncover and move the dumplings around a little. Turn up the heat a bit and let the rest of the water evaporate. Pour in a dash of vinegar. Cover the pan with a plate and flip the dumplings upside down onto the plate so that their golden brown bottoms are facing up, and serve. You should be able to fit about 18 in your frying pan at one time.
To steam dumplings, put them in a lined bamboo steamer, cover, and steam over boiling water until done. Steaming is a good way to go for vegetarian dumplings because they are more delicate and break apart more easily when cooking. You can buy two tiered bamboo steamers at your local Chinese market, kitchen store, or for $10 at Target.