Chinese Dumplings

Making dumplings is a lot of work, but well worth it for special occasions. The ones you buy at Chinese restaurants may be good, but those you make at home are GREAT! Since we have two very special guests, we deemed this enough of an event to warrant our twice or thrice yearly jiao zi making day! Usually we try to have a full crew on deck when we make pot stickers, but today Joy, Faith, Lacy, and Alyssa were at the orphanage, so Grace, Hope, and I were the “team” for this marathon.

When you order dumplings here, usually they have pork plus one vegetable- cabbage, mushroom, or jiu cai, an onion/garlic sort of green stringy herb that I have never seen outside China, because they are less trouble to make that way. But when you make them at home, you can make them to your own tastes. They can be all vegetable, all meat (really not very good as it is too dense and dry!), or a combination. We like ours with a mixture of roughly equal portions pork and veg. In making the recipe below, you can leave out whatever you don’t like and add things you do. The most important point is to make sure that your filling is not wet. Even if you change the recipe, the method of mixing, draining, folding, and cooking will be the same. So adapt this to your family and have fun!

Ingredients:

3 pounds ground pork (don’t buy extremely lean pork or your pot stickers will be like sawdust!)

1 football sized Chinese cabbage

1 pound fresh water chestnuts

1 small bunch celery

1 small bunch green onion

6 cloves garlic

1 thumb sized piece fresh ginger

1 carrot (for color)

3 ears of corn (only because we have them left over in the fridge and we don’t want to waste, do we? “Bu yao lan fei!”)

2 eggs

1/4 cup corn starch

Salt and pepper to taste

Soy sauce to taste

3 pounds of wrappers

First, chop everything into very tiny pieces.

If we had a food processor, this would probably be easy, but we first rough cut with a knife, then chop into small pieces with the chopper. This is the da bai cai or Chinese cabbage. We did the same thing with all the other vegetables!

After chopping the veg, we add salt to “sweat” them, removing excess water which will ruin the dumplings. The round white things above the bowl are fresh water chestnuts. You haven’t lived unless you’ve tried these! They are crunchy and slightly sweet. Yum!

Then we sweep up the mess, which, as you can see, is considerable!

While we’re working we’re watching “Pride and Prejudice”- the six hour BBC version with Colin Frith! It’s a good way to pass the time while we do all of this chopping!

After an hour or so, we drain the veg pressing down well to get the water out, then press between layers of a clean towel to make sure it is as dry as possible. All of those pics were too blurry to use! Oh well.

Mix in the meat.

Break your eggs into a separate bowl first in case they’re spoiled, like this one. One out of every three eggs we open in the summer is bad so we are very careful about this!

Add the two eggs.

Pour in the soy sauce- probably around 3 Tablespoons, but we didn’t measure.

Salt to taste.

Add enough corn starch so that the mixture is not watery. Wet filling disintegrates the wrappers. At this stage, we make a little patty of the filling and quick fry it in a dry skillet to make sure we have the flavorings right. We really don’t want to go to all the trouble to make these, then wrap them up only to discover later that we left out the salt!

Prepare trays by flouring lightly. Have small bowls of water so that you can moisten the outside edge of the wrapper to make it seal better. We buy our dumpling wrappers at the wet market. You can buy yours at an Asian food store in the freezer section.

Insert about a teaspoon of filling into each small sized wrapper. Leave room around the outside to seal well.

Seal firmly into a crescent shape. Then you’ll “pleat” the edges. Sorry, our photos of the pleating process are blurry so you’ll have to look at the pics of the completed dumplings and “wing it”!

Grace is intent on her jiao zi making!

Nice little work crew we have here, huh?

Observe the “pleating”.

Here are the trays of wrapped dumplings. Yes, we got carried away in our proportions and have enough for an army! Take note how many we made and adjust the recipe accordingly!

The chopping and wrapping procedures took us all the way to the proposal segment of “Pride and Prejudice”.

If you are steaming your potstickers in a bamboo steamer, be sure to grease it well. Otherwise, you will understand very thoroughly how they got their American name.

Arrange your dumplings in the steamer in such a way that they don’t overlap.

Put your steamer in a wok and add water until it shows around the bottom edge.

The second method, and the one my family prefers, is a combination of steaming and pan frying. Start with a skillet with enough oil to barely cover the bottom.

Add dumplings to hot oil and begin to fry.

When they have begun to brown lightly, pour water into the hot pan- about 1/3 of an inch.

Immediately, put the cover on so that you catch all that nice steam.

Halfway through the cooking process, we like to turn them over to make sure they get brown on two sides. My Chinese friends don’t turn them- they just brown the bottoms.

We feel very blessed to have a three burner stove. The burner on the left is made especially to hold a wok. The front burner on the right is perfect for a frying pan; and the back burner is for a soup pot. Most Chinese stoves have only two burners, so we have the luxury variety. Isn’t this a nice shovelful of dumplings cooking? 😀

Sometimes the wrappers break, and we wouldn’t want to put those on the table, would we? Oh, here’s a volunteer to take care of that for me. Thank you, Grace! You have a servant’s heart.

You know they are done in either cooking method when the wrapper becomes translucent  and you can see the outline of all the nice veggies inside. We let them stay warm on the stove and cover them with saran wrap because they dry out so quickly.

Then we pour a mixture of half soy sauce and half Chinese brown vinegar into our bowls and enjoy this feast! We would have taken photos of the girls eating them but they had been at the orphanage all day and felt pretty bedraggled and worn out. But we can assure you that  more than a few “Mmmm’s” were heard around our dinner table. And, yes, we do have leftovers! But that’s ok. Typically, Chinese people might take cold dumplings in a baggie with them for travel, for a quick lunch, or even for breakfast. We won’t have to cook tomorrow, and that’s a very good thing!

Dumplings really aren’t hard to make, but they do take time. If you want to make them for a group, it’s fun to have a “party” so that the guests can help chop and wrap their dinner. They’ll love learning how to make these for themselves, and the process gives lots of time for fellowship around the table! Or, if you don’t want to have a party, just break out the six hour of “Pride and Prejudice” and enjoy!