So. Much. Fun! Initially, I was intimidated by this month’s Cook the Books selection, Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen, but now I want to make dumplings all the time. I purchase won ton wrappers to make ravioli sometimes (it works!, albeit imperfectly as a replacement for pasta), and we made crab rangoon last year for our anniversary dinner, but that was the extent of my experience with making dumplings. In general they are a bit mysterious: we eat pot stickers once in a while, the frozen veggie kind from the grocery store, and had lumpia and bao at the Mobile Food Rodeo, but I never think of them as something I could, or should, make at home. Isn’t that silly? Until now. Now it will be all dumplings, all the time. Because of this Cook the Books challenge, I gained confidence and a long list of recipes I want to try. Nguyen’s book includes recipes for everything from gyoza (pot stickers), won tons and samosas to lumpia, bao and momo. Steamed, fried or boiled; spicy or sweet; hearty or delicate– a whole new world has been opened. The cookbook itself is well-written, clear, concise and full of helpful photos and instruction. I used a library copy but hope to add Asian Dumplings to my home library sometime soon.
Okay, so you can tell how enthusiastic I am about our experience making homemade dumplings. Now it’s time for the confession. I was intimidated, and skeptical of my abilities, so I used store-bought wrappers. As I mentioned above, they are handy little things, easy to use and inexpensive, readily available in our local grocery stores. Even before we ate, as I put spoonfuls of glossy, fragrant filling into the perfect squares, I felt disappointed that I had underestimated myself. I could have done the wrappers, too. I may detest making pie crust and other rolled-out pastries, but I can do it, and my husband can definitely do it, and so there will be more dumplings in our future, homemade all the way.
Now back to the fun. I chose a pork and Napa cabbage water dumpling recipe to make for dinner earlier this week; I wanted to try something that wasn’t fried and I liked the sound of the ingredient list. A dish from northern China, “water dumpling” is a literal translation of the Chinese word for these boiled dumplings. Traditionally made with pork and cabbage, they can also be filled with lamb, beef, vegetable, shrimp or other ingredients and are served to celebrate the Lunar New Year. (Since I used the recipe exactly as it was written, I won’t be listing ingredient quantities– I want you to find this wonderful book and take a look for yourself!) For the batch I made, the filling included ground pork (I couldn’t find any at the butcher shop so I bought from Whole Foods), Napa cabbage, ginger, green onions, sesame oil, soy sauce and pepper. I purchased won ton wrappers made with wheat flour (not rice) and made a dipping sauce with soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili oil (also homemade, not as spicy as I would have liked) and ginger. I served the dumplings with a salad of fresh bok choy dressed with a mixture almost identical to the dipping sauce, funnily enough.
The dumplings were a breeze to prepare; the most challenging aspect was reading ahead to anticipate when I would need to pause and let ingredients come together or rest. My husband helped me fill the dumplings, and though he used a dumpling press like this one, I found they were just as easy to form by hand. We ended up with 30 and put most into the freezer; I froze them first on cookie sheets for an hour and then batched them into containers. They should keep in the freezer for a few months. To cook the dumplings for dinner was as easy as boiling water, adding them one at a time and letting them float to the top of the water. Because we had used raw pork in the filling, I was cautious and cooked them a full eight mins. (as directed in the recipe), though I think they may have been ready after six. The reason I am giving so much detail about seemingly mundane steps is because I want to underscore how approachable this process is. The finished product tasted like tender meatballs wrapped in a silky wrapping; the sauce was salty and just a little spicy. These pork dumplings would be so much fun to serve at a party; you could make them ahead and refrigerate or freeze or involve guests in the preparation. I think they were the ideal introductory dumpling recipe and hope you will be inspired to try making them at your home.
Up next for us will be shrimp lumpia, similar to an egg roll in some ways, or spicy vegetable momo, a Nepalese dish reminiscent of ravioli. As for Cook the Books, the book selected for March is Good Fish by Becky Selengut, especially appropriate given the outcry in recent days about mislabeled fish in stores and restaurants. I flipped through the cookbook a few days ago and have a few ideas brewing. Hope you’ll be cooking with us!