Gong xi fa cai

I celebrated Chinese New Year yesterday with a bunch of friends from school, hosted at David’s apartment. I volunteered to make dumplings, so I prepped the filling and brought over some equipment since I figured (accurately) that David’s place would be too small to handle that many cooks in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I forgot my packs of dumpling wrappers that were thawing in the fridge, so we only had the 60 or so wrappers that I had him buy for me; fortunately, that turned out to be just the right number, and now I have wrappers at home to make fresh dumplings with the leftover filling whenever I want.

This led me to my first revelation: pre-made dumpling wrappers rock. I tried to make my own dough before, and there were some problems – hint: always add flour to the liquid ingredients, never the other way around!, and a fat rolling pin does not for a skinny rolling pin substitute. It turned out ok that time, but I’ve concluded it’s not worth the effort for most dumpling occasions. Plus, the wrappers you can buy are just the right ratio of dough to filling and cook in about 3 minutes. The only problem I can think of is that you need to pay more attention to how much filling you wrap, because if it’s not enough, the dumpling can get all floppy when cooked with too much empty space inside.

At any rate, the dumplings were a big hit, and a lot of fun for people to make as well. We had about 4 or 5 different styles going on – my simple but 2 fold style, the more elaborate 6 fold style you see in dim sum a lot, a russian style, and even a bao zi (steamed bun) style, which actually looked really cool. Maybe one of these days I’ll get really ambitious and attempt xiao long bao (soup dumplings).

Aside from dumplings, we had two big pots of huo guo (fire pot) going, and tons of stuff to throw in them – beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, cuttlefish sticks and fish balls; fried and soft tofu, mushrooms, rice noodles, and about 5 different kinds of vegetables, 3 of which I didn’t recognize. In traditional Chinese fashion, there was a ton of food, perfect for the new year.

My second revelation was that people can have full Chinese ancestry and not like soy sauce or spicy food, not be able to pronounce Chinese words, and not own a rice cooker. Well, let’s just say I’m still a little skeptical that he is truly Chinese.

Here is the recipe I use for dumpling filling, passed down from my mom (who is the best Chinese cook I know):

2-2.5 lbs ground pork
bottom 1/2 of a napa cabbage, chopped fine
~ 3 inch diameter bunch of green/garlic chives (long and flat, not the small wispy ones), chopped fine
3 large cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 cubic inch of ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 C soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1-2 T vinegar

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl with a sturdy utensil.

To wrap dumplings, prepare a bowl of cornstarch mixed with water (about 1/2 T to 1/2 C water). Place a wrapper flat on the palm of your hand. Place a small ball of filling in the center, about the size of 1 tablespoon. Dip a finger into the cornstarch solution and wet the top edge of the wrapper. Bring up the bottom half of the wrapper and pinch shut at the top in the middle. Wet the front sides of the wrapper, then start folding up the front part of the wrapper up towards the middle, pinching the top closed as you go. You should have 1-3 folds (depending on your style) on each side on the front of the dumpling, with a slightly curved shape that helps it sit upright.

To cook dumplings, bring a large pot of water to boil. Place about a dozen dumplings in the water. When they pop up to the surface, pour in a cup of cold water. Wait 1 minute, then remove from the pot. They’re done!

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