On the surface, dumplings seem like a very simple dish, just some meat wrapped into a tiny piece of dough, right? Wrong! Dumplings have a long and interesting history that is rooted in Chinese culture and traditions. Dumplings, or 餃子 (Jiaozi), originated in Northern China where the diet is much more flour based than rice based, as it is in Central and Southern China. Traditionally, they were eaten only during Chinese New Year because most Chinese peasants could not afford to eat such rich and delicate foods year-round. People now eat dumplings throughout the year, but they are still specifically prepared for the Chinese New Year because they have traditional tidings of good luck and riches. Eating dumplings during the New Year are thought to bring good fortune for the coming year for two auspicious reasons. First of all, the shape of a dumpling is similar to a golden ingot which was used as currency in China until the 20th century. Secondly, the Chinese word for dumpling, 餃子 (Jiaozi), has the same pronunciation as the Chinese word for ancient paper money, 交子 (Jiaozi). As a result, Chinese families like to prepare and eat dumplings at the beginning of each year as tidings of prosperity for the rest of the year.
My dad has a lot of memories of helping his mom make dumplings for dinner guests. My paternal grandfather was a diplomat for the Taiwanese government. As a result, my father spent many of his childhood years moving around the world with his family on different diplomatic assignments. From the age of 8 to the age of 18, my dad and his family spent time in different African countries like Sierra Leone and Milawi as ambassadors. During this time, my grandfather would spend the day with government officials in the office and would then invite them over for dinner to experience authentic Chinese cuisine prepared by my grandmother. The opportunity for African officials to experience homemade Chinese food during the 1960's was rare, so my grandmother always made sure to prepare delicious and easy to eat dishes. Dumplings were one of these dishes. My father has told me that he would always be recruited to help my grandmother make the dumplings because it is such a labor-intensive dish to make from scratch. While my grandmother prepared the meat filling for the dumplings, my father would be at the other end of the table mixing all of the ingredients needed to make the dough. When they were both finished with their respective duties, they would begin wrapping. Together, the two of them created a little assembly line. While my father rolled small chunks of dough into perfectly round wrappers, my grandmother would fill and wrap a dumpling. They would repeat this process until hundreds of dumplings had been made. The dumplings that my grandmother and my father made together were always a hit with the government officials and were made on many occasions.
Dumplings can be made in a number of different ways. Traditionally, the filling for Chinese dumplings is made from pork and/or beef. Additionally, vegetarian dumplings can be made with a tofu, vegetable, or egg filling. The wheat-based wrapper is also traditionally handmade from dough. However, many companies now make packaged dumpling skins that are available in most Chinese markets and even in some American grocery stores. These skins are what my family now uses to make our dumplings on Chinese New Year because they are much more convenient and just as tasty.
The actual wrapping of a dumpling is probably the most difficult part of making a dumpling for someone who has never done it before. However, the process is very easy after you do it once. There are multiple ways to seal the edges of a dumpling. The easiest way is to simply fold the wrapper in half and press firmly down around all of the edges until the dough adheres to itself. As a child, I was taught to use a crimping method that keeps the dumpling in a pretty crescent shape. However, this method is a little more difficult. If you want to see how I wrap a dumpling, please watch the video below. Regardless of how you choose to wrap your dumplings, the secret to making sure they don't fall apart is to "paint" the outer ring of the dumpling wrapper with a raw egg mixture, to create a natural glue.
My family uses the same dumpling recipe that my grandmother used when they were in Africa with the exception of store bought wrappers. For the filling, we combine ground pork, ground beef, thinly sliced scallions, diced water chestnuts, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, sesame oil, and an egg. My grandmother used scallions instead of the more traditional Chinese garlic chives because they were not available in Africa.
Chinese Dumpling Recipe
· 1 package dumpling wrappers
· 1 lb. ground pork
· ½ lb. ground beef
· 2 eggs
· 15 stems of fresh scallion
· 1 can of water chestnuts
· 3 cloves garlic
· 2 tablespoons of finely chopped or grated ginger
· 1 tablespoon sesame oil
· 3 teaspoons salt
· ½ teaspoon pepper
Wash and clean all of the vegetables. Slice the scallions as thinly as possible. They should be almost translucent. Mince the garlic. Dice up the water chestnuts so that they are very small, yet large enough to provide some crunchy texture. Whisk the eggs (scrambled sounds like you cooked them) and then set aside 1/3 of the egg mixture. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix everything thoroughly. Don't be afraid to use your hands to ensure that the filling is mixed evenly.
Once everything is mixed, you are ready to start wrapping. Use the egg mixture that you set aside earlier to line the edges of the dough to ensure that your dumpling won't fall apart later. If you need assistance wrapping, please refer to the video above. Place each wrapped dumpling on a well floured board, ensuring that none of the dumplings are touching one another to avoid sticking.
When you are finished wrapping, fill a large pot half way with water. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, cover, and wait for the water to boil. When the water is at a rolling boil, use a spoon to stir the water while adding dumplings. This will keep the dumplings from sticking from one another. Do not add more than 15 dumplings to the water at a time. Wait for the water to come to a rolling boil again. Add 1 cup of cold water and wait for it to come to a boil again. Repeat this with one more cup of cold water. When the water comes to a boil for the third time, use a slotted spoon to remove the dumplings. Drizzle them with sesame oil as soon as they come out to avoid sticking. Repeat this process until you have cooked all of your dumplings.
Tell me about your experience making your own dumplings or your favorite restaurant to go to for dumplings in the comments below. I'd love to try what you guys love if I can!!