When I first heard the news about this book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. In Asian Dumplings, Andrea Nguyen presents various kinds of dumplings from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. This is a very informative guide to dumpling making, and homemade wrappers are encouraged for all of them. I had been curious about making dough for wrappers for a long time, and I was a little afraid of it, but with these instructions the process was a breeze. There are also ‘lazy day tips’ throughout the book that explain how to use packaged wrappers for quicker versions of recipes, but there are advantages to making your own. For one thing, I gained a new appreciation for carefully made-from-scratch dumplings. Of course the fresh dough is delicious and chewy, and it’s also fun to shape. With homemade wrappers, you don’t have to moisten the edges to seal it, and it’s much more forgiving and stretchy when being filled. I learned so much from cooking from this book just once that I’m already looking forward to whatever I might learn next time. I noticed this morning that Heidi at 101 Cookbooks just posted a list of Andrea Nguyen’s favorite cookbooks, and it’s a great list.
So, for my first dumpling adventure, I chose the vegetarian crystal dumplings and chiu chow dumplings. Both are made with wheat starch dough, and this was a fun dough to make. Wheat starch was combined with tapioca starch because the tapioca gives it more elasticity. The two starches were combined in a mixing bowl with a little salt, and just boiled water. After stirring in the water, a little canola oil was added. I doubled the dough recipe, but before kneading it, I divided it in two equal parts. I thought kneading would be easier that way. The dough was kneaded for a couple of minutes on a flour-free surface, and it quickly became smooth and white. It’s noted that it should feel like Play-Doh, and it really does.
For these dumplings, each half (since I doubled the original quantity) was divided into three balls. The balls of dough were placed in a plastic bag and left to rest for five minutes. Then, one ball of dough was removed at a time. It was rolled into a log, and the log was cut into eight pieces. Each of those little pieces was then placed between pieces of plastic cut from a zip bag that had been lightly oiled. The dough was then pressed with the bottom of a glass measuring pitcher (or any heavy, flat, round-bottomed object) to form a three and a half inch round. A tortilla press would have been ideal for this. Each round of dough was then filled, the edges were sealed, and the goal was to crimp the edges for a pretty ruffled look. I did what I could. I’ll have to keep practicing for pretty edges, but the important thing is to be sure the dumpling is sealed.
To backtrack just a bit, it’s actually a very good idea to prepare the dumpling filling a day or two before assembling the dumplings. My first choice was the vegetarian filling including dried shitakes, dried wood war mushrooms, shallot, garlic, jicama, carrot, and scallions. The dried mushrooms were soaked and then drained and chopped, and the other ingredients were either minced or finely diced. The shallot and garlic were sauteed, and then the mushrooms, jicama, and carrot were added. A seasoning mixture of sugar, soy sauce, and reserved mushroom soaking liquid was added to the saute pan followed by the scallions and then a small amount of cornstarch dissolved in water. That cooked together just briefly, and then the mixture was left to cool. I decided to go all out and make a second filling as well because since I was doing this whole homemade dumpling thing, I thought why not. And, I thought two kinds of dumplings would be even more fun than one.
The second filling I made was for chiu chow dumplings. That filling is flavored with dried shrimp and includes some kind of meat, usually pork but I used ground chicken thighs, and it includes some vegetables which make it less dense. It’s made by sauteing garlic and chopped dried shrimp before the ground chicken was added. Once the meat was browned, chopped re-constituted dried shitakes were added, with finely diced jicama, and chopped peanuts. A seasoning mixture of sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, shaoxing rice wine, and water was then added to the saute pan. Once again, a cornstarch slurry was added along with scallions. Both fillings were refrigerated overnight before being made into dumplings.
It’s suggested that the dumplings be steamed right away once assembled and not refrigerated until after they’ve been steamed. So, as I assembled them, I placed them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and covered them with plastic wrap. When they were all assembled, I lined steaming trays with parchment so the dumplings wouldn’t stick, and let them steam for seven minutes. Then, I placed enough for dinner in the refrigerator, and the rest went into the freezer. To re-heat them, they went back into the steamer for just three minutes. To serve, soy sauce and/or chile garlic sauce are suggested as accompaniments. I made the homemade chile garlic sauce from the book which included red chiles, garlic, salt, sugar, and distilled white vinegar. If you cook the sauce, which I did, it can be kept refrigerated for about six months.
Does the whole process take some time? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely. I was thrilled with the dumpling dough and how easy it was to shape. I was also really thrilled that every step of the process turned out exactly as described in the book. The quantity of filling for each type of dumpling was exactly right. The texture of the dumpling wrappers was chewy and springy and delightful. The fillings were full of umami, and I really mean that. There are a lot of savory flavors at work in each, and I kept thinking that both were very good examples of umami. The freshly made chile garlic sauce was bright and hot but not painful in small doses. The whole experience from cooking and assembling and steaming to eating was a fun one, and there will be a lot more dumplings in my kitchen in the future.