Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vegan Dumplings (Jiao Zi)

Dumplings popped into my mind last week. I don't know why since the next Chinese holiday is pretty far away. Plus it's the hot hot middle of the summer when few people want to eat boiling hot pasta encased meat. But I'm surrounded by Chinese lab mates who miss real Chinese food and usually will go to far extremes to get their food fix. I've even heard of some driving two hours away to check out a new restaurant. Well, I called some of them up and got enthusiastic responses so Dumpling Fest was born.

The first thing to do was have a pow wow with my mom about the recipe. I've only rolled out the dumpling skins but never made the dough or the filling. After an hour long very intense discussion, I have my game plan and shopping list. There were going to be two fillings - one pork and one vegan.

The morning of dumpling fest, I mixed up the dough and let it sit all day to develop the smoothiness (I'm guessing it's the gluten). I made most of the filling before folks arrived. Then we had a rocking kitchen of dumpling skin rollers and dumpling fillers. Once the dumplings were ready to go in the pot, someone was designated dumpling maker and the rest of us chowed down on the dumplings with much satisfaction. For some reason, my dumpling filling tasted a lot more "healthy" and less fatty than my parents. Maybe it was the cut of meat I used or because I added water chestnuts which made the filling lighter and slightly crunchy. I don't know. I just know they were delicious. We didn't get around to making the vegan dumplings so I'll have to do that tomorrow.

Dumplings (enough to feed 5 people)

2 lbs all purp flour (I used Eagle Mills Brand that is a blend of whole wheat and white and it turned out beautifully)
2 cups water

The night before or the morning of the day you want to make dumplings, prepare the dough. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of water. Mix the water in with a spoon or chopsticks. Then continue to add water 1 T at a time until there is no more loose flour in the bowl. You do not want it too wet or it will be difficult to roll out. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead for 5-8 minutes. The dough should feel slightly stiff. Place dough back in bowl and cover well with saran wrap or a towel and a plate. Let the dough rest for at least a couple of hours up to overnight. Alternatively, buy dumpling wrappers. Okay, next

Part 1
1.5 lb ground cooked seitan or smoked tofu (I used my meat grinder for this. Stop making that face! I have a meat grinder for my cat! Hmm, I guess that sounded just as crazy. TVP may also work for this)
1/2" ginger minced
2 stalks scallion minced
2 T soy sauce

Part 2
1 head napa cabbage using green/leafy parts only, chopped very fine (the white stems can be reserved for broths or sauteed on their own)
1/3 cup water chestnuts chopped fine (food processor would be great for this and the next two ingredients)
1 cup shiitake mushrooms chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped fine
1 T sesame oil
1 T salt
2 t sugar
black pepper

Mix all ingredients in part 1 together in a large bowl and let marinate for 30 minutes. Add all ingredients of part 2 in and mix well. Test a spoonful (30 seconds in the microwave) and adjust seasonings. Cover and set aside.

Making the wrapper
Take the dumpling dough and knead it a few times. It should become very smooth. Tear off a piece about the size of tennis ball and knead it into a smooth ball. Make a hole in the center and squeeze into a donut shape. Keep squeezing the hoop until the hole in the center is very large. Find a thin spot on the donut and tear the dough there to make one long log. Roll and squeeze the log until it is about the diamater of a quarter. Take one end in your fist and start tearing off bits of dough about 1/2" to 3/4" long. Try to tear the dough off quickly to make a clean tear and to avoid stretching the log. When the entire log is in pieces, roll the pieces in flour and start flattening them.

Once they are all flattened, take a dumpling rolling pin (resembles a french pastry rolling pin but much smaller) and roll into dumpling wrappers in the following manner:

1. Hold the edge of a flattened piece between thumb and index finger (let's call this hand A). Hold rolling pin against the opposite edge of the dough with only the palm of your other hand (hand B). All your fingers should be on top of the pin. Ie. your thumb should not be wrapped around the pin but resting on top.

2. Apply pressure to the rolling pin and roll it up to the center of the piece of dough. You should now have a piece of dough that is really flat on one half.

3. Using hand A, rotate the dough a quarter turn.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the dumpling wrapper is roughly 2.5" - 3" in diameter. Ideally, you want the middle to be thicker than the edges so the filling doesn't fall out.

Finish rolling the rest of the pieces before moving on to shaping --->

Shaping dumplings

Now take a wrapper and place it in the palm of your hand. Add about 1T of filling to the center. Fold the wrapper in half. Now you can either

1. Pinch the wrapper in 3 places along the edge and then squeeze the wrapper fully shut using the long part of your thumb and the side of your knuckle next to your thumb.


2. Pinch the wrapper slightly shut and then proceed to make pleats. Finally squeeze the edge with the pleats to make sure it's sealed.

Put the dumplings on a floured plate or styrofoam tray. Boil up some water with ginger and left over napa stems. When the water is at full boil, drop in the dumplings. They are done when the float again (5 mins???).

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