Homemade dumplings brings my family closer together

Marian Liu

THE WASHINGTON POST – One of my favourite ways to bond with my mom is to wrap dumplings together. After so many years of tradition, our fingers follow muscle memory, folding in the filling and creasing the edges while we catch up on our lives.

Dumpling season is around the corner with the upcoming Lunar New Year, but the pandemic has postponed my plans to return home to California. I’ll have to make my dumplings alone in Florida.

This makes me think about when I first shipped out to college and my parents sent along frozen buns and dumplings so I could easily reach for a taste of home. And later, when I lived by myself in Hong Kong, a nearby dumpling shop was a perfect panacea for my homesickness.

Since sheltering at home, I’ve been making dumplings more often, every two to three weeks, and freezing them. Whenever the mood strikes, I boil or fry them up and lessen my sense of isolation for a bit.

Chicken and Chive Dumplings. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Dumpling maker Calvin Shea recommended adding shrimp, he advises coarsely chopping them to leave a snap when you bite into it. His fillings are even more complicated, with ground chicken, carrots, celery, cabbage, scallions and ginger; or scallops with jalapeño peppers, cilantro, scallions and napa cabbage. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, school recruiter was making dumplings for himself until they took over his Instagram account, and followers begged him to sell them. Now he does so on the side.

I’ve been doing this since I was a kid because that’s the only way I could spend time with her, Shea said about his 81-year-old mother. They’ve been making dumplings together since he was three, and still do so regularly since she visited last January from Taiwan and can’t return because of the pandemic.

He added that dumplings are a staple for the new year, because they resemble the old, traditional Chinese gold ingots, so you eat that for good luck going into the new year.

You make it with family, because that’s when everybody is gathered together, to talk about the past, what happened last year, going forward, what’s going to happen; out with the old, in with the new, Shea said.

Another tradition, Susan Qin said, is to wrap a cashew in one or two of the dumplings. Whoever ends up with these dumplings is granted good luck for the rest of the year.

As for the filling, Quin recommended marinating the meat in scallion, ginger water, soy sauce and chicken stock overnight. This keeps the filling from drying out as the dumplings cook.

My recipe provides a variation on this I saute chives, ginger and garlic in soy sauce and chicken stock. I add this mixture to the raw meat before folding it all into the wrappers. Scallions can be substituted for chives.

Filling ingredients can vary as long as they are sturdy enough to withstand boiling or frying, so a vegetarian option could include a napa cabbage mixture with carrots and shiitake mushrooms, or even chopped clear vermicelli noodles.

I don’t, however, recommend making the wrappers from scratch. It’s not an easy process, so I prefer buying ready-made dumpling skins. For variety, I use dumpling, wonton and vegetable skins. As for a dipping sauce, mine is usually soy sauce with a dollop of chili paste, but feel free to add grated garlic, scallions, chili oil and rice vinegar to taste.

This year, dumpling-making might be more of a solo activity in my kitchen, but I take comfort in knowing that as I wrap my dumplings, home cooks around the world are doing the same as they prepare for the Lunar New Year. And after such a challenging year, I just might add cashews into each one.

CHICKEN AND CHIVE DUMPLINGS

Two hours

10 servings (makes about 50 dumplings)

For this simple dumpling recipe, saute chives, ginger and garlic in soy sauce and chicken stock. Then, add the mixture to the raw chicken and combine before folding it all into the round wonton wrappers. Scallions can be substituted for chives. Serve with a simple a slurry of soy sauce with a dollop of chile crisp, to taste, and scallions; or your favourite dipping sauce.

MAKE AHEAD

Lightly dust formed dumplings with flour so the skins don’t crack. Transfer the dumplings to a baking sheet, making sure they are not touching, and freeze them. Once frozen, place them into freezer containers and freeze for up to three months.

INGREDIENTS

Two tablespoons vegetable oil or another neutral oil

Two cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

One teaspoon minced or finely grated fresh ginger

14 cup coarsely chopped fresh chives

One tablespoon soy sauce

One tablespoon chicken stock (optional)

One pound ground chicken

One (10-ounce) package round wonton wrappers

DIRECTIONS

Make the dumplings In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, combine the oil, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until they start to sizzle, about two minutes.

Add the chives and soy sauce, and cook, stirring until the chives are aromatic, about two minutes. Remove from the heat and add the aromatics to the chicken.

Let sit until slightly cooled off, one to two minutes, then mix to combine.

To form the wontons, fill a small bowl with water. Place a wonton wrapper on the countertop and spoon a scant two teaspoons (about 10 grammes) of the chicken mixture into the centre of the wrapper. Dab your index finger in the water and dampen the edges of the wrapper. Fold in half, creating a half-moon. Gently press the two halves together at the centre of the curved edge.

Then, working your way down one side from the centre, make two small pleats and press the edges closed. Repeat on the other side of the dumpling. When you’re done, the dumpling will be closed, with four pleats and a slight curve. Repeat until you run out of chicken. You should get about 50 dumplings.

If boiling dumplings: Fill a three-quart pot three-quarters of the way with water and bring to a rolling boil. Carefully drop in however many dumplings you want to eat and boil until they float, about five minutes. Remove from the water, serve with your favourite dipping sauce.

If pan-frying dumplings: In a large saute pan with a lid over medium heat, combine 14 cup of water and one tablespoon of oil. Working in batches as needed, place the dumplings evenly across the pan, making sure they aren’t touching.

Partially cover the skillet and steam the dumplings until most of the water cooks off.Add one tablespoon of oil and scallions, if using. Pan-fry the dumplings on one side – or, if you prefer, all over – until golden brown and crispy, three to four minutes per side.

Repeat to fry more dumplings in additional batches, as desired, adding more water and oil and adjusting the heat as needed to prevent the dumplings from burning.

Remove from the pan, serve with your favourite dipping sauce.

NUTRITION

(Based on 10 dumplings) Calories 229; Total Fat 13g; Saturated Fat 4g; Cholesterol 35mg; Sodium 228mg; Carbohydrates 17g; Dietary Fibre 1g; Sugar 0g; Protein 11g.