How to Make Chinese Dumplings
Jiao zi (dumplings, 饺子) have been an integral part of Chinese culture for as long as anyone remembers. Because of this, dumplings have become the most famous and widely appreciated Chinese food. Not only does a little meat goes a long way in a batch of dumplings, but almost anything can be stuffed into a delicate little dumpling wrapping and still be edible…even delicious!
Dumplings are eaten every year by every Chinese family for every meal for the first month or so after the new year. But recently dumplings have become exceedingly popular with lao wai (foreigners, the strange people who show enthusiastic appreciation for this everyday food.) The jiao zi has been discovered and is stepping into the limelight, but until now the only place you could get the jiao zi you yearn for - the spicy, sweet, salty mixture of meat and bread that gives you something new with every bite - was the corner store on your average Beijing corner. But you can learn how to make a batch yourself without even breaking a sweat.
green onion (or chives)
pre-made dumpling wrapping (optional)
white vinegar (optional)
sesame oil (optional)
chili sauce (optional)
Making the Dough
Starting with the dumpling wrapping is a good idea, as if left to set for a while, it’s much easier to wrap up into the actual dumplings. The wrapping is surprisingly easy compared to bread. Yeast, salt, baking soda, etc, aren’t needed. The thin bread-like outer layer is composed of only flour and water. Roughly two parts flour to one part water gives your dough the perfect consistency. After mixing and kneading a while, it should feel stiff, but easy to mold without considerable effort. Another option is just to buy the pre-made dumpling wrappings. I recommend buying them, since making the rounds is a lot of effort, and doesn’t affect taste much.
Making the Dumpling Stuffing
You can stuff your dumplings with almost anything you want, but a common filling is cabbage and pork. To make it, cut the cabbage in quarters and boil it for a minute or so, just to get it to soften up. When you pull out the cabbage, cut in strips lengthwise, and chop those long strips into rectangles. Chop up the ginger as finely as you can, and chop up the green onions or chives into small pieces (If you want a soy dipping sauce, to eat them with, chop up a little extra ginger now). I like to spread out the chopping work between menial tasks, because otherwise my arms start to resemble overcooked noodles. Once you’ve got your giant pile of chopped veggies, get a bowl and mix it in with the pork until it sticks together to form a large lump. Although this is a loose recommendation, and people change the recipe to their tastes, usually equal parts veggie and meat works very well. If you choose to use more veggies, it’s a good idea to add an egg to keep your filling from sticking together. Depending on the type of cabbage available in your area, sometimes an egg is necessary to keep the filling sticking at all. When you’ve got your basic filling, season it with a dash of salt, a splash of soy, some seasoning oil, and a bit of pepper. You can decide to microwave a tiny bit of filling to taste, or have some faith in your seasoning abilities.
Making the Dumpling Skins (wrappers, peels, etc.)
Now you’ve made each separate part, you just have to put them together. If you chose to buy the pre-made dough, you can skip this next part. The dough should still just be a lump. Take lumps of the dough a bit larger than your fist and roll them into tubes of about one inch diameter. Cut up the tubes into pieces of about one inch long; soon each of those wads is going to become a dumpling! Using a rolling pin, try to roll each lump into a nice circle. In all the batches of dumplings I’ve made, I’ve only seen about 5 perfectly round pieces of dough, so don’t worry about them not coming out perfect.
Stuffing the Dumplings
Now you can stuff your dumplings! This part is the most fun, the most important, the hardest, and the most time consuming. Holding the dough in your left hand (in your right if your dominant hand is your left), pile a bunch of filling in the middle, and squish it down, so you can fit as much as possible in. There are two possible approaches from here. The easier is to just squish the two sides together, like an empanada. To make jiao zi like a pro, start by squeezing two opposite ends of the circle together. Next, fold the dough on the sides toward the middle, accordion style. This, although slower, keeps the filling in better and, to be honest, is beautiful.
The actual cooking is easy. Drop the dumplings into boiling water and stir for a few seconds so they don’t stick to the bottom. Let them cook for about 5 minutes in an uncovered pan. You’ll know when they’re done. They’ll float to the top and get a wrinkled look to them. Steaming them is similar, but takes longer. For each batch of dumplings steam them for 10 to 15 minutes in a covered pan.
Now you just have to eat them! If you want the classic dipping sauce, start with a little bit of garlic, put in a splash of soy sauce, white vinegar, sesame oil, and if you’re courageous, chili sauce.
Anne Driscoll is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.
All photos courtesy and copyright Anne Driscoll
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