With the approach of Chinese New Year, my mind naturally wanders to food, and in particular, those wonderfully plump dumplings that quintessentially define a Northern Chinese New Year. This iconic food tradition, usually marked with piping hot plates of boiled dumplings as the first gongs strike midnight, has symbolised “hope” and “unity” through good times and bad for the Chinese people over millenniums.
The humble dumpling remains the hallmark of any festive celebration for us Northern Chinese. For a child of the 80s and 90s, nothing quite spells out “Chinese New Year” like having the family gathered around the table, making dumplings while joking and watching the national festive variety show on CCTV. These traditions, for us, symbolise togetherness and joy. With each fold of the dumpling, we infuse our hopes and wishes for the coming year directly into the dough.
What you’ll need (makes around 200 dumplings)
- 800g of minced pork (half fatty / half lean)
- 1 napa cabbage
- 1 large scallion
- 5 cups of white flour
- 1 tbls salt
- 6 tbls of canola oil
- 1 tsp of sesame oil
- a good cracking of black pepper
- 3 tbls light soy sauce
- 1 tsp of chicken powder
*a food processor will be very handy
Dice the cabbage in a food processor, then sprinkle generously with 3/4 tablespoon of salt. Mix well and set aside for a couple of minutes so that the salt has time to draw out the excess water from the vegetable.
Take handfuls of the salted cabbage and place it in a clean kitchen towel. Fold up the edges of the towel and squeeze HARD! I find a twisting motion, like as if I’m wringing a towel, works best. Set aside the drained cabbage.
Finely dice scallions and add into the minced pork.
Add black pepper, chicken powder, 1/4 tablespoon of salt, soy sauce and 3 tablespoons of oil to the pork and stir until the mince has almost a ‘whipped’ texture. This ensures that the filling is light, and not too dense.
Pour in the drained cabbage on top of the meat mixture. Now, here is the important part – before mixing it all together, pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil over the cabbage and distribute evenly. The oil will keep the remaining moisture in the cabbage and result in a juicier dumpling. Mix together.
For the dough, there is no precise water to flour ratio, since the ratio varies depending on the type of flour you use. So the easiest way is to add a steady stream of water while stirring, and stop adding water once the flour begins to clump together.
My grandpa always says that there are 3 indicators of a good dough – no residual sticky dough left on the sides of the bowl, no sticky bits of dough left on the hand, and a soft sheen on the surface of the dough.
Knead the dough into a little ball, and then puncture the middle to form a doughnut shape. Cut one side of the doughnut to make a dough stick, and roll it out to a circular diameter of around 2 centimetres. Roll cut the dough stick into 1.5 centimetres pieces. Dust generously with flour and press down to flatten each piece into a little disc.
Holding an edge of the flattened dough disc, gently roll out with a rolling pin. Rotate the dough slightly and repeat. This will take a few tries to perfect, but just remember – practice makes perfect! What you want is a dumpling skin that is thicker in the middle (to be robust enough to hold the filling) and thinner along the edges so it’s easier to fold.
Here’s the fun part. Place a dollop of filling in the middle of the dumpling skin. Pinch the dough together at the centre, then pinch together one end of the dumpling. Continue making folds until you get to the centre. Repeat on the other side.
Follow the photos clockwise from left
Ta-da!!! Congratulations on making your first dumpling! Now, repeat that another 200 times! OR have a dumpling party and invite friends over to help. This way you’ll be done in no time, and can savour the fruits of your labour together!
To cook the dumplings, bring a big pot of water to a boil. Drop in dumplings, but be careful not to boil too many at the same time or else the dumplings may cook unevenly and stick together! Bring the dumplings to a boil and add a half cup of cold water into the mix. Wait for the pot to come to another boil. By this time, the dumplings should have all plumped up and floated to the surface of the water. Drain and decant onto warm plates and serve immediately. I love my dumpling dipping sauce full of garlicky flavour, so I combine a mixture of spicy vinegar, sesame oil and salty chive flowers (kind of like a pesto) for that quintessential Old Beijing taste. Brings back memories of home, every time.
Happy Chinese New Year everyone!!!