When I was growing up, one of my favorite meals to eat was dumplings (the Chinese kind, of course). I wouldn’t always get to eat dumplings when I asked my mom to make them, because she would sometimes say no to making them, saying that they required too much energy and time. I always wondered what made it so tiring, after all, it was “just” wrapping meat in dough! My sister, dad, and I would always help out with wrapping dumplings. Hmm..

Regardless of the energy and time-consuming nature, she would still plan for dumpling dinners, because she knew we enjoyed eating them so much. I would get to help out with flattening the dough circles, and the rest of my family’s job was to wrap dumplings while my mom rolled each dough round out, one by one. Whump, whump, whump– a couple strokes of the rolling pin would produce a perfectly round piece of dough with thin outsides and a slightly thicker middle. There were only a handful of times that my mom would buy dumpling skins; homemade was always better (plus, no need for a bowl of water to moisten the dough flaps!)
You could always tell which dumplings were the ones I made, because they were the ones that always 倒下来 (fell over), or worse, had sections where the dough was not pinched securely enough, so that the fillings escaped when the dumplings were boiled!!

This is what I heard as a kid while trying to wrap dumplings:
“It doesn’t matter if it’s ugly, as long as the filling stays inside”
“不要镇麽貪心” (don’t be so greedy with the filling!) (always use less filling if you are a dumpling wrapping newbie)

When I went to college on the east coast (go JHU!), I missed my mom’s dumplings a lot, so I made my own. The first few times, the dough was too wet and would sometimes break, resulting in explosive dumplings. I think I can finally say now, that I’ve become at least proficient now, after practicing more.


Jiao zi

餃子

Chinese  Dumplings

Makes 80-100 dumplings, depending on your 1) wrapping ability, 2) preference of meat:skin ratio, and 3) choice of homemade versus store-bought skins. Store-bought skins are less elastic than homemade skins, so you can’t put as much filling.

Ingredients:

Filling of your choice

A) Leek/Shrimp/Pork

1.5 lb ground pork
8 oz peeled and de-veined shrimp, coarsely chopped (1/4 inch – 1/2 inch pieces)
4 cups jiu cai (also known as Chinese leeks and garlic chives), chopped finely
1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
1.5-2 tsp salt
A couple shakes of white pepper powder

B) Napa Cabbage/Pork

1.5 lb ground pork
18-20 ounces napa cabbage
1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
1.5-2 tsp salt
2 tsp finely minced ginger
A couple shakes of white pepper powder
80-100 dumpling wrappers, or make your own

Instructions:
1) Mix all the filling ingredients (except the shrimp, for the leek/pork/shrimp) together, breaking up the clumps of pork. In terms of seasonings, the key here is…you may want to adjust the amounts for what you like. I wrote them as set amounts because I feel like that’s what people like, but as you know, if you go to a Chinese mom’s house, it’s always ‘a little bit of this, some more of that’ type of deal! In this way, I believe that Chinese people have mastered the ART of cooking 🙂

2) If the mixture is really hard to stir, add one teaspoon of water at a time so that the water can help break up the pork pieces. When the filling is well mixed up, the filling will start to form one big clump of filling, meaning that the fat has been mixed enough to help ‘glue’ everything together. Mix and mix until you see this big clump! If you are using the leek/pork/shrimp filling, you can add the shrimp after you are happy with the clumping.

3) Put a few teaspoons of filling on a dough round, then wrap.

4) After you wrap each dumpling, make sure to put it on a surface that is lightly dusted with flour to prevent sticking.

5) Also, use a semi-damp paper towel to cover the dumplings that await their destiny of boiling water! The paper towel keeps the skin from drying out and cracking (gasp!) while you wrap millions more dumplings.

6) Boil the dumplings in water until they float.

7) To freeze: freeze dumplings on a tray, so that they are not touching each other. After ~30-45 minutes or when the skins have stiffened up, then you can place them in a bag and freeze for longer storage. Do not just put them into a bag and into the freezer- you will have skins sticking together and one massive exploding dumpling when you try to cook them.

Accompaniments 
peeled whole cloves of garlic (for the adventurous)- take a bite of garlic, then a bite of dumpling!
finely chopped chili peppers

Sauce ideas – mix all or some together in a bowl for dipping. I grew up using a combination of soy sauce and rice vinegar, as I find that they let the dumpling filling taste shine the most! Also..the best dumplings should need little to zero sauce. 😉

soy sauce
rice vinegar
chinkiang vinegar
sesame oil
chili oil

Substitutions/Notes: 
-Food processor is not recommended because it will chop the pieces too finely
-You can test the saltiness by panfrying a small amount of the filling
-Why no ginger for the Leek filling? Ginger is often used with pork, in part to offset the ‘porkiness’. In this case, the leek/chive (jiu cai) flavor is rather strong, and we want the jiu cai taste to come through!

To freeze for next time: space dumplings evenly on a baking sheet, and freeze until the skin is completely stiff. Transfer to a plastic bag and store in the freezer.