Pork and Napa Dumplings

Dumplings. That's what's up. If you're not on that dumpling tip, you need to be. They're delicious and nutritious, a delightful treat that's yummy for the tummy.

At first, the thought of making dumplings was intimidating. The dough looked magical and elusive- it was a mystery that I left to the pro's and restaurants.

Then I purchased "Asian Dumplings" by Andrew Nguyen during Border's going out of business sale (that never seems to go out of business). Sound familiar? That's because it's the same book I got the Incredible Chinese Chile Oil recipe. It is also the same sauce you see drizzled all over the dumplings... so good.

The book is very reader friendly and has simple illustrations to break down all the wrapper styles. In short, it's a gem for every level of dumpling maker. The recipes are delicious and the instructions are merciful. Don't have a food processor? It's cool. There are directions for every type of kitchen set up as well.

This is my first attempt and I stuck it out with 2 of the most basic recipes in the book: basic dumpling dough with pork and napa cabbage. This dough is the foundation of many Chinese dumplings and has a medium thickness; it's flexible and easy to work with. And do not freak out when you see the directions. It's flour and water. Done. You can make it ahead of time and leave it in the fridge or use it immediately.

As for the filling, it's hard to go wrong with pork and vegetables. The ground pork meat is hard to over cook and napa cabbage is amazing at absorbing flavor- especially if you cut it with the leaves stacked on one another and at a sharp angle. Don't go chop chop chop crazy. Put a lil love into it!

Don't fear the dumpling. I forbid it. Nobody cares if they're not picture perfect. The taste is what matters. Just give it a try and you'll be amazed with the results.

Basic Dumpling Dough
from Asian Dumplings

10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all pupose flour
About 3/4 cups just boiled water
*dash of turmeric powder for that golden color (optional)

Yields: makes 32 medium dumplings and 24 fatty dumplings

To prepare the dough in a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl. With the machine running, add 3/4 cup of water in a steady stream through the feed tube. As soon as all the water has been added, stop the machine and check the dough. It should look rough and feel soft but firm enough to hold its shape when pinched. If necessary, add water by the teaspoon or flour by the tablespoon. When satisfied, run the machine for another 5 to 10 seconds to further knead and form a ball around the blade. Avoid overworking the dough.

Alternatively, make the dough by hand (which I did). Put a bowl atop a kitchen towel to prevent it from slipping while you work. Put the flour in the bowl and make a well in the center. Use a wooden spoon or bamboo rice paddle to stir the flour while you add 3/4 cup water in a steady stream. Aim to evenly moisten the flour. It is okay to pause to stir or add water—it is hard to simultaneously do both actions. When all the water has been added, you will have lots of lumpy bits. Knead the dough in the bowl (it is not terribly hot) to bring all the lumps into one mass; if the dough does not come together easily, add water by the teaspoon. 

Regardless of the mixing method, transfer the dough and any bits to a work surface; flour your work surface only if necessary, and then sparingly. Knead the dough (it is not hot) with the heel of your hand for about 30 seconds for machine-made dough, or about 2 minutes for handmade dough. The result should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become earlobe soft, which makes wrappers easy to work with.

After resting, the dough can be used right away to form the wrappers. Or, refrigerate it overnight and returned it to room temperature before using.

Pork and Napa Cabbage Filling
from Asian Dumplings

2 cups lightly packed finely chopped napa
1/2 teaspoon plus another 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions
2/3 pounds ground pork (fattier kind is better)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 cup Chicken stock or water
1 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame

Put cabbage in a bowl and toss with the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw excess moisture. Drain in mesh strainer, flush with water, and drain again. Dry thoroughly.

Transfer cabbage to bowl and add ginger, chives, and pork. Stir until it comes together.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients. Pour over pork mixture and stir until there are no visible chunks. To develop flavors, set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. It should be about 2 cups of filling.

Now would be a good time to make the wrappers if you haven't already.

Before assembling, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. For each dumpling, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand and scoop about a tablespoon of filling. Place it slighly off center towards the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and hsaping it into a flat mound and keeping it 1/2 inch from all sides. Fold and pleat to to enclose filling.

Place finished dumplings on baking sheet and cover with dry kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining wrappers.
Once all are assembled, you can refrigerate in plastic wrap, freeze in ziplock, or cook immediately.

To cook, half fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add half the dumplings, gently dropping into water. Nudge dumplings apart with wooden spoon to keep them from sticking together. And/or to the bottom of the pot. Return water to simmer and lower heat to mantain the simmer and gently cook; a hard boil can make a dumpling burst. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until they float to surface, look glossy, and are puffed up and a tad translucent. Use slotted spoon or skimmer to scoop up the dumplings. Cover serving plate with a bowl to keep dumplings warm. 

Return water to a boil and bring it back down to a simmer. Let it reheat for a minute or two and start all over again. Personally, as one dumpling finished I would another one to expediate the cooking process.

Serve with soy sauce, hoisin, etc.