Happy Chinese New Year! Also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, this holiday lands on January 28th this year, which for me means that it’s time for the best from-scratch dumplings I’ll be eating all year.
No one can dispute the excitement of the annual Chinese New Year’s parade: firecrackers, lion dances, and marching bands, oh my! However, for many, home is where the real magic happens. As with all holidays, not all traditions are celebrated the same way in each household, but some commonly celebrated rituals include a main intention of spending time together as a family; fireworks; red pocket envelopes with monetary gifts that are given by adults to children; elaborate, often red decorations including lanterns, paper cutting art, and door gods; and of course, a grand New Year’s Eve feast.
Unsurprisingly, traditional Chinese New Year’s Eve meal staples vary across locations, as there are many different locational cuisines celebrating this same holiday. In Northern China, which is where my family immigrated to Canada from, dumplings are the star of the show. Since I was young, I’ve been helping my grandmother mix together the filling, roll out the dough, and stuff little morsels into soft, doughy wrappers, and I still LOVE doing it. If you’ve never tried making them yourself, you’ll soon realize that the care and love that goes into dumpling making with and for your family and friends will elevate your dumpling appreciation.
Dumplings from scratch can be a laborious process, but it’s seriously easy as long as you follow the instructions. Not only can you taste the difference, but it’s the perfect way to get your family or friends involved in the kitchen. And when you see all of your little dumplings arranged on the plate ready for serving, you won’t be able to help an earnest smile from creeping on; it’s a proud moment. My biggest word of caution is to make sure that you keep your unused dough covered with a wet cloth while you are not using it, because once it dries out, it can be really hard to work with which will be frustrating. Beyond that, have fun making them, and enjoy!
For the wrappers: Makes about 33 dumplings
- 2 cups all purpose flour (about 10.5 ounces/300 grams), more for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup hot water
For the filling:
- ½ lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and chopped
- ¼ cup water chestnuts, finely diced
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 2 oz. shiitake mushroom, stems removed, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ½ tsp chili garlic paste
- Approximately 30 round dumplings wrappers
- Napa cabbage leaves
For the sauce:
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ½ tsp chili garlic paste
- Measure out 2 cups of flour into a large bowl. In a small cup, dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in ⅔ cup of hot water. Slowly pour the hot water into flour, stirring quickly at the same time. Continue mixing by hand until dough has formed.
- Lightly flour a dry surface. Knead dough with the heel of your hand until the dough becomes smooth and slightly stiff (about 4-5 minutes). Adjust while kneading with more flour or water if needed. When finished kneading, set aside and let dough rest for at least 30 minutes.
- While the dough rests, make the filling. Begin by peeling, deveining, and rinsing the shrimp. Finely chop, and place into a medium sized bowl. Add the water chestnuts, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili garlic paste, and mix until well combined.
- Once your dough has been set aside to rest for 30 minutes, you can begin to create the dumpling wrappers. To begin, use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, use your hands to roll each piece into a long, thin log (about ¾ to 1 inch in diameter).
- Working on one log at a time (cover the dough you’re not working on with a damp towel to keep it from drying out), lay your log down horizontally on a clean surface. Vertically slice the log so that you have ¾ to 1 inch discs (similar to making gnocchi, or slicing cookies from pre-made dough rolls). You should get about 8 discs per roll.
- Flatten each disc with your hands to get it into a circular shape. Then use a rolling pin to flatten the disc into a thin 3 and a ½ inch circle. Flour your surface to prevent sticking. Begin filling a few dumplings at a time as the dough dries out very easily. Consider rolling out and filling four dumplings in sets, keeping the dough in the queue covered.
- To fill a dumpling, spoon 1 ½ teaspoon of the shrimp mixture into the middle of the wrapper. Use your finger and a little water to lightly wet the edges of the wrapper, then bring opposite sides of the wrapper to meet in the middle. Squeeze the edges to seal, or crimp the edges if you wish. Continue slicing the dough logs into pieces, forming them into discs, rolling them into wrappers, and filling them until all of the filling and dough has been used.
- Lay each dumpling on a baking sheet and sprinkle with cornstarch.
To steam: Bring about ½ inch of water to a boil in a wok pot. Make sure that the water isn’t close enough to touch your steaming basket. Line your steaming basket with cabbage leaves to prevent sticking, then place as many dumplings as you can in the steaming basket without letting them touch. Steam for 8-10 minutes.
To boil: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a few dumplings at a time to the pot, and cook until all of them come to the surface. Once they’ve risen, cook for another minute or two then remove.
To pan fry: Heat a medium to large pan with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add enough dumplings to the pan that you can still move them around without having them touch each other. Fry for 1-2 minutes, or until the bottoms become golden brown. Add ¼ cup of water to the pan, and cover immediately with a lid. Reduce heat to medium low, and steam for 4-5 minutes.
Freezing: Freeze dumplings on a tray with no pieces touching each other for at least one hour, then you can transfer them to a freezer bag. The first step is necessary to prevent sticking in the freezing process.
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