When Jacob and I lived in New York, we were frequent patrons of the "$1 for 5" fried dumpling places in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Those quick meals of crisp pork dumplings satisfied both sudden hunger pangs and skinny wallets. Then we discovered the dumpling joints also had bags of frozen dumplings for sale, even cheaper at $7 for 50, and multitudes better than the factory brands at Chinese supermarkets. So every month, Jacob would ride his bike 150+ blocks down to lower Manhattan and come back with about 15 pounds of frozen dumplings in his messenger bag.
I didn't subsist completely on Chinatown dumplings, but they were definitely handy when working full-time, freelancing on the side, and too tired to cook.
Now that I'm in Beijing, southern-style dumplings are almost non-existent. Northern-style jiaozi are wrapped in a thick doughy skins, and the dinky amount of filling per dumpling usually makes me feel somewhat cheated. (Exceptions, of course, exist.) There are die-hard Beijing jiaozi afficionados out there, but I'm not one of them. I craved--no, needed--dumplings whose skins didn't overwhelm the savory morsels of meat and vegetables inside.
The only remedy was to make my own at home, with plenty of leftovers to store in the freezer. A few months ago I brought you a Wrapping Dumplings Photo Guide with pork and cabbage dumplings. Today you get a pea and shiitake version, which a honey dipping sauce to enhance the subtly sweet pea puree.
I tested the filling with both dumpling wrappers (the round ones) and wonton wrappers (the thinner square ones.) The dumpling skins, a bit toothier, made great complimentary pouches. The dumplings using the ultra-thin wonton skins just tasted odd when boiled, prbably because this isn't a competely traditional Chinese filling, like say pork and shrimp. Pan-fried versions with either skin turned out fine; and becasue of the vegetable filling, they didn't even seem too unhealthy.
Final notes to the cook: always, always keep your wrappers and wrapped dumplings covered with a damp towel. Otherwise, the skins will dry out, become brittle, and crack. And leftovers can always be frozen, but just make sure to first freeze them on a plate in a single layer for the first hour or two to prevent stickage, before throwing the bunch in a Tupperware or Ziploc.
Pea and Shiitake Dumplings
- 6 or 7 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 pound fresh or frozen peas
- 1 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 package (about 50) dumpling wrappers
- 1/2 egg, beaten, for sealing the dumplings
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Soak the dried shiitakes in water for about 20 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water, then finely chop.
- Bring the water to boil in a medium-sized pot. Add a pinch of salt and sugar (better to bring out the color.) Cook the fresh peas for about 1 minute (2 minutes for frozen), until they are a bit pumped and bright green in color. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Once the peas are sufficiently cooled, puree in batches with 1 tablespoon of water and 1 teaspoon of salt.
- In a wok, heat 2 teaspoons of peanut oil. Cook garlic and ginger until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shiitakes, soy sauce, the remainder of the salt, sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon of water and stir-fry until mushrooms are cooked through, about 4 minutes.
- Unwrap dumpling wrappers and keep them covered under a damp towel. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and keep some extra flour within hand's reach.
- If you’re just starting out with dumpling folding, follow this step-by-step guide that shows a basic method with 3 pleats per dumpling. If you’d like to work your way up to 5 pleats, start in the middle and do 3 pleats towards the middle from one direction and and 2 pleats toward the middle from the other. (See these photos for reference.)
- Mix together the ingredients for the dipping sauce.
- Bring another pot of water to boil. Add dumplings and simmer until they float to the top, about 3 minutes (this method of assuring doneness works if your dumplings have no air pockets; otherwise, they float to the top immediately.) Drain well, transfer to serving plates, and serve with dipping sauce.