Pea and Shiitake Dumplings

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.

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Pea and Shiitake Dumplings

Makes 50

  • 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

Dipping sauce:

  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  1. Soak the dried shiitakes in water for about 20 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water, then finely chop.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. Mix together the ingredients for the dipping sauce.
  7. 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.

Vegetable Fried Rice

I like to think of this as the Punky Brewster of fried rice dishes. While seafood and pork versions would easily get upstaged by lots of vegetables, vegetarian versions are as colorful as your market's produce section allows. Today I brought home green beans, purple cabbage, and red and yellow bell peppers to go with my blackish shiitake mushrooms. To my knowledge there are no blue vegetables in existence, or I would have gotten them too.

My recipe eschews the scramble egg that is so many other fried rices. It doesn't seem needed, with so many textures already, but you can certainly throw some in for protein. As for the vegetables, the only important factor is that they are chopped small to cook quickly. This is a good way to use up not only leftover rice, but also whatever produce is close to being tossed out.

As for the rice, I always use cold rice for stir-frying because it has the right stiffness. But if you don't have leftovers and absolutely must make this (I'm touched), try cooking your fresh rice with a little less water.

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More vegetarian Chinese recipes to try:

Sichuan Cucumber Salad

Sweet Chili-Glazed Tofu

Tofu Almond Salad Bowl

Hot and Sour Soup

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Vegetable Fried Rice

Serves 2

5 or 6 dried shiitake mushrooms 1 to 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil 1 tablespoon grated ginger 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped small 1/2 large yellow bell pepper, chopped small 1/2 cup purple cabbage, chopped small 1 small handful green beans, chopped small 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or oyster sauce 3 cups leftover white rice Salt and pepper to taste

Soak shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of water for 20 minutes until softened. Drain, squeeze out water, and chop them small.

Heat up enough oil to coat the bottom half of your wok or bottom of your large skillet. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add bell peppers, cabbage, and green beans and stir-fry for 4 minutes. Pour in half the soy sauce or oyster sauce and mix to coat. Add rice, then other half of the sauce and mix again to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in individual portions or in one big bowl.

Hunan-Style Braised Fried Tofu

When it comes to tofu, the choices that usually come to mind are soft, firm, or extra firm blocks. Of course, there are many other kinds of tofu, a product of curdled soy milk, just waiting to be eaten. Fermented tofu, fried tofu, frozen tofu, smoked tofu, tofu skin, and flavored tofu all have their own uses, which will be covered here in another time. Fried tofu, though, is what I've been experimenting with. My local markets carry a variety that includes triangles, tofu ends, and tofu puffs (more cubed shaped.)

This quick and fiery Hunan-style dish is made by braising pre-fried tofu puffs (豆泡 dòupào) in stock. Slicing the puffs in half or thirds, depending on the size, allow more sauce to be absorbed. I used 3 dried chillis in my version, but you can always tone down the spiciness.

Hunan-Style Braised Fried Tofu Adapted from Saveur

Serves 4

1 tablespoon peanut oil 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 1" piece ginger, peeled and minced 2 cups chicken stock 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce 1⁄2 lb. deep-fried tofu puffs, cut into 1⁄2-inch thick slices 2 to 3 dried chillis, stemmed and halved length-wise 7 Chinese chives scallions, green parts only, cut into 2-inch pieces 1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp. cold water

Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Stir-fry garlic and ginger in the wok until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, then add soy sauce, tofu, and chillis. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add chives, toss to mix, and cook another 30 seconds. Add cornstarch mixture and stir gently until sauce has thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate or large shallow bowl and serve immediately.