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Chinese Dumplings


Chinese new year begins tonight at midnight.  An integral part of the celebratory feasts are meat and vegetable stuffed dumplings.  Called jiao-zi in northern China, they are typically eaten right at the start of the new year.  Their crescent shape is reminiscent of the shape of ancient Chinese currency, silver and gold ingots, and eating them at the birth of the new year is thought to bring wealth and prosperity.

When I first moved to New York City in the mid-nineties, I had my first taste of really authentic chinese dumplings.  It was love at first slightly-burned-tongue.  More of an obsession, to be honest, as I would devour as many as I could afford, as often as I could justify.

Three years ago, my husband and I celebrated our honeymoon in China.  I had the wonderful good fortune of being able to learn a tremendous amount about the cuisine, with trips to many local markets, tremendous meals, and some cooking lessons at the Cloud 9 cooking school in Yangshuo on the banks of the breathtaking Li River.

One of the dishes we cooked in class were dumplings.  Here is one of our lovely teachers explaining how to fold the rounds of dough into the crescent shape.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aphirz7wcbM

So below are my recipes for both pork and vegetable dumplings.  I have adapted them through the years from what I learned in that class, what I've learned from a big assortment of great cookbooks, and most definitely from what I've learned from eating this favorite of any food I can think of.  On a desert island, these are what are coming with me.

I am sure there are Chinese grandmothers who will find unauthentic hues in some part of my recipes.  But they are as authentic as I've been able to learn through every best effort, and when I burn my tongue with that first divine chewy bite, send me back to China and Chinatowns I've loved, and make me feel very fortunate.

Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce

With the blunt edge of a cleaver or chef's knife, smash and bruise the ginger. Put into a 1/2 cup of cold water and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Combine all other ingredients with the pork. Stirring in one direction, slowly add strained ginger water to pork mixture, making sure to squeeze out ginger to get as much juice as you can. Discard ginger solids. Stir until water is incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to fill dumplings.

You may pan fry a small spoonful of the filling to sample and adjust seasoning if desired.

Vegetable Filling (for 60 dumplings)
(Below is a combination that I enjoy and is fresh, bright and balanced. But these dumplings are a wonderful blank canvas for vegetable fillings in particular, and a great way to use seasonal produce throughout the year.)
3 large carrots
3 scallions, white and some of green parts
1 1/2 cups packed baby bok choy
8 large fresh shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup packed fresh spinach leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (freeze first, and grate on a microplane for great results.)
3 teaspoons sesame oil

Grate or chop all vegetables as finely as possible and combine. Alternatively, you can chop all vegetables in a food processor, until it resembles a chunky paste. Combine vegetables with salt, pepper, ginger and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.




Dough (for approximately 60 dumplings)
(You can certainly use any of the round of dumpling wrappers that are widely available at grocery stores and asian specialty food markets, but if you have a little extra time, making the dough yourself is a well-rewarded effort.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water


Comine flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Slowly combine from the sides of the well, and knead until all incorporated. Knead for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.

Alternatively you can make the dough in a stand mixer using the dough hook.

After the dough has rested, roll out on a floured surface, into a rope about the width of your thumb. Cut pieces a little less than an inch, so when rolled into a ball they are about the size of a large cherry. Keep unused dough under a damp cloth as you work.

Flatten the balls into a disk and then roll out into a circle about 3-3.5 inches in diameter, using more flour as needed. You can also run them through a pasta roller, at number 4 thickness.

Assembly
(Please see video above.)
Place one circle of dough in the palm of your hand. With your finger, lightly wet the outer edge of the dough with water, to help make the seal.  Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the dough. Pinch the top and bottom together at one point, so that it is folded in half. Holding that point with one hand, use your other hand to make one fold on one side of the dough towards the center like a pleat. Repeat on that same side and then seal that half well at the top. Switch hands so the other is holding the center point. Do the same two pleats on the other side towards the center and seal.

Place finished dumplings upright on a baking sheet lined with parchment or slightly floured.
Dumplings can be frozen at this point, by placing the sheet in the freezer, freezing them individually. When frozen they can be removed from the sheet and consolidated to a freezer bag.

To Boil the Dumplings:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add fresh or frozen (directly from the freezer, no need to thaw) dumplings. Allow water to return to a boil and add one cup of cold water to the pot. Allow to come to a boil again and add one more cup of cold water to the pot. When the water returns to a boil, the dumplings should be cooked through. The addition of the cold water also keeps the water from boiling too vigorously and breaking apart the dumplings.

Dipping Sauce:
My favorite is:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
1 part sesame oil

Mix well to combine.

Another version:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
Fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced, to taste
Sugar, to taste
">
PORK AND VEGETABLE CHINESE DUMPLINGS

Each recipe makes approximately 60 dumplings.

Pork Filling (for 60 dumplings)
1 lb ground pork
4 inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
1/2 cup scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 egg
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce

With the blunt edge of a cleaver or chef's knife, smash and bruise the ginger. Put into a 1/2 cup of cold water and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Combine all other ingredients with the pork. Stirring in one direction, slowly add strained ginger water to pork mixture, making sure to squeeze out ginger to get as much juice as you can. Discard ginger solids. Stir until water is incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to fill dumplings.

You may pan fry a small spoonful of the filling to sample and adjust seasoning if desired.

Vegetable Filling (for 60 dumplings)
(Below is a combination that I enjoy and is fresh, bright and balanced. But these dumplings are a wonderful blank canvas for vegetable fillings in particular, and a great way to use seasonal produce throughout the year.)
3 large carrots
3 scallions, white and some of green parts
1 1/2 cups packed baby bok choy
8 large fresh shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup packed fresh spinach leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (freeze first, and grate on a microplane for great results.)
3 teaspoons sesame oil

Grate or chop all vegetables as finely as possible and combine. Alternatively, you can chop all vegetables in a food processor, until it resembles a chunky paste. Combine vegetables with salt, pepper, ginger and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.




Dough (for approximately 60 dumplings)
(You can certainly use any of the round of dumpling wrappers that are widely available at grocery stores and asian specialty food markets, but if you have a little extra time, making the dough yourself is a well-rewarded effort.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water


Comine flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Slowly combine from the sides of the well, and knead until all incorporated. Knead for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.

Alternatively you can make the dough in a stand mixer using the dough hook.

After the dough has rested, roll out on a floured surface, into a rope about the width of your thumb. Cut pieces a little less than an inch, so when rolled into a ball they are about the size of a large cherry. Keep unused dough under a damp cloth as you work.

Flatten the balls into a disk and then roll out into a circle about 3-3.5 inches in diameter, using more flour as needed. You can also run them through a pasta roller, at number 4 thickness.

Assembly
(Please see video above.)
Place one circle of dough in the palm of your hand. With your finger, lightly wet the outer edge of the dough with water, to help make the seal.  Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the dough. Pinch the top and bottom together at one point, so that it is folded in half. Holding that point with one hand, use your other hand to make one fold on one side of the dough towards the center like a pleat. Repeat on that same side and then seal that half well at the top. Switch hands so the other is holding the center point. Do the same two pleats on the other side towards the center and seal.

Place finished dumplings upright on a baking sheet lined with parchment or slightly floured.
Dumplings can be frozen at this point, by placing the sheet in the freezer, freezing them individually. When frozen they can be removed from the sheet and consolidated to a freezer bag.

To Boil the Dumplings:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add fresh or frozen (directly from the freezer, no need to thaw) dumplings. Allow water to return to a boil and add one cup of cold water to the pot. Allow to come to a boil again and add one more cup of cold water to the pot. When the water returns to a boil, the dumplings should be cooked through. The addition of the cold water also keeps the water from boiling too vigorously and breaking apart the dumplings.

Dipping Sauce:
My favorite is:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
1 part sesame oil

Mix well to combine.

Another version:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
Fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced, to taste
Sugar, to taste



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anuary
26
Ode to The Minimalist
It was announced yesterday that Mark Bittman's weekly column in the New York Times will end its thirteen year delicious, informative, enthusiastic, and encouraging run.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqChHSsf42c

I have learned many lessons from Mr. Bittman's column.  Starting in 1997, a year after I graduated from college, I cooked recipe after recipe from his writing and suggestions and road maps of seasonal dishes.  His overarching philosophy of don't be intimidated, just get in the kitchen and make good, real food--"It's not rocket science"--is the cornerstone of what I deem most important in the work I do and what I am most trying to impart in this blog.

His article The Well-Dressed Salad Wears Only Homemade in 2006, not only instantly convinced me to remove all store-bought salad dressing from my life, but also started my path of questioning any and all store bought food-stuffs.

He sent my husband and I on a scavenger hunt through winding cobblestoned back streets of Genoa, Italy, and putting Genoa on our itinerary at all, because of his completely intriguing description of the hole-in-the wall greasy spoon, Trattoria Maria, as "one of my favorite restaurants in the world." It ended up being our favorite city of the trip---the trip on which we got engaged.

His coverage of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread technique, sent me, and throngs of other eager cooks, out in search of hearty lidded cast iron cookware (according to the sales person at the Le Creuset outlet in Woodbury Commons: "Are you here because of The Bread?"), and got the country excited about making homemade bread.

I encourage you to go back over his fun, relaxed and heartfelt collection of pieces, and cookbooks (How to Cook Everything, 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food) and find some new favorite recipes.

Thank you, Mr. Bittman.  Looking forward to what's next on the menu.

A few of my favorites from the past years, that I return to again and again:

Soto Ayam--Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics

Chard Stuffed with Lemon Saffron Risotto and Mozzarella

Chicken Biriyani

101 Simple Salads for the Season

101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less

Almond-Apricot Granola Bars


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ctober
18
Green Beans with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette Recipe
As a follow-up to my previous post about all things salad dressings, here is a recipe for another rock-star of a vinaigrette, following the same formula: 1 part acid + 3 parts oil + seasonings and flavoring ingredients.

This is dynamite tossed with fresh blanched local beans, perhaps adding soba noodles for downright craveable homemade sesame noodles.  But it is also wonderful as a marinade for grilled chicken, beef, or pork, with the acid of the vinegar bringing the added bonus of a great meat tenderizer.



SESAME GINGER VINAIGRETTE RECIPE
By Catie
Makes approximately ¼ cup

Rice Vinegar, 1 TBS
Garlic, ½ clove, crushed and finely chopped
Fresh Ginger, ½ tsp, grated
Toasted Sesame Oil, 3 TBS
Salt, to taste

Combine the vinegar, garlic and ginger in a bowl, and allow to sit for 10 minutes, to infuse the vinegar with the flavor of the garlic and ginger. Then, while whisking constantly, pour the sesame oil into the bowl in a slow, thin stream. Taste, and adjust salt.

Serve as a dressing for a green salad, tossed with cooked vegetables (green beans, broccoli, carrots, sautéed greens) or as a marinade for grilled meats.

SESAME GREEN BEANS RECIPE

Blanch green beans, by cooking in a pot of boiling, heavily salted, water for a few minutes, until crisp-tender. Immediately remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to shock to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry. Toss with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette and toasted sesame seeds.

Can combine with noodles, like Japanese buckwheat Soba noodles, for a more substantial dish. Top with slivered scallions and toasted sesame seeds.


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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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