Sunday, March 27, 2011

Veggie Dumplings

So I said the other day that I would try to share some of the other things we have been doing over here at chez Paradis,  to keep our spirits up in the face of all the horrific news.   One of those things would be:  DUMPLINGS. Otherwise known, (in Korea) as Mandu, (in Japan) as Gyoza, in (China) as Jiaozi. They are tender little bites of things that make for a very companionable and chatty activity in the making, as much as they do for happy eating.

Frankly the eating part goes so fast, you can't say much about that part being companionable.  If you've ever ordered gyoza in a restaurant, I'm sure you've always wished you'd ordered more.  There never seem to be enough.  So you may like your eating partner less if he's eating faster and more dumplings than you, on the other hand, you may not be thinking about your partner at all, because all your focus will be on the next dumpling, getting it dipped in a piquant sauce, and stuffing it in your gob!

OK now the good news MAY be that these are VEGETARIAN dumplings.  Which your eating partner may find less attractive.  And so'll you'll get to eat them all!

At our house, since Mr. Paradis is a Pesca-vegetarian, it was very important to develop such a recipe since many restaurant veggie versions can be pretty underwhelming, consisting of soggy tasteless mystery vegetables.  More importantly, these require fewer exotic Chinese ingredients than you might expect so it makes them easier to throw together at the last minute or late at night when you've got an attack of the munchies.

You could make them entirely by hand, the way I was trained to.  (This is the companionable part, that you often see restaurant staff engaging in in a corner of your favorite restaurant.  Almost as fun as Mah-jong, but requiring less jewelry.)   All you need to do is take a round dumpling skin, spoon a little filling into the middle of it, trace a little water around the edge of one half of the skin, and then fold the dumpling skin over to form a half moon.  Then you crimp the edges, in sort of accordion, or fan folds to make little pouches.  So pretty.  The ones on top were made by Mr. Paradis with one of those plastic dumpling makers that you can find in most Chinese or Japanese homewares stores or online for example, here.  He's a speedy kind of guy and yes, plastic technology is much faster.  But less sociable and satisfying.  Not at all ARTISANAL.

Once your platter of crimped dumplings is full, it's time to pop them into a hot frying pan or griddle.  The important things to remember are that the pan and or lid are DEEP (and they don't necessarily need to match)  i.e., if you're frying on a flat griddle, just use a deep pan lid to cover completely, but spaciously accommodate the dumplings while you steam them.  And that the pan or griddle is hot!  Traditionally in Chinese cooking, you should throw the food in, when smoke starts to rise from the light coating of oil that you've put on your already hot surface.  (Alternatively, you use a deep frying pan with a flat lid.)

So a little frying, then a little steaming.  If you know about braising, you know already how to do this. but of course the dumplings aren't kept in terribly long.  You don't want them soggy, just tender and chewy at the same time.   You want a slight crunch when you bite into them, even after they've been dunked in that sauce.

So would you like the recipe?  You don't have to use ALL the ingredients below, but prep them all and then you can adjust them according to your taste.  If you like Asian food, you'll know how they should taste because the seasoning is that basic old reliable threesome: soy sauce, garlic, and fresh ginger.  Use thin soy sauce, not too salty.

- 1 packet of pre-made wonton or gyoza wrappers

- 1 tub of tofu, firm or extra firm.  (In the states, these are usually just under 1 lb. in weight.)  Drain it, cut it into little cubes

- About four romaine leaves cut into a chiffonade (thin ribbons)

- 1 medium endive, cut also into chiffonade 

- One small tin of waterchestnuts chopped coarsely

- One clove of garlic, crushed peeled and minced

- A piece of fresh ginger the size of a large marble, also crushed and minced

- 2- 3 green onions (scallions, spring onions) minced

Mix all of these together in a big bowl along with several shakes of soy sauce to taste, add a little salt and pepper.  Don't let this sit too long, you should immediately start making dumplings.  If your wrappers get a little soggy, you can dust them very lightly with corn starch.  If they look a little dry, you can keep them tender and flexible by covering them while you're making with a slightly damp paper towel.  Or a tea towel.  You should make dipping sauce before you start frying.  See recipe below.

So frying:  As before, let the pan get hot first, drizzle about a 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil into the pan.  Let it dance on the surface and completely cover the cooking area of the pan.  ASAP place some fresh dumplings onto the pan.  (It's nice to line about six of them up right next to each other, they will stick together and make a nice presentation on a plate.)  Let them brown into crispy little packets, as soon as they have browned, splash a tablespoon or two of water onto the pan surface and quickly slam the pan lid on top of them to allow them to steam.  Leave it there a couple minutes.  You can check them to make sure they are properly translucent but still firm.  When they reach that point you can remove them from the pan with a wooden spatula or chopsticks and they are ready to eat.   Don't oversteam or they will fall apart.

(Mr. Paradis seems to find it necessary to regularly scrape the pan with the spatula, between batches, and wiping it with a paper towel to make sure no burnt residue builds up.)

LET THE DIPPING BEGIN!  Here's the recipe for a basic sauce.  For every Chinese person in the universe, there is a variation, (probably the same goes for dumpling recipes) but this one works well.

-  Soy sauce:  four or five shakes into a small but deep bowl to cover the bottom by about an inch.  

-  Hot chili oil:  One tablespoon or to taste.  (I use the one from the chinese stores in the plastic jar with a green lid:  Sambal Oelek, which is not strictly Chinese.)

-  Rice wine vinegar:  A couple shakes, but less than the soy sauce. The taste should not be sharp.

You should think of the soy sauce as the flavor that joins together the hot pepper and vinegar flavors and smoothes them out.  But the soy sauce should not be pronounced and salty either.

Hey it's a long post.  But they are delicious dumplings.  I promise!

If you are not all vegetarians at home, you know what do, just google.  You will find a million recipes for meat filled goodies.


  1. I can't cook. But I am very good at eating!

  2. "Almost as fun as Mah-jong, but requiring less jewelry." HA! You crack me up. :-) I adore dumplings and you're so right, there are NEVER enough!!

  3. Chapeau madame! Quelle belle recette et réussite!

  4. We used to make dumplings in my college art class. It was an exercise in folding! And then the reward was eating!!!! YUM!

  5. Thank you for this post! I see a dumpling session happening at my house this weekend!

  6. I am a greedy one when it comes to dumplings! My mouth is watering now ... though I know this would happen every time, anytime of day, if I saw your photos... yummm, I want some now!