Lucky Dumplings for the Lunar New Year

The Lunar New Year is one of the most significant of Asian holidays and is a time for feasting, reflection, and renewal. Traditionally celebrated over 15 days, the holiday starts with the first lunar new moon of the year and ends on the full moon. Chinese New Year 4715, which begins Saturday, will be the Year of the Rooster.  The New Year's Eve family dinner represents a night of unity, reunion, and harmony. Popular lucky dishes include anything whole (complete) or long (longevity). Traditional favorites include whole chicken, duck or fish served with long noodles, long leafy greens, and long string beans. Fresh and candied fruit, especially kumquats and oranges, represent good health, happiness, prosperity, and blessings.

Chinese dumplings called jiaozi (“gee-OW zeh”) represent wealth because they are shaped like ancient silver and gold ingots which were used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. Interestingly, the first banknote of China was called "Jiaozi." I adore these hearty little bundles of joy filled with cabbage (prosperity and luck), pork (strength and wealth), and green onions (long life and eternity). Until this week, I have enjoyed them at Chinese restaurants. Amazingly, they are actually quite easy (and fun) to make at home. For those not ready to fully embrace the “from scratch” concept, pre-made dumpling wrappers are available in most Asian and ethnic markets.

Dumpling Wrappers:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 to 3/4 cups boiling water

In a mixing bowl, combine flour and salt and then slowly add hot water to flour in 1/4 cup increments. Mix with chopsticks or a fork until a ball is formed and the dough is not too hot to handle.

On a floured surface, knead the dough until it becomes a tight ball. This is harder than you think it will be. Keep folding and kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place the dough back in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth and allow it to rest for about an hour. Resting the dough is important because otherwise, the dough is difficult to roll out and shape.

Working on a floured surface with floured hands, roll out dough to form a long 'noodle' about 1-inch in diameter. Cut 1/2-inch pieces and turn them over so the cut sides are facing up. Flatten with your palm and roll out thin using a rolling pin. The dumpling wrapper should end up about 4 inches in diameter.

Pork and Ginger Filling:
  • 3 cups Napa or regular cabbage, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 pound ground pork 
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sprinkle cabbage with the salt and let stand for 30 minutes. Place the cabbage on a clean dishtowel or cheesecloth and squeeze out any water. You will be amazed at how much water can be extracted from the cabbage. The dryer the cabbage; the better.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the cabbage with all of the other ingredients. Cook a tester to check the seasoning and make any wanted adjustments.

Place a small mound of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Be very careful not to touch the edges with the filling as this will impede the proper sealing of the dumplings. Fold the wrapper in half to form a half-moon shape. Starting on one end, pleat the wrapper tightly together until the dumpling is completely sealed. There will be approximately 10 folds per dumpling. Rest the dumplings with the folded edges straight up. You can also use a dumpling press, which makes uniform pot stickers and dramatically speeds up the process.

To cook, bring two inches of water to a boil in a wok or sauce pot. To prevent dumplings from sticking during cooking, lightly coat the steamer basket with oil (or you can line the steamer basket with several cabbage leaves). Steam 6 dumplings at a time in the basket, being careful not to over-crowd, for 8-10 minutes with a tight-fitting lid.

While the dumplings are steaming, whisk together a tangy dipping sauce:

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Combine all the ingredients and mix until the honey is fully dissolved. Drizzle some sauce over pot stickers and garnish with chopped scallions. Serve the remaining sauce in a small bowl for dipping.

Jan 30, 2014