Happy Lunar New Year! If you are already disappointed in 2012, here is your chance for a second false sense of renewal.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to herald in the Year of the Rat — which happens to be my sign — in Sichuan province and Beijing in China. Ever since then, I try to commemorate the lunar new year in some way — usually just by eating.
A trip to Sichuan means that you better ready your palate for spicy food — and not just the heat of capsacin we are used to here. Sichuan peppercorns, the key ingredient in so many dishes, impart an almost numbing sensation. Sichuan province is also known for its traditional “hot pot” style of meals where a pot of bubbling, spicy oil is placed in the center of a communal table for you to cook your food right there. It was all pretty awesome, as an avid lover of spicy food, and I actually found southwestern China to be fairly vegetarian-friendly, what with the Buddhist influences nearby.
But one thing I missed out on was the dumplings. At the little shop we went to, they were all filled with pork. I gazed longingly at the others enjoying their little dumplings sprinkled with crushed red pepper. But I had noodles instead.
Good veggie dumplings can be hard enough to find here in the U.S. But I’ve since discovered you can make them easily yourself, especially with the help of this little book I was SO EXCITED to find!
That’s right. A WHOLE BOOK devoted just to dumplings! Who could ask for anything more? I drove all the way to Virginia to find it.
So what better way to welcome in the new year than with dumplings?
Steamed filled buns (baozi)
Adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen
Keep in mind that I do not profess any sort of special knoweldge or expertise of Sichuan cooking. I am just going off of the flavors that stand out in my memory. The spicyness, of course, but also the combination of garlic and ginger together — the smell of which will forever remind me of China. I am also sure my bun sealing technique is all kinds of wrong — they are clearly not as pretty as you see in photos!
Basic yeast dough
1.5 tsp instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 T canola oil
2 T sugar
2 t baking powder
12.5 ounces AP flour
Dissolve the yeast in the water for one minute. Add the oil.
In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to sift. Gradually add the liquid ingredients through the holes. Continue to spin the food processor for another minute or so, until the dough comes together in a ball that pulls away from the sides. If still too dry, add more water by the teaspoon. The dough should be soft, pliable but not overly sticky.
Drop ball of dough into a bowl lightly brushed with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for about 45 minutes, until the dough has doubled.
While the dough is rising, make the filling…
Tofu Dumpling Filling
2-3 cloves garlic
about 1/2 inch piece ginger, finely minced or grated
1 cup finely sliced napa cabbage
3 ounces tofu, pressed to remove water, and finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms (use a few reconstituted dried mushrooms too, reserving the water)
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in a tablespoon of water
For the simmer sauce —
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (use Sichuan peppercorns if possible)
2 T water from reconstituted mushrooms
2 T plus 1 t soy sauce
1.5 t sesame oil
Crushed red pepper flakes, to your desired heat
Heat canola oil with a bit of sesame oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic, ginger and pepper and hot pepper flakes, heating for about a minute. Toss in the mushrooms, carrots and tofu and cook for another few minutes. Add the cabbage and cook until wilted.
Whisk together the ingredients for the simmer sauce and add to the skillet, ensuring that all the veggies are coated. Mix in the cornstarch mixture to thicken and allow to cool to room temperature before using.
To assemble the dumplings:
The dough should make 8 large, 16 medium, or 32 small dumplings. Keep in mind the dumplings expand greatly when heated.
Divide dough in half. Wrap half you’re not using yet to prevent drying. Cut in half again, and again, until you have the desired number of pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. I used a tortilla press to help flatten the ball initially, but you can roll the whole thing out by hand. With a wooden rolling pin, roll into a thin disc, about 2.5 inches in diameter for small or 3.5 inches for medium sized dumplings. The edges should be significantly thinner than the centers. You may need to roll around the edges or in toward the center.
Plop a small amount of filling into the center of the dough and gather the edges in pleats to seal. Here is a video demonstrating the technique: it’s trickier than it looks! http://www.asiandumplingtips.com/2010/04/how-to-fold-a-closed-satchel-video.html
Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and steam medium-sized dumplings for about 15 minutes, small for 12. Place on cabbage leaves or a piece of parchment paper to prevent sticking inside the steamer.
Serve with your favorite dipping sauce — here and here are some basic recipes.
Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me when I made these, so here is one crappy photograph of my leftover, microwaved dumplings. To be honest, they still taste just as good and are an easy, portable meal! They’ve got your starch, protein and veggies all in a neat little package.
It may seem time-consuming but it’s well worth the effort, especially if you’ve got friends to help you out. It’s a great excuse for a lunar new year dumpling party!