Sunday 8 August 2010

Pay it forward dumplings

My blog is called 'baking = love', but it could easily have been 'food = love'.  Whenever a friend or loved one is unwell or going through a tough time, I can't help but want to make something to take over to them.  Usually I bake something sweet but I also like making dumplings to send as part of the care package.

Why dumplings?  Well, everyone likes dumplings, right?  Not only are they delicious and nutritious, they're a meal in one, with carb, veges and meat all in one little package.  They're also something just a little bit special. Something you wouldn't normally get to eat at home.

Practical reasons aside, these dumplings also have a special meaning for me.  

The recipe was taught to me by an auntie* who came and helped us out when Dad passed away.  When all the visitors had gone and friends and relos went back to their normal lives, we were still shell shocked and left trying to work out how to deal with life without Dad.  Auntie came in, helped us tidy and sort out our house, cooked us dinner and taught me some of her signature dishes.  She taught me how to make dumplings to keep in the freezer so that when I got home late from uni I could have dinner on the table in a jiffy.  She was our guardian angel during that time.  There's no way I could ever repay her for her kindness and thoughtfulness. So instead, I am paying it forward, with dumplings.

Auntie taught me to make the wrappers from scratch but it's pretty laborious and you can buy great dumpling wrappers at asian grocery stores these days so I don't bother.  Look out for the wrappers that are round and white (as opposed to the yellow wanton ones) and usually say on the packaging Gao zi, Gow gee, Jiaozi, or Gyoza.  The recipe might look like a lot of prep but once you get going you can churn out heaps of these puppies in one setting and put them in the freezer and you could have dinner from freezer to belly in around 10 minutes.

Pork, ginger and chinese cabbage dumplings

makes around 50 dumplings or 1 whole packet of wrappers

500 g pork mince (you can substitute a portion with chicken mince or minced prawns)
about 6 leaves wong ah bok aka chinese cabbage or napa cabbage
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
3 spring onions finely minced
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 Tablespoon cornflour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder (optional)
1 teaspoons sesame oil 
dash of white pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock + 1/2 teaspoon gelatine (optional)

1. Heat the stock in a saucepan till hot.  Add 1/2 teaspoon gelatine and stir until dissolved.  Pour on to a deep plate and refrigerate when cool until set.  It will take around an hour to set.

2. To prepare the chinese cabbage, wash the leaves then cut away the white stem leaving the light green crinkled leaves.  Stack about 2 or 3 leaves on top of each other, cut the leaf in half length wise then cut into fine strips.  Cut the strips to around 1 inch long.  Put the lettuce into a colander and sprinkle over with 2 Tablespoons salt.  Mix through and let the liquid drain out for around 20 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

3. In a large bowl mix together the mince, ginger, garlic, spring onions, soy, cornflour, sugar, bouillon powder, shaoxing wine and sesame oil.

4.  Wash the drained cabbage thoroughly, it should be limp and then squeeze out any excess water.  Add the cabbage to the mince and mix thoroughly.

5.  Your chicken stock should be set.  Cut into tiny little cubes and mix through the mince.  This will make the filling really moist and gives the dumpling a little bit of broth as you bite into it. 

To assemble

6. Have a small bowl of water handy, a teaspoon, a chopstick and some paper towels.  Also have a plate/tray with a little flour lightly sprinkled on top ready for the finished dumplings.

7. Lay out the wrappers in your work space.  I normally do about 12 at a time but it's up to you.  Scoop a scant tablespoon of filling on to the centre of the wrapper.

8. Dip your finger in the water and wet around the circumference of the wrapper.  Dry your hands thoroughly before sealing up the dumplings.

9. Using the thumb and forefinger of one hand make pleats along one side of the wrapper, squeeze the edge shut to seal as you go with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand.  Fit as many or as few pleats as you would like.  According to Auntie,  dumplings look best with 9 pleats.  If your filling squishes out the edge use a chopstick to poke it back in.  You don't have to pleat it at all if you find it too fiddly.  Just fold the wrapper over so it forms a crescent and seal the edges with your fingers then holding the each corner of the semicircle in each hand gather the edges towards the middle so it looks like a drawstring money bag.

 Making pleats

10. Place the finished dumplings on a plate/tray.  If you are going to freeze them, just place the whole tray into the freezer and stack them into boxes afterwards - they're more hardy when frozen.  When you do transfer them to a box, line the dumpling layers with baking paper or make sure they don't touch as they can stick together.  Otherwise you can cook them right away!

To cook

11. You can cook them straight from the freezer the same way as you would cook them fresh.  Just add a couple more minutes to the cooking time.

12. Heat a little oil in a heavy based pan.  Put around 8 dumplings in the pan so that they don't touch each other.   

13. Fry on medium-high heat until the bottoms are golden brown then add 1/2 cup cold water and cover the pan.  Cook for 4 minutes (or 6 minutes if frozen). Uncover and cook until the water has evaporated and you can hear the bottoms sizzling. Serve immediately.

14.  Alternatively you can just throw them in a pot of boiling water, bring to the boil and boil for around 5 minutes (fresh) or 7-8 minutes (frozen).

To serve:

15. Serve hot with a small dipping dish of just soy sauce, or Chinese red vinegar (very traditional) or, my fav, with garlic soy dipping sauce.

Garlic soy dipping sauce:

1 Tablespoon soy sauce (for about 8 dumplings)
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (use the jar stuff if possible for a milder flavour)
few drops of canola oil
few drops of sesame oil
few drops of chilli oil (optional)

* In Chinese culture, we call family friends "auntie" or "uncle" as a sign of respect as opposed to actually being related to them.


  1. I love the idea of paying it forward, especially when it comes to food. These dumplings look so incredibly tasty, especially with that lovely filling!

  2. Those dumplings look gorgeous, Nessie! Mmm! They're one of my happy foods too. I've only ever made them once, on a school exchange in China with a local family - and it was so fun to make, and to eat.

    So glad for your Auntie! May love always fill your heart/household. :-)

  3. this looks like a fun thing to do on a saturday afternoon, yours looks so perfect i bet mine would be a bit rougher around the edges !

  4. Joanne: I reckon sometimes when someone is hurting there are only so many words you can say to comfort them and anything you say just sounds so corny you know? Whereas I love how homemade food says I'm thinking of you, I'm here for you, I want to make you feel better without saying a word, you know what I mean? :)

    Mel: Aw thanks Mel! May love and happiness always be part of your heart and household too xox Where abouts in China did you go for exchange?

    Paula: When I was a kid, we used to go round to a family friends house and the grown ups would sit around, chewing the fat and churning out dumplings while we kids played, then we would have a feast of dumplings in the evening. Think I might have to revive that tradition! xox

  5. Hey Nessie, these look so good. And how lovely to have such a strong memory linked to food. Your auntie sounds like such a nice lady. We all have one.... My Auntie just passed away last year and i have dedicated many recipes to her as she taught me so many things. Lovely recipe, lovely blog, lovel Auntie!

  6. These are so perfect! I can never get my dumplings to look so beautiful. Lovely.

  7. I'm sorry to hear about your Aunty, Jourdie. It makes all those recipes she taught you so much more precious. I love how each recipe holds a memory of the time when it was taught to you, or the first time you ate it. Hugs xox

    AppelsandOnions: Thanks for the lovely compliment! I'm pretty unco with fiddly things so I totally think it's the magic 9 pleats, you should try it! :)



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