After ending relations with our neighbourhood jiaozi lady about a month ago, I’d resolved to quickly find another provider of cheap and delicious (meatless) dumplings. All but four days had passed before Sean suggested that I take matters into my own hands… and so I did.
Making jiaozi is a long-standing Chinese New Year tradition, and seems to be the quintessential culinary activity for anyone wishing to “experience” Chinese culture. And no wonder: jiaozi, with regional variations, are enjoyed by Chinese all over, from Dongbei (Northeast) to Guangdong to Gansu. When I went to Beijing for a two-week Mandarin summer camp in high school, we spent an afternoon making dumplings at a local’s home. Growing up in Canada, I would sometimes help my grandma wrap dumplings, embarrassed by my unpracticed fingers and the awkward, amateur look of “my” batch.
Up until recently, making dumplings for me has only involved the act of sealing a spoonful of filling that someone else has prepared in a skin that someone else has made. The Chinese phrase for making dumplings is 包饺子 (bao jiaozi), literally to wrap dumplings, which somewhat masks all the other tasks involved in creating a batch of jiaozi from scratch — preparing the filling, making the dough, rolling and cutting it into round skins. Making chive and egg jiaozi that day made me appreciate how much effort really goes into the whole process — and why packaged, frozen dumplings are such a big sell.
Anyway, it was a success if the minuscule time spent eating:time spent making ratio was any indication! We split about 3 dozen between lunch and dinner, and followed up the following Sunday with a batch of zucchini-egg-wood ear dumplings (sounds weird, but it works). Not only were our tummies satisfied, but our heartbreak and sense of loss soon turned into smug giddiness: so this was what self-love could feel (and taste) like.
We lifted the chive-and-egg idea from our ex-dumpling provider, though this really is just a classic combo. Chinese chives (韭菜) are fragrant, even pungent, and mixed with egg and enough salt and white pepper, pack a pound of flavour in each dumpling.
Even though a basic flour-and-water dough sounds simple enough to make, this was the most time-consuming and labour-intensive part. I won’t hate on home cooks who use store-bought dumpling wrappers, but totally admire those who make their own, as it is a LOT of work… especially when the only rolling pin you can find at the supermarket is a primitive wooden stick, which makes getting the skin sufficiently thin a challenge in itself.
First batch (Sean’s ones remind me of pierogi, mmmm):
Ready to eat
Results of the first batch (lunch):
The second batch (dinner):
Not too shabby for my first dumplings in a decade and Sean’s very first, eh? And none of them exploded in the water, which was a plus. Now that we’ve made this stuff from scratch, though, we might holler at some pre-made skins in the future — though they seem fairly hard to come by in these parts.
Chive and egg jiaozi
2 cups all-purpose/jiaozi flour
1/2 cup potable water
Extra flour for dusting
1/2 cup lukewarm water for wrapping
1 lb Chinese chives, washed and drained, browned ends and roots (white parts) removed
4 eggs, beaten
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp sesame oil
Black rice vinegar
Soy sauce to taste
Sesame oil to taste
Rolling pin (or a large jar if you have nothing else)
Glass or tumbler with diameter of 7-8cm (3in) at the mouth
Dough: Mix flour with water in large mixing bowl until a dough begins to form, then transfer to clean flat surface and knead with hands until dough is soft and pliable (no crumbly or floury parts). Dough will be slightly dry, but resist the urge to add more water unless mixture remains crumbly after a lot of kneading. Separate into two balls, wrap with damp paper towel, and let sit for 20 minutes.
Filling: Add a small amount of oil to pan and “scramble” eggs on medium heat, breaking them up into very small pieces while cooking. Remove from heat and let cool. Finely chop chives and place in large bowl, then add cooked egg, salt, sesame oil, and white pepper and mix well. Set aside.
Skin: With dry and floured hands, take a ball of dough and rework until smooth. Lightly dust chopping board or countertop with flour and roll flat (2mm thick). Using a thin-edged tumbler, cut out circles in the dough, dust with flour, then move wrappers onto another floured surface. Gather unused dough and repeat. Repeat for remaining ball(s) of dough. (There are probably faster ways to do this but this is the way I remember from childhood.)
Wrapping: Put a small spoonful of filling onto center of a skin. Dip finger in water and run wet fingertip along the edge of the skin, stopping halfway. Fold the dry half over and pleat from center outwards, or simply seal the edges tightly, ensuring there are no holes. Dumpling should be plump but not threatening to burst.
Boil a large pot of water. Gently drop dumplings into water, and cook until they float to the top and skin looks translucent. Dish them out with a slotted spoon or spatula, and serve with vinegar (and soy sauce/sesame oil if desired). Test cook the first few for taste, adjusting seasonings accordingly.
Yields approx. 3 dozen large or 40+ medium-sized dumplings. Uncooked dumplings can be frozen on trays then transferred into ziploc bags.