Tag Archives: dumplings

Zucchini-egg-wood ear jiaozi with store-bought skins

I got my hands on some premade jiaozi skins at Carrefour the other day (32 skins for 2.3 RMB). Life changing stuff. It cut dumpling-making time by more than half and transformed the activity from a physically demanding to a mentally calming one (as long as I’m not questioning what they put in the dough). The act of wrapping and sealing dumplings lets me block out the world and focus on the task at hand, bringing me back to childhood days of arts and craft, with an added bonus: the anticipation of a good meal to come.

On Thursday (yes, a workweek night), I made a batch containing grated zucchini, egg, and finely chopped wood ear/black fungus (木耳, mùěr). While not as fragrant as Chinese chives, the zucchini had a delightful mild sweetness and crunch, while the tiny bits of scrambled egg mixed with crunchy wood ear formed a texture reminiscent of lean ground pork.

The store-bought skins were slightly more springy/chewy/rubbery than my homemade ones, and more translucent and glossy once cooked. Because they’d been sitting out for at least half a day, they were also a bit drier — but with a fingertip of water, still very workable. Too bad the skins only keep for 1-2 days (according to the guy at Carrefour), or I’d totally stockpile that shiet.

The following night, we made potstickers (锅贴, guōtiē) out of the dozen uncooked dumplings we had left over. Pan-frying dumplings involves quite a bit more work than simple boiling, but the crunchy end result made them even more of a delight to eat.



Zucchini-egg-wood ear jiaozi (角瓜鸡蛋木耳饺子)

500g (~2 small) zucchini, tops and ends removed
3 large pieces wood ear/black fungus (~1/4 cup finely chopped)
3 medium eggs (or 4 small eggs), beaten with 1 tsp of water
1 tbsp sesame oil
2-3 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper

~3 dozen pre-made dumpling skins
Water for sealing
Flour for dusting

Black rice vinegar
Soy sauce to taste
Sesame oil to taste

Filling: Place wood ear pieces in a bowl of water to soak. Peel and grate zucchini. Grab handfuls and squeeze out as much water as possible, then transfer to a colander. 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. Once wood ear is soft and jelly-like, cut off the hard center bit, then chop finely. Transfer grated zucchini into large bowl, add egg, wood ear, and salt, sesame oil, and white pepper and mix thoroughly.

Wrapping: Place a small spoonful of filling onto center of a skin. Dip a finger in water and run wet fingertip around the edge of the entire skin. Fold in half, sealing the center first, then pleat from center outwards — or simply crimp and seal the edges tightly, ensuring there are no holes. Place on a floured clean, flat surface (e.g. chopping board). Dumpling should be plump but not threatening to burst. Repeat for all skins, making sure dumplings are not touching. A pool of liquid from the zucchini may start to form in bottom of bowl; try to keep filling as dry as possible by draining with the spoon as you go.

Boiling: Boil a large pot of water. Gently drop dumplings into water, and cook until they float to the top and skin looks translucent and is not doughy when you bite into it. Dish them out with a slotted spoon or spatula, and serve with vinegar.

Pan-frying (will need to cook in batches): Add about 1 tbsp of oil to a non-stick pan (more oil for other pans). Place dumplings smooth side down in a single layer, then turn on heat and fry for ~3 minutes until the bottoms have browned. Add ~1cm of hot water and cover with a lid. Let cook until most of the water has evaporated. (The crusty side will have turned soggy.) Lift the lid and continue to cook until all water is gone and the bottoms have hardened and crusted again, then use chopsticks to flip to another side, cooking until golden brown. Serve with vinegar.

(If there is filling left over, save and add to your next meal. That stuff will fit right in with any stir-fry or even pasta.)



Where to find:

  • Dumpling skins (饺子皮, jiǎozi pí): Carrefour, 2.3 RMB/32 skins. Find them in the fresh noodles/buns section.
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    Rebounding with homemade chive and egg jiaozi

    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.

    The filling

    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.

    The skin

    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.

    Wrapping time

    First batch (Sean’s ones remind me of pierogi, mmmm):

    Second batch:

    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

    Skins
    2 cups all-purpose/jiaozi flour
    1/2 cup potable water
    Extra flour for dusting
    1/2 cup lukewarm water for wrapping

    Filling
    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

    Dipping sauce
    Black rice vinegar
    Soy sauce to taste
    Sesame oil to taste

    Tools
    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.

    Relevant resources:

  • Recipe for chive and egg dumplings (in Chinese)
  • Where I got the proportions for the skin
  • Youku video on dumpling wrapping
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    A bad phone break-up with our neighbourhood Dongbei diner

    I broke up with one of my favourite restaurants yesterday. I’d been collecting photos to write a positive review of this place, but what I already have will do for a farewell.

    As Sean and I don’t eat out super often, there are few restaurants where we would be considered “regulars”. The one place we’ve found ourselves going back to again and again, and has in recent weeks become our Sunday night ritual, is a small Dongbei (Northeastern Chinese) restaurant at the back gate of East China Normal University, a pleasant 15-minute walk/5-minute bike ride from our apartment.

    The love

    Known for its jiaozi (dumplings) and other solid, cheap eats, Dong Bei Ren Jia (东北人家, a very generic name) is somewhat of an institution among nearby residents as well as current and former students at the university. Sean and I have written about it on CNNGo and I gushed about its caramelized sugar-coated sweet potato fritters in a long-ago post.

    It used to be a tired, grubby place with a dozen or so tables and way too many bored-looking employees, but early this year, after its usual month-long Chinese New Year hiatus, half the space was turned into a fried chicken stall, while the other half was given a makeover, its staff and menu — including the fritters — trimmed and delivery made available.

    We loved it for its homestyle dishes, cheap and delicious jiaozi (including 2 vegetarian varieties), and its reliable presence in the midst of constant change along the back gate food street. I’ve taken out-of-towners here despite its unimpressive decor. We had been devastated to hear a few months back that the food street was going to be demolished, but had been elated to learn the closures wouldn’t reach this restaurant. While its laoban (owner), a no-nonsense middle-aged woman who barks and spends most of the time reading a magazine at the cashier, is less than charming, we grew to appreciate her gruff manner as part of the experience. On one of our recent visits, she asked if we were vegetarian, and that’s when I thought, awesome, she recognizes us now! and began to get that fuzzy feeling of home: This had become our Chinese neighbourhood diner.

    This past Sunday, we decided to try out their delivery since I wanted to make a cold appetizer at home. As free delivery requires a minimum 30 RMB order, we ordered 4 dozen jiaozi — 2 dozen chive & egg, 2 dozen zucchini & egg — for 32 RMB. The dumplings arrived, hit the spot; our love for the place grew.

    The break-up

    Then yesterday. I’d taken the day off to rest up at home, and we were both in the mood for jiaozi even though we’d had them just three days ago. I called up the place at 11:30am, but was told that they couldn’t deliver to our apartment since the laoban‘s son wasn’t around. Sean agreed to bike over to pick up the 4 dozen dumplings, so I told them fine, I’ll come pick it up.

    Ten minutes after Sean left for the restaurant, I got a call from the laoban, demanding to know why I wasn’t there yet and if I was coming ’cause the food was getting cold. Puzzled, since I’d assumed Sean would’ve arrived by then, I told them “Will be there soon”. I called Sean immediately after hanging up, and he said he’d just picked up the food. Cool.

    A few minutes later, I got a call back from the woman, who immediately started yelling at me. She asked if I’d sent a “foreign student” to come pick up the dumplings, and I said yes. Why didn’t you tell me on the phone?? You didn’t say you were sending a foreigner to get your food so we made another 4 dozen for you. Now we have 4 dozen jiaozi that’s going to go to waste. What kind of customer are you??

    A bit confused — how did she not have a clue that Sean was there to pick up the food I’d ordered? — and not knowing how to fight back, I took a deep breath and simply said Sorry.

    Which unleashed another round of barking that made it seem as if I had tricked her into cooking a duplicate order. Feeling personally attacked at this point, I told her her attitude was bad and I was never going back there again… to which she snapped, It doesn’t matter if you don’t come back. The point is you made me waste all this food.

    To that, I suggested that she serve the food to someone else, and hung up.

    This was outrageous. How likely was it that two different parties had placed the exact same (vegetarian, no less) order at the same time? She had misinterpreted the situation, given him “my” dumplings that were ready to go, then called me to ask if I was still coming before I knew Sean had already been there and left, and when I told her “will be there soon” had started making another batch. A communication mix-up that could’ve easily been avoided if she’d checked with Sean — or asked me straight out if I’d sent a “foreign student” — before doing anything with the food. (Sean told me later that he had told her “I ordered” not “I want to order” so it wasn’t even a language problem.)

    And really, what kind of business would call a regular customer (I’m sure she figured out who were were) and scream at them, and then basically tell them I don’t want your business? Maybe I hadn’t been clear on the phone, but it was she who made the mistake, so why not swallow the loss rather than end the relationship over 32 RMB (which really could be salvaged if she fed the food to someone else)?

    Perhaps that — her lack of business and common sense — is the reason half her store got taken over by a fried chicken take-out. Dongbei diner, it was lovely getting dinner with you, but you’ve given me no choice but to look elsewhere for my dumpling fix. I’ve ripped up your delivery menu and deleted your number so I won’t be tempted to call, and won’t be coming ’round to your parts again ’til I’m in love with another.

    Bulldozer, come get ’em if you want.

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