Boiled grains such as rice normally provide most of the calories in the modern Chinese diet. In the north, wheat is the preferred grain and dumplings, boiled or pan-fried, are a favourite food. Whole grain flour made from hard red wheat is the rule; freshly ground it makes delicious, healthy dumpling pastry.
Dumplings are made in Beijing restaurants and homes. Simple treats, I think they make a far better, more delicious meal than can be had at the more fancy restaurants that often cater to tourists. The best are said to be made in private homes, each family priding itself on its own version, its own savoury stuffings. This particular recipe is from the Qu family in Beijing. In their small kitchen we shared views on food and cooking as we prepared the dumplings, a family activity involving several generations of helpers and guests like myself. The family showed me the two basic ways of cooking them, boiling half for jiaozi and pan-frying the others for guotie in which they acquire a crisp brown crust on one side. Enjoyed throughout the year, these dumplings are also a traditional delicacy at New Year when families get together to make and eat hundreds of them. In keeping with the Chinese approach that dining is a sharing experience, the dumplings are always eaten with a variety of communal dipping sauces such as vinegar, soy sauce, and chilli bean sauce or chilli oil.
Once made, the uncooked dumplings freeze well; in fact Mrs. Qu tells me that during the long northern Chinese winters, she uses a window box as a freezer for them, thawing them thoroughly before cooking.
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the hot water in a steady stream, mixing all the while with a fork or chopsticks until most of the water has been incorporated. If the mixture seems dry, add more water. The dough should be moist but not sticky. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a floured board until it is smooth, about 5 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let it rest.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cabbage, pork, prawns, mushrooms, soy sauces, rice wine or sherry, sesame oil, salt, and pepper and mix thoroughly. Set the mixture aside.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured board, dusting with a little flour if it is sticky. Form the dough into a roll about
Press each segment with the palm of your hand and then roll it into a
Pinch one side of the dough until you have four pleats along the side, and the dough is rounded and shell-like. Place 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each round, making sure the filling fills the hollow. You may add more filling if necessary. Then fold the dough over the filling, pinching the two sides together until you have a half-moon dumpling. Continue until you have filled all the rounds. The dumplings can be frozen at this point until ready to use.
To fry the dumplings, heat a wok or large frying pan until hot. Add the peanut oil, then add the dumplings, pleated edge up, in a single layer. They should be crowded together. Cook the dumplings over medium heat until they are lightly browned on the bottoms. Pour in the very hot water, cover tightly, and cook vigorously for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to a simmer and continue to cook for another 8 to 10 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated. Uncover the pan and continue cooking until all the moisture has evaporated and the pan is sizzling again and the dumplings are golden brown and crisp on the bottoms. Remove to a serving platter and serve at once with the dipping sauces.
If you are boiling the dumplings, drop them into a large pot of salted, boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave them in the water for about 15 minutes. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon and serve them the same way as the fried dumplings.
© 1990 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.