Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Who doesn't love a dumpling? And the fun of going to dim sum in Chinatown, selecting the most intriguing (and least threatening) offerings as they pass by? The best part is when you take a chance and try something new and it's really, really good.

I've heard dizzying stories from friends who've been to Hong Kong (the epicenter of dim sum cuisine I believe) and the nearly-indescribable variety and artistry of the dumplings there. But I wonder if the exotic variety, the precise construction are stumbling blocks for anyone who dreams of trying this at home. Let me tell you a secret: spectacularly delicious dumplings are easy (gasp!) and fun to make at home.

My first immersion into dumpling culture was more focused; early on Steve and I were lucky to spend some months in Tokyo and became gyoza and shui mai addicts. Unlike other disciplines such as sushi, yakitori and noodles where the variety is endless, our first experience was that dumplings pretty much came in two forms: the crescents of pork and cabbage-filled, pan fried gyoza and the little steamed drums of pork or shrimp-filled, steamed shui mai.
The best ones were found, as so many good things are, in little street side booths and tiny sit-down counters. The advantage was being able to see how they were put together and it just didn't look that hard. So I tried. And it worked. Classic Japanese gyoza and shui mai recipes are straight forward and pretty much guarantee flawless results.

All that said, back home in New York the Chopstix cookbook (from the L.A. based restaurants, published in 1990) shook my world. It's the glorious photographs that grab you first, then the vivid descriptions. Authors Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison make an irresistiably compelling case for their creations is just a few lines. In I dove and and I've been collecting unusual dumpling recipes ever since.

Dumplings are fun, easy and best of all, deliver that wonderful, "OMG this is so good!" experience. A good a place to start as any are these these chicken and carrot-filled dumplings, slathered with an eye-opening pesto bursting with a surprising combinatlon of flavors: cilantro, basil, spinach, orange, sesame, and of course the holy trinity of Chinese cuisine: ginger, garlic and soy.

Firecracker Dumplings
From Chopstix cookbook

1 c. chopped carrots
2 scallions
1 lb. ground raw chicken
1 T. soy sauce
2 t. dry sherry
1 t. sesame oil
1 t. Chinese chili sauce
1/4 t. salt
1 T. white sesame seeds
30+ wonton wrappers (the square ones; most packages are a couple of inches tall, which will be plenty)

Asian Pesto:
12 oz. spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
2 t. minced ginger
1 t. orange zest
handful of cilantro
handful of fresh basil leaves
1 scallion
1 T. soy sauce
2 T. dry sherry
2 T. white vinegar
2 T. sesame oil
2 t. hoisin sauce
2 t. sugar
1/2 t. Chinese chili sauce

Start with the pesto. In a food processor mince the spinach, garlic, ginger, orange zest, cilantro, basil and scallion. When everything is mulched up well add the add the soy, sherry, vinegar, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, sugar and chili sauce. Puree for one minute for a thick, smooth pesto. Set aside.

For the dumpling filling process the carrots and scallions into tiny bits. You distinguishable pieces but not a mush. Lightly toast the sesame seeds. In a large bowl stir these together with the chicken, soy, sherry, sesame oil, chili sauce and salt. Mix very well.

Start your assembly line. Coat a large sheet pan with a bit of oil or a shot of Pam. Fill a small bowl of with water to dip you finger in. Lay out six wonton wrappers on a dry countertop. Put a generous teaspoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and moisten all four edges of the first wrapper. Fold it over the filling, pressing the edges together, creating a triangle. With another dab of water, fold one of the long corners over the opposite one, pinch to close. Place it on pan and proceed with the rest until you've got a small army of uniformly-shaped dumpling.

Bring five quarts of water to vigorous boil, then gently drop the dumplings in one at a time. Carefully stir so they don't stick. In three to four minutes they all will be floating, the wrappers clearly adhering to the filling. Drain, toss with the pesto and garnish with strips of orange zest.

Serve immediately on a platter so your guests may help themselves. This recipe makes pretty many, but don't be surprised when there are no leftovers.

1 comment:

  1. That pesto sounds phenomenal! The dumplings look good too.


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