Dumplings, a Lunar New Year Tradition (non-recipe post)

It’s the time of the year again – new clothes, big dinners, extended families, playful young cousins. The Chinese family’s biggest celebration. My family is from Shandong in North China where every household knows how to make dumplings from scratch. Because of the labor intensive process, the young and old chip in to help. Usually kneading the dough is the men’s job, while the ladies mix the filling and the wrapping of individual dumplings are done by everyone young and old. It’s a family tradition to sit down together at the table and wrap the stuffing in thin sheets of dough, while having endless conversations and laughter.

The dough is with simply wheat flour and water. Like most Asian recipes there is no set ratio, how much water or flour to add depends on the brand and quality of the flour. Everything is done by feel.

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Let sit for a couple of hours, cut into small chunks, pressed and rolled into thin flat ‘skins’.

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For the stuffing, it’s important to use mostly low moisture plants. Carefully seasoned sauteed tofu is the main ingredient. Usually alongside it are strong flavours like mushrooms, ginger, leek, and lighter vegetables like cabbage or radish for a juiciness and to balance out the flavour. The higher moisture veggies must be squeezed in a cheese bag to rid of excess water that will otherwise dilute the taste. Seasonings will be five spice powder, white pepper, various types of soy sauce and sesame oil.

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Wrapping is the tricky part – you can’t put too much stuffing in one or it bursts when cooked. Too little stuffing and you’d end up chewing a mouthful of skin. Freshly made dough is extremely sticky too, you’d need to keep your hands floured constantly. The edges of the skin cannot touch any flour or filling or it will not stick properly and break during cooking.

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Often cooked in a huge pot of boiling water. Can also be pan-fried or water fried for a crisp coating of greasy goodness!

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And, finally, dipped in Chinese vinegar, sesame oil and a little minced garlic. Biting into one yields a wonderful mix of chewy tenderness and warm savory stuffing.

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The Chinese like to wish each other wealth, but I think wishing everyone health and happiness is most important. May your blessings be endless!

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