Happy Chinese New Year! – Making Dumplings

Happy New Year! One of the best things about Chinese New Year is that it’s a 15-day event, starting on the first day of the lunar calendar and commencing on the fifteenth. What a great excuse to celebrate and feast for two solid weeks! Much of Chinese New Year, which is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, is about sweeping away any lingering ill-fortune and making room for incoming good luck. And one of the most important ways to do that is with food. Yes, you heard me right—food. What does that tell you about Chinese culture?

The Southerners have their black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, and the Chinese have dumplings—among many, many other foods, such as fish, noodles, pork, duck, kumquats and sticky cake. Each symbolizes a different kind of good luck, whether it’s longevity, abundance, or progress in the coming year. In the case of dumplings, it’s wealth and prosperity, because they’re shaped like ancient Chinese money. So, if you want to be prosperous in the Year of the Dragon, you need to eat dumplings—lots of them.

I think every Chinese family must have its own recipe for dumplings, so there’s not just one way to make the filling for a dumpling. Also, there’s nothing difficult about making dumplings; however, it is labor intensive because of all the wrapping. But if you’re going to make your own dumpling wrappers from scratch, well, then you’re on your own. When I was growing up, my mom used ground turkey to make it a little healthier. But since we almost always do the opposite of what our mothers do, I’ve gone back to the old-school method of using pork. Either is fine.

First, you chop scallions, ginger, bamboo shoots, and napa cabbage into itty-bitty pieces. You can also add shitake mushrooms and cilantro. (On a side note: it took me years to realize that because napa cabbage retains so much moisture that I should salt them in a large bowl and then wring out all the moisture. This step keeps your filling from becoming soggy.) Then you mix it all into your ground meat, along with cornstarch, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt and white pepper and an egg or two. The best way to do this is with your hands. Yep, roll up your sleeves and sink those babies in.

Then comes the tedious part: the wrapping. I usually make 100 at a time and freeze what I don’t cook that night. This year, I thought I’d throw a little dumpling-making party for S and her friends. In exchange for cultural awareness, I’m getting free labor. The girls had fun and after the first 15 minutes, we had a nice assembly line going. Even with all the help, it took well over an hour to wrap all the dumplings.

The great thing about dumplings is that you can steam them, boil them or pan-fry them for potstickers. When you make such a big batch, you can do all three. Don’t forget to dunk them in some savory soy-ginger dipping sauce. One of my favorite ways to eat dumplings is in a bowl of noodle soup. And you know what? Instant ramen noodle is just fine. Simmer the dumplings with the noodles, add a leafy green and when it’s all cooked, sprinkle some scallions, cilantro and fried shallots over the top. You’ll have a soul-warming bowl of dumpling noodle soup. Go eat some prosperity already.

 

 

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2 Comments to “Happy Chinese New Year! – Making Dumplings”

  1. No problem eating more dumplings to insure prosperity!!!
    These look really great on a cool, very rainy day in January! S.

  2. We ate plenty for you and R. Expect prosperity in the Year of the Dragon!

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