When it’s time for a Chinese holiday, I think of only one thing… my stomach. Our first Chinese New Year in China was a never-ending stream of every kind of jiaozi (dumpling) imaginable – pork and leek, lamb and cilantro, shrimp and radish, pork and cabbage, pork and cucumber, pork and pork and pork and pork and pork. For two weeks straight, it felt like all we ate was pork. In the form of dumplings. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it that much that year. But by the time the next holiday came around, we had settled into the local culture a bit more and looked forward to the dumpling feast.
While jiaozi is most certainly the staple food of Chinese New Year, pretty much anytime Chinese people have anything to celebrate you can be sure dumplings will be involved. So while moon cakes rule the day of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, I’m willing to bet a few kuai that most families will be feasting on plates of dumplings before they bust out the moon cakes.
While working with New Day Foster Home in Beijing, we had lots of reasons to celebrate. Which meant that I had lots of occasions to eat my co-workers’ yummy food. And it didn’t take me long to realize that Grace Zhang, the Chinese director of New Day Foster Home, made the best jiaozi filling I ever tasted. In fact, when I gave birth to Cora, she gifted me with two large bags of frozen dumplings, knowing that they had become my comfort food.
Though the recipe below might be slightly adapted from the original (like most of my Chinese friends, she didn’t have much use for measuring cups), it’s pretty true to how she made hers, and I can promise you that it will make some of the tastiest dumplings you’ve ever had. And if your kiddos are like mine, when you serve these, they’ll think they’ve died and gone to the Temple of Heaven. (I’m cracking myself up. Seriously. I’m inordinately proud of that pun.)
Ok, back to more serious matters. It should be noted that none of the below recipe is an exact science. If you feel like using more or less of something, by all means do! Remember, authentic Chinese cooks don’t even own measuring cups and spoons.
Grace’s Carrot-Ginger Dumpling Filling
2 lbs. ground pork
1 1/2 cup freshly grated carrot
3/4 cup loosely packed freshly grated ginger*
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (available at Asian markets; may substitute cooking sherry wine)
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
You’ll also need two packages of dumpling wrappers; or be truly authentic and make your own!
(*This works out to be a piece about the size of your hand. Also, while some people use a spoon to peel the ginger, I find for this recipe, you can just grate it skin and all with a microplane or cheese-grater. No one is going to know that you were lazy. They’ll be too impressed with the fact that you made homemade dumplings.)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands until well combined. I confess – that part is kind of gross. Just tell yourself you’re playing with play-dough.
Next, using pre-purchased dumpling wrappers (available at any Asian market, usually in the frozen section) or wonton wrappers, fill the dumplings. If you aren’t sure how to form them, I think this video shows some good techniques. Technique #2 is the most common I’ve seen used in China.
As you make the dumplings, set them out on a lightly floured flat surface.
Now it’s time to cook! At our house, our favorite way to cook is to put a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet. Then we put a single layer of dumplings in the skillet, being sure each one has been brushed through the oil. The dumplings can be closely packed, but not touching.
When the skillet is full, add about 1/3 cup of water to the bottom of the skillet and cover, allowing the dumplings to cook for about 10 minutes before touching them. This gives them a nice fried, crispy edge while also steaming them. Delicious!
My husband likes to turn the dumplings over with chopsticks after the water has evaporated, giving the other side of the dumpling a crispy crust as well. If you prefer, you can also cook the dumplings in boiling water.
To serve, eat as many as you can. I like mine dipped in Chinese black vinegar, but my husband prefers soy sauce. Try a dipping sauce recipe online or make your own concoction with some chili oil for a kick!
(Hostess tip: If you’re serving this dish to your friends, be sure to tell them that the “hairs” they see in their food are just bits of shredded ginger. It’s a very fibrous root.)