Introduction: Authentic Chinese Dumplings

About: Instructables got me started on an incredible DIY journey, which turned into a blog, which replaced my day job in 2 years. Anything is possible here at Instructables.

Chinese dumplings are fun and satisfying, and they bring so much joy and laughter to friends and family gatherings.

If the word 'authentic' evokes feelings of endless hours in the kitchen or ingredients requiring a trip cross country, fear not.

The main purpose of this instructable is to give you a platform to play and incorporate elements into your own yummy inventions. I will share everything I have learned about how to make authentic Chinese dumplings through lots of eating, and practicing with the guidance of some fabulous Chinese cooks. In the final step, I will list some time saving alternatives and readily available ingredients as variations.

Through our journey here, we will be making 2 types of fillings, a juicy chicken and Napa cabbage filling, and a tasty vegetarian winter squash filling, prepared with 2 cooking methods - boiling and shallow frying.

Step 1: Make Dumpling Dough

For the dumpling dough-

2 cups(about 10 oz) unbleached all purpose flour (plus extra for flouring kneading surface)
3/4 cup of water at room temperature

This amount of dough would make about 20 to 30 wrappers. However, if it is your first time making dumplings from scratch, increase the dough amount by at least 30%, that will give you room to practice and reduce the pressure to make perfectly thin wrappers. Extra dough left can be made into scallion pancake, another reason to make more dough!

Here we are doubling the amount for the 2 fillings, so we can have about 30 for each kind of filling. Uncooked dumpling freeze really well, and cooks just 1 or 2 minutes longer than fresh ones.

Each brand of flour absorbs water a little differently. The flour should weigh about 10 oz, and feel the dough, you may need to adjust the amount of water slightly. In a large mixing bowl, add water to flour and mix till the dough just hold together. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 3-5 minutes until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes at least.

Step 2: Prepare the Fillings

While the dough rests, we start by finely chop 6 sprigs of scallions and grate about 2 tablespoons of ginger since these ingredients will be shared by both types of fillings.

A good way to have nice smooth ground ginger is to peel it with a spoon to minimize waste (Check out Jessy's wonderful instructable on how to peel and store fresh ginger  Thank you Jessy!) and grate it with a Microplane zester.

Divide the scallions and ginger into 2 equal portions.

Step 3: Chicken and Napa Cabbage Filling

For the delicious chicken and Napa cabbage filling (recipe makes about 30 dumplings)-
  •     2/3 lb ground chicken, or any type of ground meat you like
  •     5 cups of loosely packed finely chopped Napa cabbage, about 1.5 lb ( I like more veggie in dumplings, some recipes only use 2-3 cups, experiment and see what you prefer. The volume will shrink by 50% after you salt it.)
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce  - Pearl River Bridge Light Soy Sauce is one of the most delicious and it's non-GMO. It's sold in bottles at some Wholefoods, or in bigger containers at Asian markets. Be careful not to get the dark soy sauce, as it has a strong medicinal taste.
  • 1/4 cup water or stock, which makes the filling extra juicy
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine( also called Shaoxing cooking wine, not the sweet Mirin!) or dry sherry. Find the amber colored kind instead of the clear white kind.
  • 2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (to salt the cabbage)
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger, and 3 chopped scallions, from step #2
Clean the Napa cabbage leaves and finely chop them. Food processor can be used, but for leafy greens hand chopped tastes much better- it retains the crunchy texture, greens gets mushy in a food processor.

Toss the chopped cabbage in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt, set aside for 15 minutes. Water will start pooling at the bottom of the bowl. Squeeze out as much water as you can, and the cabbage will be reduced to half the volume from before.

This important step ensures that our filling won't get soggy later.

Next add soy sauce, cooking wine and sesame oil to the ground chicken, keep stirring in one direction as you add water, ginger and scallion. The filling should be shiny, fragrant, and it should hold together. Next add the napa cabbage and stir until everything is combined.

Step 4: Butternut Squash Filling

Because the majority of our meals are vegetarian, we have made some really tasty vegetarian dumplings. This is one of our favorites.

For the winter squash filling (recipe makes about 30 dumplings)-

  • 1 lb grated winter squash or pumpkin, every country has its unique winter squash, such as butternut squash here in US
  • 3 large eggs, and oil to cook the eggs. Olive oil adds a nice flavor here, but any vegetable oil would be fine.
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce - Pearl River Bridge Light Soy Sauce or Dr. Bragg's Liquid Aminos
  • 2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (depending on your taste)
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger, and 3 chopped scallions, from step #2
  • option: 1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh shitake mushrooms or button mushrooms

Peel and grate the butternut squash by hand or in a food processor. Pay attention to cut the chunks small, like 1" wide, so the grated strands are short - easier to fold into the wrapper!

Heat oil in a pan, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt, and saute in the oil till it's cooked. Chop the cooked egg, and add to the grated squash, with all the other ingredients. Mix well. How simple is that?

Step 5: Roll Out the Wrapper

Pre-made wrappers can be used to save time. When you want to indulge yourself and loved ones, hand made fresh wrappers are worth a try. =)

Keep some plastic wrap handy to cover your dough and wrappers from drying out, and flour them lightly to keep from sticking. Start with 1/2 lb of the dough, roll it into 12" long and 1" wide log, cut it into 12-15 pieces. Press to flatten each piece.

Take one disk, and start rolling from edge to center with a small rolling pin in one hand, and rotating the disk with the other hand after each roll. Keep rolling until you have a disk about 3" in diameter.

This technique helps to create a wrapper that is thinner towards the edge and thicker at the center. So the dumpling is strong enough to hold lots of fillings, yet delicate and not too doughy.

Step 6: Filling and Shaping Dumplings

Although this entire step is on shaping dumplings, the truth is, dumplings can be clumsy looking and still taste divine. So just have fun !

This graceful classic shape is well loved for its resemblance to fat little golden treasures of China. Some books call it 'Pleated Crescent', but I like the name my dear friend Elaine uses - ' little couch'.

An important tip (will mention again at the end) - before start out pinching all those dumplings, cook a little bit of the filling in the microwave or a small skillet, and see if you need to adjust the seasoning amount. If it tastes too bland, add more soy sauce/salt, and sesame oil. If too salty, add a little unsalted vegetables.

Use less filling to start, and as you get more comfortable, the dumplings can be more filled.

The first 3 pinches are the key. If we look at the round wrapper as a clock, after placing some filling in the center, the first pinch joins the 12 o'clock & 6 o'clock points. The next 2 pinches are NOT made at the half way points - 3 o'clock & 9 o'clock! The second pinch is formed at 2 o'clock, and third pinch is at 10 o'clock. The side with extra dough will be folded in to pleats,  and sealed along the edge with no pleats.

Now you have the secret of the crescent!

Place the little fat treasures on a floured tray. I have to share pictures of this beautiful dumpling tray given to me as a gift of love from China. It's made with reed stems sewn together with hemp threads. Every time I use it, it transports me to another time and place.

Step 7: Cook the Dumplings

Now it's only minutes away from biting into a luscious dumpling! Boiled dumplings taste more refreshing, and fried ones taste richer. 

To fry the dumplings, place a non stick skillet over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil and swirl. Place the dumplings in, try not to have them touching each other. after 1 or 2 minutes, you will hear a sizzle sound starting to happen, add 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of water and cover the lid. Lower the heat to medium and let the dumplings steam for about 5 minutes. By now the water will have evaporated. Remove the lid, check if the bottom of the dumplings have formed a nice golden crust. If not, let them cook uncovered a little longer.

To boil the dumplings, bring a big pot of water - about 3 quarts, to a rapid boil, drop the dumpling gently into the pot, keep the high heat, stir gently so the dumpling don't stick to the pot, and wait till the water comes back to a boil. Now pour a cup of cold water (0.5 cup if you are using a smaller pot with less water) into the pot and let it come back to boil again. This gives more time for the filling to steam inside, while not over cooking the wrapper. Repeat this step one more time, and when the dumplings float to the surface, and 5 to 7 minutes have passed, scoop them out onto a strainer and transfer to a plate.

Traditional dipping sauce is made with Chinese dark vinegar (tastes a bit like balsamic), soy sauce, sesame oil, and chopped scallions and garlic. You can get creative here and use anything from lemon and yuzu, to Tabasco and Cholula! 

Here's a traditional recipe as requested by our dear instructables member
  • 1/3 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons dark rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoon chopped scallion
  • a few drops of sesame oil
  • optional : chili flakes(I LOVE spicy) or drops of chili oil, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
Bon appetit!

Step 8: Tips and Variations

  • Before start out pinching 100 dumplings, cook a little bit of the filling in the microwave or a small skillet, and see if you need to adjust the seasonings.
  • Uncooked dumpling freeze really well, and cooks just 1 or 2 minutes longer than fresh ones.
  • Prep time: usually 2 of us in 1.5 to 2 hours can make enough for more than 3 meals for us, and I am on the slow side! =) Making extras can save time because it takes almost the same amount of time to make double the fillings and dough.
  • Dumpling wrappers can be made on a pasta machine- roll out a big sheet, cut circles with a ring mold like how you would make raviolis.
  • Dumpling wrappers can be made on a tortilla press- press, and roll out the edges a bit.
  • Pearl River Bridge Light Soy Sauce is one of the most delicious and it's non-GMO.
  • Many vegetables taste great in dumplings- common cabbage, grated zucchini or carrot, spinach, swiss chard, Chinese chives, onion, cilantro, ... Just remember to salt the more watery veggies and squeeze the water out.
  • For vegetarian dumplings, sub the meat with great tasting ingredients such as eggs, mushrooms, tempeh, fried or marinated tofu bits, chopped nuts, or even a mild cheese like ricotta or paneer (not traditional but one of our favorites!).
The best tip is to have a dumpling party, some make the wrappers, others fill & pinch, everyone will remember the delicious happy days filled with dumplings...

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