Why I Wander: Homemade Dumplings

"Homemade" dumplings may seem like an ironic choice for a #WhyIWander post. After all, one of the perks of traveling is relinquishing cooking duties and leaving the job to the pros. It's one thing to explore the world and try new dishes. It's an entirely different thing to replicate those dishes at home. 

Like in any good Chinese family, I grew up on a healthy diet of veggie and pork dumplings. Every Sunday, my mother and grandmother would make a trip to the Chinese grocery store to stock up on items for the week. As soon as they got home, they would start preparing ingredients to make (and subsequently freeze) dumplings. My grandmother would lay out sheets of newspapers on the kitchen table as my mom mixed together all the different elements. 

Despite having consumed well over 1000 dumplings in my 30 years, this is one dish I have yet to tire of. In fact, some of my most memorable dining experiences around the world have involved these tiny morsels. I've been pretty vocal about my obsession for the perfectly hand crafted dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Back in NYC, one of the only restaurants I'd willingly queue for was Joe's Shanghai, just so I could get my hands on some of their famous soup dumplings. And more recently, we ate some delicious spicy Vietnamese won tons at Uyen Luu's Supper Club in London. 

Homemade Dumpling Recipe

With years of dumpling eating experience under my belt, I figured it was time to give it a go myself. There are tons of great (and not so great) dumpling recipes floating around. It's all about trying different variations and tweaking the ingredients as needed. For our first attempt at dumplings, we meshed together a this recipe from Tiny Urban Kitchen as well as advice from our good friend, and famous dumpling party host, Elisa Shen. 

What you need...

  • Half head Napa cabbage 
  • 2 bunches of Chinese chives
  • 1 bunch of scallions
  • 1 bag dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 lbs ground pork (fatty)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper (white or black)
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger root, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce 
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbls sesame oil
  • 1 tbls rice wine
  • 2-3 tbls corn starch
  • Commercially available dumpling wrappers (enough to make ~100)
  • A small cup of water for wetting the wrapper

Rehydrate the mushrooms in hot water, 30-45 minutes. While the mushrooms hydrate, finely chop and then mince the Napa cabbage and Chinese chives. Be careful not to mince for too long. Otherwise, you may pulverize the vegetables! Drain and thoroughly dry the mushrooms, finish them off with a fine chop. This will give your filling that hit of umami. 

Separately, add salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and corn starch to the ground pork and mix well. Combine the vegetables, beaten eggs, and the ground pork mixture, using hands to thoroughly mix together if necessary. You want the vegetable mixture to be fully incorporated within the pork, it is worth getting your hands dirty!                                                           

Get your wrapping area ready. You will want a small bowl of water, empty baking sheet, damp paper towels, a teaspoon and a small amount of flour. Lightly dust the baking sheet with the flour so your wrapped dumplings do not stick to the surface. Keep your dumpling wrappers and completed dumplings covered by a damp towel so they do not dry out during the process.

Wrapping is simple, one teaspoon of filling into the middle of one wrapper. Take your finger and lightly wet the inside edge of the wrapper so it sticks together. Press the edges firmly together and then starting from one end, pinch and fold the wrapping onto itself to form 5 small folds across the top. These not only make your dumplings look adorable, they also fully close the pocket so that no vital moisture escapes during the cooking process. 

Cook (choose from pan frying or boiling) and eat!

Was our first go at it perfect? Nope. We've been jotting down a bunch of different ideas and ingredients to test next time around. I've also yet to perfect the art of dumpling wrapping, but the initial results were encouraging. I know someone else is eagerly looking forward to our next dumpling making session...