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Delectable dumplings

Savoury morsels of meat, seafood or veggies in very thin dough
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Shrimp-stuffed wontons float like little clouds in a steaming bowl of clear soup.

My wife and I visited Toronto recently, and one of our missions was to have lunch in that city's Chinatown.

We spotted a restaurant called Mother's Dumplings on Spadina Avenue and decided that's where we would dine. On that cool day, plates of savoury, piping-hot Chinese-style dumplings would be most welcome.

They were and they remind me how diverse these stuffed pillows of goodness can be. Today I showcase that in three recipes.

The first is shrimp wonton soup, which you could, depending how many wontons you put in each bowl, serve as a starter or main course.

Wontons, of course, consist of paper-thin pieces of dough, which are stuffed and folded, sealing the filling inside.

In this case, that filling was made with finely chopped, cooked shrimp, flavoured with such things as ginger, sesame oil and chili sauce.

Once they were made, I cooked the wontons in simmering water, and then added them to the soup. Doing this prevents any flour on the wrappers from clouding the stock you use to make the soup.

Speaking of clouds, a literal translation of the word wonton is "swallowing a cloud." This is a reference to their cloud-like appearance when floating in the soup.

My second recipe is a "surf and turf" dumpling called beef and crab pot-stickers. Pot-stickers are unusual because three cooking methods are used to create a marvellous texture on the dumpling wrapper.

After making my half-moon shaped pot-stickers, filled with a mixture of ground beef, crab, water chestnuts and flavourings, such as garlic and cilantro, I browned them on one side in a hot skillet.

I added a little water to the pan and then covered the pot-stickers. The pot-stickers now simmer and steam a few minutes to cook the filling through. During the process, the water evaporates, causing the bottom of the dumplings to become almost caramelized and stick loosely to the pan, hence their name.

Pot-stickers are great on their own, but are even better when served with a dip, such as the sweet, sour and salty soy mixture featured in my recipe.

My last dumpling is a type of steamed Chinese pork dumpling known as siu mai. In this case, I also mixed shrimp into the pork filling. Rather than completely sealing the filling inside the wrapper, you simply press the wrapper around the filling, creating an open-bag shape, with a flower-like top.

For added richness, I set a thin slice of scallop on top of each dumpling.

I steamed the dumplings in a bamboo steamer, which you can buy at some Asian-food stores, and some kitchenware stores. You could also use a stainless steel steamer, but they won't taste quite the same as when cooked in bamboo.

The square wrappers I used for the wontons, and the thin, round, Chinese-style wrappers I used for the pot-stickers and pork dumplings, are sold fresh at many supermarkets and at Asian food stores, such as those in Chinatown. Any unused wrappers can be frozen, to thaw and use at another time.

eakis@timescolonist.com

Eric Akis is the author of the recently published Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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RECIPES

SHRIMP WONTON SOUP

Shrimp-stuffed dumplings float like clouds in this Chinese-style soup.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 5 minutes

Makes: 6-8 appetizer servings; 4 main-course servings

175 grams cooked salad shrimp, thoroughly patted dry, then finely chopped

1 large egg white

1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1 tsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp hot Asian-style chili sauce, or to taste

2-3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

20-24 wonton wrappers

5 1/2 cups chicken stock

3 baby bok choy, trimmed, washed and coarsely chopped

2-3 green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp sesame oil

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Combine the first seven ingredients in a bowl.

Lay a wonton wrapper on a work surface. Lightly moisten the edges of the wrapper with cold water. Place a heaping teaspoon of shrimp mixture in the centre. Fold the wonton wrapper in half lengthwise. Press firmly on the edges to seal.

Bring the two corners together so they overlap. Press firmly where they overlap to hold that shape.

Set the wonton on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining filling and wrappers; do not allow them to touch when setting them on the baking sheet.

Bring a large, wide pot of water to a simmer. In another pot, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Add the wontons to the water and simmer 3 to 4 minutes, until they rise to the surface and the wrapper is cooked through and looks somewhat translucent.

While the wontons cook, add the bok choy, green onion and other 1/2 tsp of sesame oil to the chicken stock.

When cooked, lift the wontons out of the water with a slotted spoon and add to the chicken stock. Simmer one minute more, and then ladle into bowls.

BEEF AND CRAB POT-STICKERS

These Asian-style dumplings are so named because when they're done, the reduced cooking liquid causes them to stick slightly to the pan.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 6 minutes per batch

Makes: About 36 pot-stickers

For the dip:

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

- hot Asian-style sauce to taste (optional)

1 green onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1/4 cup grated carrot

Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and hot sauce, if using, in a bowl and whisk to dissolve the sugar. Sir in the green onion and carrot. Cover and refrigerate dip until needed.

For the pot-stickers:

1/2 lb. lean ground beef

1/2 cup fresh or tinned (drained well; excess moisture squeezed away) crab meat (see Note)

1 green onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2-3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, basil or mint

1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts, finely chopped

- white pepper to taste

1 large egg white

36 round, Chinese-style dumpling wrappers

- vegetable oil

- cold water

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Combine the first 10 ingredients for the pot-stickers in a bowl.

Set a dumpling wrapper on a work surface. Lightly moisten the edges of the wrapper with cold water. Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the centre of the wrapper. Fold the dumpling into a half-moon shape and press the edges together to seal. If desired, crimp edges to make a decorative look. Set on the baking sheet, and then repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. When setting on the baking sheet, ensure that they do not touch or they'll stick together.

Place 1 Tbsp of oil in a large, heavy, non-stick or cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. When hot, set in some pot-stickers. Cook, depending on size of pan, 12 to 18 at a time. Cook until the bottom of pot-stickers turn golden brown. Do not turn. Pour in 3 to 4 Tbsp of water, being careful of splatters from pan. Cover and cook 4 minutes, gently swirling the pan from time to time. Remove lid and continue cooking until the liquid has almost completely evaporated and they are ready. (The cooked pot-stickers can be kept warm in a 200 F oven until the others are cooked. Or, you can eat the first batch while waiting for the others to cook.) Place the pot-stickers, browned-side up, on a platter. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Note: 1, 120-gram can of crab meat, with leg and body meat, drained well, should yield the amount required for this recipe.

PORK AND SHRIMP DUMPLINGS WITH SCALLOP

These succulent pork dumplings are decadently topped with shrimp. I like to serve these with Asian-style hot chili sauce.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 6 minutes per batch

Makes: 16-20 dumplings

5 small- to -medium-sized fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded

1 tsp vegetable oil

1/2 lb. ground pork

75 grams cooked salad shrimp, thoroughly patted dry, and then coarsely chopped

1 green onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1 Tbsp oyster sauce

2 tsp Chinese rice wine, dry sherry or brandy

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

1 large egg white

16-20 round, Chinese-style dumpling wrappers

16-20 thin slices of scallop (you'll need about 4 to 5 large scallops)

* 16-20 small leaves of cilantro

* bok choy leaves or perforated rounds of parchment paper to line the steamer

Finely chop the mushroom caps. Heat the oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature, and then place in a bowl. Add the next nine ingredients and mix to combine.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Set a dumpling wrapper on a work surface. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in the centre of the dumpling. Lift up the corners of the wrapper and gently squeeze it around the filling to create an open-bag shape. Set the dumpling on the baking sheet, open-side up. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling. Nestle a slice of scallop on top of each dumpling.

Line your steamer with bok choy leaves or a perforated round of parchment paper. Set some dumplings in the steamer, spacing them about 1-inch apart. Cover and steam 6 minutes, or until the pork is cooked through. Enjoy that batch of dumplings, and then continuing steaming and eating them until all are cooked and devoured.

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