Eric Akis: Crazy rich Asian dumplings

Hit movie inspires recipes for Chinese-style vegetarian potstickers, steamed pork and prawn siu mai

Eric Akis

I recently saw the charming, visually stimulating and humorous movie Crazy Rich Asians. It’s quite a romantic story, and I felt happy after seeing it. I also felt hungry.

That’s because the film has some palate-awakening food scenes, including one shot at a hawker centre in Singapore. At that outdoor food complex, which houses numerous food stalls, four of the movie’s actors enjoy a range of that city-state’s best- known dishes, such as satay and hokkien mee, a mix of egg and rice noodles with egg, pork and shrimp.

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As tasty as that scene was, the part of the movie that really made me want to come home and cook was the one shot in the lead actor’s family home. In it, multiple generations of that fictional Chinese- heritage family are making dumplings. When they were shown deliciously cooked, I had the most incredible craving for them.

Chinese-style dumplings are definitely one of my favourite foods, and part of the reasons is because you can shape, fill and form them in a variety of ways. To sate my desire to have some, the day after seeing the movie, I shopped for ingredients to make two of my favourite types, potstickers and siu mai.

Potstickers are made by topping a thin, round dumpling wrapper with a filling, folding the wrapper into half moon shape, and then crimping the edges. The dumpling is then quickly seared and steamed in a pan. When cooked, they may cling a bit to the bottom of the pan, which is why they are called potstickers.

I filled my vegetarian version of them with a flavourful tofu, mushroom and vegetable mixture. I went the meat-free route to offer quite a different taste from my other dumpling, sui mai, which I filled with a ground pork and prawn mixture.

According to Martin Yan’s book, Chinatown Cooking, siu mai is one of the most popular Cantonese-styles of dumpling. And, unlike most steamed Chinese-style dumplings, the wrapper does not completely enclose the filling; it is left open at the top.

For both of my dumplings, rather than make my own wrapper, as they were shown doing in the movie, I decided to buy them ready-made. Doing that meant I could make and eat dumplings more quickly.

You can serve the dumplings as an appetizer, or make a meal of them by serving them with another dish, perhaps a colourful mix of stir-fried vegetables.

Vegetarian Potstickers 

These yummy, addictive potstickers are filled with a crumbled tofu mixture, rich with mushrooms, vegetables and seasonings, such as chili sauce, ginger and soy sauce.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: about 25 minutes

Makes: 36 potstickers

3 Tbsp plus 2 tsp vegetable oil (divided)

5 fresh medium, shiitake mushrooms, tough stems removed, caps halved, and then thinly sliced

1 small baby bok choy, stem end trimmed, upper leaves, thinly sliced, widthwise

1/4 cup grated carrot

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 (12 oz/350 gram) block medium-firm tofu, drained well

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 green onion, minced

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp hot Asian-style chili sauce, such as sriracha

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp cornstarch

36 fresh Chinese-style round dumpling wrappers (see Note)

• cold water

• Dumpling Dipping Sauce (see recipe below)

Pour 2 tsp of the oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook two minutes. Add the bok choy and carrots and cook 90 seconds more. Mix in the garlic and cook 30 seconds, or until mushrooms are tender. Spoon and spread this mixture on a plate and cool to room temperature.

While mushrooms and vegetables cool, set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl. Crumble the tofu into very small pieces into the sieve. Allow tofu to rest for 10 minutes so any excess moisture can drip out.

Place the tofu into a bowl and add the cooked, cooled mushroom/vegetable mixture. Now add the cilantro, green onion, ginger, soy sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch. Mix until well combined.

Have ready a small bowl of cold water. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set a dumpling wrapper on a work surface. Dip a finger, or a small brush, in the cold water and lightly moisten the edges of the wrapper with it.

Place a scant tablespoon of the tofu mixture in the centre of the wrapper. Fold one side of the wrapper over the filling, push out any air, and then tightly press the edges of the wrapper together to form a sealed half-moon. Now fold over and crimp the edges of the potsticker for a more decorative look. Set the potsticker on the baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling. Ensure the potstickers do not touch on the baking sheet or they will stick together.

Pour 1 Tbsp of the vegetable oil into a large (mine was 10 inches wide), heavy, non-stick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, set in 12 potstickers and cook until golden on the bottom, about 90 seconds. Do not turn the potstickers and, being careful about splatters, pour in 3 Tbsp of water. Cover and cook for three to four minutes, gently swirling the pan from time to time.

Remove the lid and continue cooking until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, and the potstickers are softened and heated through, about one minute. Transfer the cooked potstickers to a serving dish and enjoy now, or keep warm in a 200 F oven until all are cooked.

Cook the remaining potstickers in this fashion, adding 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil to the pan with each new batch. Serve the potstickers with the dumpling dipping sauce (see Eric’s options).

Note: The round dumpling wrappers I used in both of today’s recipes were 3 1/2-inches (about 9 cm) wide. They are sold in the produce section of some supermarkets, such as Fairway Market in Victoria. You’ll also find them at Chinese food stores. The dumpling wrappers you have left over can be frozen, to thaw and use at another time.

Eric’s options: Instead of dumpling dipping sauce, simply serve the potstickers with rice vinegar, soy sauce and chili sauce, such as sriracha, for drizzling on them. The potstickers, and also the siu mai (page C3), uncooked, freeze well. To do so, once filled, set them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, not touching, and then freeze until solid. Now transfer to a freezer bag and keep frozen until ready to cook. When you do, cook the dumplings from frozen, and cook them a bit longer. For the potstickers, also use medium heat, as the cooler temperature and longer cooking time will allow them to thaw and cook through without overly darkening.

Steamed Pork and Prawn Siu Mai

This style of open at the top, steamed dumpling is very popular at dim sum restaurants. My version is made by mixing ground pork and coarsely chopped prawns with a range of full flavoured ingredients, such as garlic, ginger, sesame oil and white pepper.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: About four to five minutes, per batch

Makes: 18 siu mai

300 grams ground pork

180 grams peeled, raw prawns (about 15 small- to medium-sized prawns), coarsely chopped

1 green onion, minced

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp sesame oil

• ground white pepper, to taste

• cold water

18 fresh Chinese-style round dumpling wrappers (see potsticker recipe Note)

• Dumpling Dipping Sauce (see recipe below)

Place the first nine ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine.

Have ready a small bowl of cold water. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Set a dumpling wrapper on a work surface. Dip a finger, or a small brush, in the cold water and lightly moisten the edges of the wrapper with it. Set a generous 1 Tbsp of the pork/prawn mixture in the centre of the wrapper.

Lift up the sides of the wrapper and gently squeeze to encase the pork mixture inside. Push down any pork mixture that rose above the wrapper. Set the dumpling on the baking sheet. Fill and form the remaining wrappers as you did the first.

Line a bamboo or stainless steamer with a round of parchment paper you’ve perforated with a few small holes. You could also line the steamer with leaf lettuce leaves. Place some of the dumplings in the steamer, ensuring they do not touch. Cover and steam over simmering water four to five minutes, or until cooked through.

Transfer the cooked dumplings to a serving dish (see Eric’s options) and enjoy now, or keep warm in a 200 F oven until all are cooked.

Cook the remaining dumplings as you did the first batch. Serve the dumplings with the dumpling dipping sauce.

Eric’s options: If you have more than one bamboo steamer, which are sold in Victoria’s Chinatown, you could serve the dumplings directly from it. While enjoying the first batch of them, you could have the next batch steaming and cooking in a second steamer.

Dumpling Dipping Sauce 

Dip your dumplings into this flavourfull mixture with salty, sour, spicy and sweet flavours. If you don’t think 2/3 cup of dip will be enough for you, simply double the recipe.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: about 2/3 cup

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 Tbsp hoisin sauce

1/2 tsp finely grated freshly ginger

1 green onion, very thinly sliced

1 tsp Asian-style hot chili sauce, such as sriracha, or to taste

1 tsp roasted sesame seeds (see Note)

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate dip until needed.

Note: Roasted sesame seeds are sold in bags or bottles at some supermarkets. If you can’t find them, cook regular sesame seeds in a skillet set over medium heat until lightly toasted.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

 

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