A couple of weeks ago I attended my friend C's "Random Day of Asian Food". The invite had read as follows:
'CC and I were thinking it's been far too long since we've had a big bunch of people over at our house to do something random, so this Saturday we're planning a dumpling + other random asian food making day. We're thinking people could turn up at around 4pm and between us we can see if we can make dumplings from scratch without poisoning ourselves. Other random asian foods that may well be on the menu include sushi - depending on whether we can find fresh things to put in it, or perhaps wontons if we decide that making dumpling skins from scratch is just too hard. Any other suggestions for random asian foods that can be made by large groups of people would be most welcome.
Adding to the excitement of the event is the fact that we have little to no idea how to make dumplings or any other random asian foods.'
I love dumplings but had never made them from scratch before. Excitement! I arrived a little late to find the filling already made and the kitchen a hive of activity. C had never made dumplings from scratch before but his wife CC clearly knew what she was doing, as she expertly rolled balls of dough into thin discs.
The dumpling filling had cabbage, ginger, onions, pork mince, beef mince, ji cai, vegetable oil, salt, pepper and soy sauce. CC didn't know the English word for ji cai (which came to us directly from her Chinese mother's garden), but my research has turned up a bewildering variety of names for Hottuynia Cordata: lizard's tail, shepherd's purse, fish plant, fishwort, heart leaf and chameleon plant. It's a wild spring green, often considered a weed, used in some Shanghainese dishes and in Chinese medicine. It gave the dumplings a pleasant, slightly floral taste.
My first self-made dumpling! I quickly found out that the trick is to not put in too much filling.
When we'd made all the dumplings we still had heaps of filling left, so CC brought out some pre-made wonton skins.
She showed me how to wrap them, Chinese-style (as I learned from this site, there are at least eight different ways to wrap them).
Step one: place the filling in the middle, then run a wet finger along the far edge of the skin to coat it in water.
Step two: fold the skin in half, so the wet edge sticks to the dry edge.
Step three: fold the skin in half again to make a long thin strip (ideally you'll have put a small enough quantity of meat in the middle so that the skin refolds relatively easily).
Step four: wet the ends of the folded skin then bring the ends back round to the middle so that they kiss and stick together.
When the big group of us had finished preparing the dumplings and wontons, CC was in charge of boiling them up, in a manner very similar to the way my Nonna cooks gnocchi.
Of course I couldn't resist adding a bit of soy sauce, Chinkinang vinegar and chilli oil to my soup, the way I have my chilli oil dumplings at Camy's...
Some of the dumplings were steamed, some were boiled in soup and some were pan-fried. Not bad at all for a first effort.
Later on we made some sushi (not pictured, alas) and some prawn crackers.
Loved the one that came out in the shape of a butterfly!