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Now’s the time for homemade dumplings


By Genevieve Ko


If there’s one occasion to prepare dumplings from scratch, wrappers and all, it’s the Lunar New Year.


Everyday dumplings take on special significance for the holiday, on Feb. 12 this year: Eating the savory pleated pouches, which symbolize wealth, means good fortune for the year ahead, and slurping dessert dumplings is supposed to assure family unity.


But the more immediate reward is the process of making them: kneading and rolling the dough, filling and wrapping, pinching and sealing. It’s the sort of therapeutic project that lulls like rowing on a still lake. It takes a little physical effort, but the motions become as relaxing as rocking in a canoe.


This is especially true for the pot sticker wrappers here, which employ a softer, easy-to-work dough made with hot water. When rolled, it doesn’t spring back like cold-water dough for boiled dumplings, which is tougher and more elastic. Using hot water ensures thin wrappers that are simple to pleat, whether the dough is rolled into individual rounds or into a sheet for cutting out circles. When the pot stickers are simultaneously fried and steamed, these wrappers cook to the ideal delicate tenderness.


What goes in the dough can vary endlessly, but every combination requires balance. Savory flavors should border on salty because the wrapper subdues the mix, and the heat from ginger, pepper or chiles should tingle but not overpower. As for texture, the mix should be juicy but not watery and hold together without being dense.


This vegetable and tofu filling (which, yes, happens to be vegan) hits all the marks. Aromatic fresh greens are tossed with salt for seasoning and also to draw out their water. Liquid is wrung from tofu, too, so that it can soak up soy sauce and chile crisp and serve as a big-flavored binder for the greens and crunchy bits of celery.


But, for novices, kids or anyone, really, it may be more fun to start with dessert — in this case, tang yuan dumplings.


“Tang” means soup and “yuan” round, and the translation does little to describe their comfort and joy. These chewy balls with black sesame filling simmer in sweet ginger soup until they’re bobbing and shiny like pearls. When you scoop a dumpling with a spoonful of soup and take a bite, your teeth sink through the sticky wrapper, which yields like marshmallow to the toasty, nutty center that’s as soft as nougat. The ginger’s sharpness mellows to warmth against the rich filling.


I’ve been making tang yuan with my daughters since they were toddlers, in part because the dumplings are easy and fun to shape. Soft and forgiving, the glutinous rice flour dough kneads into a slab so smooth, it feels satiny. A pinched-off piece can be simply pressed flat with your fingers — no rolling pin needed. As the filled dough is rolled between palms, the seams disappear while the lumpy ball becomes a perfect round.


Tang yuan’s spherical shape signifies unity and the candy-like stickiness represents how family sticks together. You can eat tang yuan to wish for family closeness in the new year — and you can roll and cook them together to ensure it.



Tang Yuan


This Chinese dessert is a favorite for Lunar New Year, or really, any time. Rice flour rounds filled with black sesame are simmered in sweet ginger soup until bobbing and shiny like pearls. When you scoop a dumpling with a spoonful of soup, then take a bite, you first taste the subtly sweet wrapper, which yields like nougat to the soft, toasty, nutty center. Be sure to refill the spoon with soup before the second bite, because you want the ginger’s warmth to play sharp against the rich filling. Making tang yuan is as fun as eating them and nearly as easy. Soft and forgiving, the glutinous rice flour dough is simple to form and patch, no rolling pin needed.


Yield: 6 servings (about 24 dumplings)

Total time: 1 hour


For the Soup:

1 (2-inch) piece/65 grams fresh ginger, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch slices

3/4 cup/155 grams rock sugar or 1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar

For the Filling:

1/2 cup/70 grams roasted black sesame seeds (see Tip)

3 tablespoons/40 grams granulated sugar, plus more if desired

3 tablespoons/50 grams creamy peanut butter or unsalted butter

For the Dough:

1 1/4 cups/175 grams glutinous rice flour, plus more as needed (see Notes)

4 teaspoons grapeseed oil or other neutral oil


1. Make the soup: Combine the ginger and sugar in a large saucepan with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then turn the heat to the lowest setting. Let steep until ready to cook.


2. Make the filling: Process the sesame seeds in a food processor until very finely ground. Add the sugar and pulse until the mixture is as fine as sand, then pulse in the peanut butter until the mixture forms a smooth mass. Taste and add more sugar if you’d like, then pulse to incorporate.


3. Using a measuring teaspoon, scoop and pack a flat spoonful of the sesame seed mixture, then push it out of the spoon onto a rimmed baking sheet using your fingertip. Repeat with the remaining mixture and note how many pieces you get. (It should be around 24.) Press and gently squeeze each spoonful into a ball. Transfer to the freezer to firm up.


4. Make the dough: Place the flour in a medium bowl and set the bowl on a damp kitchen towel so it won’t slip. Bring 2/3 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan on the stovetop or in a heatproof liquid measuring cup in the microwave. Add the oil to the water, then pour the mixture into the flour in a slow, steady stream while stirring with chopsticks or a fork. Continue stirring until the liquid is incorporated. The mixture should look like floury pebbles. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let stand 5 minutes to cool.


5. Squeeze and gather the pebbles into a ball in the bowl. Roll onto a clean work surface and knead, flouring the dough and surface if the dough sticks, until very smooth and room temperature, 3 to 5 minutes. The dough should feel supple. Roll into a snake 1 inch in diameter and cut into the number of dough filling balls you have, dividing evenly.


6. Take the filling balls out of the freezer. Roll a piece of dough into a ball, then press the edges with your fingertips to form a 2 1/2-inch round with a dime-size belly of thicker dough in the middle. Center a filling ball in the dough, then gather the sides around it to enclose. Pinch the seams shut and gently roll into a smooth ball. Repeat with the remaining filling and dough. (The dumplings can be frozen on a baking sheet until firm, then stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Cook directly from the freezer.)


7. Bring the ginger soup to a simmer over medium heat. Add the dumplings one at a time, then simmer gently until the balls float, the dough is a little translucent and the filling is steaming hot, about 10 minutes. Divide the dumplings and soup among bowls and serve hot. (The ginger isn’t meant to be eaten.)


Tips:

If you’re starting with raw black sesame seeds, toast them in a skillet set over medium heat, swirling the pan continuously, until the seeds are aromatic and start to crackle and pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Immediately transfer to the food processor and proceed as above.


If you can’t find glutinous rice flour, you can use sweet rice flour (such as Mochiko brand), but the dough may be stickier and require flour while kneading and shaping. The dumplings will end up chewier and not as tender after cooking.


Homemade Dumpling Wrappers


From-scratch dumpling dough requires only two ingredients — flour and water — and the water temperature yields different types of wrappers. Cold water is best for boiled dumplings because it causes the flour’s proteins to form the gluten that makes dough chewy and able to withstand vigorously boiling water. Hot water denatures flour’s proteins, resulting in dough supple enough to roll very thin and into tender wrappers ideal for pan-fried and steamed dumplings, such as chile crisp dumplings. The hot water for this dough should be hotter than warm and cooler than boiling and can come from the faucet’s hot tap. Letting the dough rest allows it to more fully absorb the water and relax, which will make rolling even easier.


Yield: About 35 wrappers

Total time: 45 minutes, plus resting


2 1/3 cups/305 grams all-purpose flour, plus more if needed

3/4 cup/180 milliliters hot water


1. Place the flour in a large bowl and set the bowl on a damp kitchen towel so it won’t slip. Add the hot water in a steady stream while stirring with chopsticks or a fork. Stir until all the flour is hydrated and the mixture becomes shaggy. Let stand until cool enough to handle, 2 to 5 minutes.


2. Use your hands to gather and knead the shaggy mass into a ball in the bowl. Turn out onto a work surface and knead until slightly elastic, 5 to 10 minutes. The dough should be tacky but not sticky, and it won’t look completely smooth. If it sticks to the surface, flour the work surface lightly and continue kneading. Knead into a ball and cover loosely with a clean damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let stand for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.


3. Divide the dough in half. Roll one piece to a 1/16-inch thickness. You shouldn’t need to flour the surface while rolling, but do so if the dough is sticking. Once the dough is thin enough, lift it off the surface, flour the surface lightly, and place the dough back down. Cut out 3 1/2-inch rounds as close together as possible, then gather the scraps and cover the rounds with the damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining dough and knead those scraps with the first batch of scraps, then let rest for 5 minutes before rerolling and cutting. (See Note for a more traditional way to roll the wrappers.) Use the wrappers immediately for dumplings, such as chile crisp dumplings.


Tips:

You also can roll the wrappers the traditional way: In Step 3, roll the rested dough into a snake and cut into 35 even pieces. Roll a piece into a ball, flatten slightly, then roll into a 3 1/2-inch round with a dowel, rolling the edges thinner than the center. Repeat with the remaining pieces.



Chile Crisp Dumplings


Great dumplings are as much about texture as taste, and these double the welcome contrast of tenderness and crunch. Simultaneously fried and steamed in a covered skillet, the wrappers develop crackling brown bases, while the tops become delicately chewy. Inside, the crunch of spicy chile crisp punctuates soft tofu and greens. Wringing water out of both fillings first allows them to soak in the soy sauce and chile crisp and ensures the filling doesn’t end up watery or bland. Another benefit to this vegan filling is the ability to taste it raw and adjust the seasonings before wrapping.


Yield: About 35 dumplings

Total time: 1 hour


8 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/4-inch slices

6 ounces spinach, watercress or baby bok choy, finely chopped (3 cups)

3 ounces garlic chives or scallions, thinly sliced (1 cup)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 celery stalks, finely chopped (1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more for serving

1 tablespoon chile crisp, plus more for serving

35 homemade dumpling wrappers or store-bought round wrappers

Grapeseed or other neutral oil, for frying

Chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar and sesame oil, for serving


1. Arrange the tofu slices in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel or between double layers of paper towels. Roll tightly in the towel as if rolling a sleeping bag, then squeeze it over the sink to remove as much liquid as possible. Let stand 10 minutes for the tofu to continue releasing liquid. If the towel gets soaked, transfer the tofu to another dry towel.


2. Toss the spinach, chives and salt in a colander. Let stand for 10 minutes, then squeeze the greens in the colander over the sink to release as much liquid as possible. Transfer the greens mixture to a large bowl. Add the drained tofu, squeezing it to crumble into bits as you add it, then mix evenly with the greens. Add the celery, soy sauce and chile crisp, and stir until evenly mixed. Taste, and add more soy sauce and chile crisp, if you’d like. The filling on its own should be very flavorful because the wrappers are not seasoned at all.


3. Set up a dumpling assembly line with the bowl of filling, wrappers and a small bowl of water. Using a dessert spoon or other small spoon, scoop a mound of filling, then press it against the side of the bowl into a tiny football. Set the filling in the center of one wrapper.

Use your fingertip to dampen the edges with water. Bring together the sides over the filling to enclose in a half-moon. Pinch the center together, then press the edges together to seal, pleating decoratively if you’d like. Sit the dumpling upright on your work surface. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers. Cook immediately or freeze in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet until hard, then transfer to airtight containers and freeze for up to 3 months.


4. You can cook as many or as few dumplings at a time as you’d like. Choose your pan size accordingly: An 8-inch skillet will fit 8 to 10; a 10-inch will fit 14 to 16. When ready to cook, coat a well-seasoned cast-iron pan or nonstick skillet with a thin, even layer of oil. Arrange the dumplings in the pan, pleated side up, spacing 1/3 inch apart, and filling the pan. Add enough cold water to the pan to come 1/3 inch up the sides (about 1/4 cup for an 8-inch pan; 1/2 cup for a 10-inch).


5. Cover the skillet and cook over medium until the rapid firecracker popping diminishes to a steady, low crackle, indicating that all the water has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Uncover and check to see if the bottoms are browned and the dough is slightly translucent all the way to the top. If so, remove from the heat. If not, cook uncovered 1 to 2 minutes longer. Let stand for a minute so the dumplings release from the skillet naturally. Transfer to a plate, browned side up. Make your own dipping sauce with any combination of soy sauce, chile crisp, vinegar and sesame oil, and enjoy with the hot dumplings.

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