With Chinese New Year fast approaching, I got to thinking about having dumplings. It seemed only right to make some, even if my dumpling-making skills are a bit rusty. Many foods traditionally eaten for New Year are because their name sounds similar to another word which they are then taken to symbolize, eg ‘fish’ in Chinese sounds like ‘surplus’. Dumplings, on the other hand, are believed to bring wealth as their shape is similar to silver ingots. Whatever your belief, these pork and cabbage dumplings are a variation of one of the most common dumplings eaten for New Year and with good reason, as they are so delicious.
True, they are not quite as easy as some other dishes, but they are still not difficult and you soon get in the swing of things. Plus if you opt for ready-made dumpling wrappers, as I did, it definitely gives a head start in making them look a bit better. Mind you, as soon as you start eating these you won’t mind if they don’t look perfect as they are so tasty.
While I, like many, had Chinese food as a child I have learned as I have grown older that what we often see on a takeaway menu has little connection to ‘real’ Chinese food. I’ve been lucky enough to have some fantastic Chinese meals both in some Chinatown restaurants as well as in Beijing and Hong Kong. I think one of my favorite experiences was going for dim sum in Hong Kong in what was kind of a banqueting hall off a municipal building. It was hard to find but so grand inside and you were served the traditional way from trolleys they made their way round the hall. Half the time we had no idea what we were ordering but it was all delicious.
Here in Boston, I’ve been to a couple similar places. I’ve been lucky to have a guide pick out their favorite dishes for us to enjoy, although sadly that friend has now moved away. Having now made these pork and cabbage dumplings, though, I might just have to get in the hang of making them at home more myself to feed the craving.
How to make dumplings
I theoretically learnt how to make dumplings properly when I was in Taiwan. It was part of the same trip that included Hong Kong and I took a cooking lesson there (as I mentioned before). However it’s so long ago and I don’t have the ingrained skill that I think you need to really make these quickly. Mind you, taking a little time over them isn’t a problem as long as you don’t have a deadline and I think mine still turned out looking not bad.
From what I learned many years ago and from reading elsewhere too, the best way to make them is to put a spoonful of the mixture to one side of the wrapper so it looks fairly full in that half. Lightly moisten the edge of the wrapper nearest you then fold it over and pinch it in the middle. Then work down each side and make pinches/folds along the edge towards you as you press the front and back together. Do the same on the other side, making sure you don’t have any gaps and you don’t have a bubble of air inside the dumpling. You can see the stages in the picture below.
Pork and cabbage dumplings can have a few variations on what is in them, although some soy sauce and sesame oil are generally in all as part of the seasoning. I opted for a little cilantro and ginger to give a nice fresh flavor and the result was certainly really tasty. Especially when you paired it with the simple dipping sauce I made of soy and sriracha. While soy sauce is a common base, you might see it with vinegar, ginger or garlic. I have to say, though, the soy-sriracha mix was delicious and so easy.
How to cook Chinese pork and cabbage dumplings
There are a few options in how you cook these pork and cabbage dumplings as well. You can boil them, although this is my least-favorite way as if there are any gaps in your dumplings they’ll open up and collapse on you. You can also steam them in a bamboo steamer, although if you do be sure to line the steamer with paper or cabbage leaves to save them sticking. Personally I like a little brown crispness to them which you can get by either frying them a couple minutes after steaming or, more traditionally, by frying them first, then adding water to the pan, covering until it evaporates and steams the dumplings then crisp up the base again. The only challenge in this method is they can end up sticking but it’s a minor price to pay for some tasty dumplings, in my view.
These pork and cabbage dumplings, particularly with the simple soy-sriracha dipping sauce, are so full of flavor they are seriously addictive. I think we ate them in record time, only stopping now and then to make yumming noises. While the recipe might seem to make more than you need, you can freeze them (just put them on lined trays until frozen then transfer to a bag) and just cook them a few more minutes from frozen when you decide to use them. Or you might find you like them so much you want them again the next day so this isn’t an issue. Either way give them a try, whether for Chinese NewYear or not. They make a delicious appetizer whatever the excuse.
Making your own dumplings is easier than you might think, and these are so full of flavor.
- 5 oz cabbage 140g, napa or white, approx 1 1/2 cups shredded
- 2 scallions spring onions
- 1/2 lb ground pork 225g pork mince
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp rice wine or sherry
- 1/2 tsp ginger minced/finely grated
- 1 1/2 tbsp cilantro/coriander a small handful roughly chopped
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 24 dumpling wrappers
- soy sauce and sriracha for dipping or your choice of dipping sauce.
Finely shred the cabbage then place it in a pan with boiling water and cook a couple of minutes to blanch it/soften. Drain the cabbage and let it cool a couple minutes.
Meanwhile cut the scallions in half lengthwise and finely slice them then add them to the pork along with the remaining ingredients (except the wrappers and sauce ingredients) - soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, ginger, cilantro and salt. Mix everything so it's well combined - this is often easiest by hand.
Squeeze out the cabbage either by hand or by putting it in a cloth to remove as much liquid as possible then roughly chop it a little more and add to the pork. Mix it well.
Working with a few at a time, put a spoonful of the pork mixture on one half of a dumpling wrapper so there is a gap around the edge but it otherwise fills fairly well. Dampen the edge of the wrapper then fold it in half to join in the middle around the filling. Using your thumbs, pinch/fold the side nearest you a few times as you seal along the edge from the middle to the side, then repeat on the other side.
To steam then fry - place a few dumplings in a bamboo steamer lined with paper or a cabbage leaf fairly close together over boiling water. Boil for around 3-4 minutes until going translucent. Meanwhile heat 1-2tbsp of oil in a skillet/frying pan then fry for a couple minutes until brown on one side.
Traditional method - heat 1-2tbsp oil in a skillet/frying pan and place some dumplings in there fairly close together. Cook for around 2-3minutes until browned. I often put them one side down then turn slightly to do the 'base'. Add around 1/4 to 1/3cup water to the pan and cover with a lid. Allow the water to steam the dumplings so they go translucent and the water evaporates. Remove lid and brown the bases again slightly so they crisp.
Serve with soy sauce with a little sriracha added, to taste, or your choice of dipping sauce.
Try these other dishes for your Chinese New Year celebration (or any excuse):
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