Pork and cabbage dumplings are a traditional dish, especially eaten for the Lunar New Year. But these dumplings are so delicious you'll want to have them much more often!
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With Lunar New Year fast approaching, I got to thinking about having dumplings. It seemed only right to make some, even if my dumpling-making skills were a bit rusty when I first started making these.
Lunar New Year is celebrated both in China and neighboring countries such as Vietnam. All communities have a number of traditional foods that many enjoy as part of the celebration. Some of the Chinese foods 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 dumplings are a variation of one of the most common dumpling flavors 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 that difficult. And I find you soon get in the swing of the folding, which is really the trickiest bit. If you opt for ready-made dumpling wrappers, as I often do, that's one less thing to make.
I think homemade wrappers stick more easily, but ready-made are probably easier to make them look neat. You just need to use some water to help them stick. All that said, 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 growing up, I have learned as I have grown older that what we often see on a takeaway menu sometimes has little connection to 'real' Chinese food. I've been lucky enough to have some fantastic true 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 thankfully we had directions. Then once inside, the room was incredibly grand.
We were served in 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 friend guide us in picking out their favorite dishes for us to enjoy. Although sadly that friend has now moved away. Having now made these pork and cabbage dumplings a few times at home, though, I might just have to get in the hang of making them more regularly.
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. But, I do keep practicing. And in any event, taking a little time over them isn't such a bad thing. Just try not to be in a rush!
The way I learned to fold them many years ago is to put a spoonful of the mixture to one side of the wrapper so it looks fairly full in that half. Then, lightly moisten the edge of the wrapper nearest you then fold it over and pinch it in the middle.
Start with one side and work towards the tip, making pinches/folds as you go. Do the same on the other side. As you make the pleats, make sure you don't have any gaps and you don't have a bubble of air inside the dumpling.
Choosing your seasonings
These dumplings can have a few variations on what is in them, other than the pork and cabbage themselves. Typically, Chinese dumplings, jiaozi, use napa cabbage while white cabbage is more common in Japanese gyoza which are very similar.
In terms of seasonings, soy sauce and sesame oil are typical in both Chinese and Japanese versions. Garlic is more common in Japanese but less so in Chinese. Some Chinese versions use dried shrimp, which you'd not tend to find in gyoza.
I opted for a little scallion, cilantro and ginger here. They're pretty typical flavors and give a nice freshness. And delicious, especially when you pair it with a simple dipping sauce.
Soy sauce is a common base for most dipping sauces. Some add some vinegar, ginger or garlic. Others maybe a little vinegar and sugar. We also like the less traditional but super easy soy-sriracha mix listed below.
How to cook these 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. For one, if there are any gaps in your dumplings they'll open up and collapse on you, plus also I think the flavor is better in other methods. 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 to pan fry them so they are a little brown on the bottom which adds to the flavor. Hence the name often given to them, potstickers. You can get this either frying them a couple minutes after steaming or, more traditionally, by frying them first, then adding water to the pan and covering until the water has largely gone. The water in there steams the dumplings to cook them through.
You can then try to crisp slightly more on the bottom, but they can end up sticking but it's a minor price to pay for some tasty dumplings, in my view.
What to do with leftovers
While the recipe might seem to make more than you need, you can freeze any extra. To freeze, just put them on lined trays until frozen then transfer to a bag.
Then when you are ready to use them, just cook them a few more minutes from frozen. Don't defrost them first Alternatively, you might find you like them so much you want them again the next day so this isn't an issue.
These pork and cabbage dumplings are so full of flavor, especially when dipped, they are seriously addictive. I think we ate them in record time, only stopping now and then to make yumming noises. They make a delicious appetizer whatever your excuse.
Try these other dishes for your Chinese New Year celebration (or any excuse!):
- Chinese oven steamed fish
- Yee sang, Chinese salad (aka "prosperity toss")
- Sang choy bao, Chinese lettuce wraps
- Hong shao rou, red braised pork belly
- Vegetable dumplings or pork and chive dumplings if you are looking for other kinds
- Plus get more Chinese recipes in the archives.
Chinese pork and cabbage dumplings
- 5 oz cabbage 140g, napa or white, approx 1 ½ cups shredded
- 2 scallions spring onions
- ½ lb ground pork 225g pork mince
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon rice wine or sherry
- ½ teaspoon ginger minced/finely grated
- 1 ½ tablespoon cilantro/coriander a small handful roughly chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 24 dumpling wrappers
- soy sauce with a little 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 and forefingers, pinch/fold on one side a few times to make pleats along the dumpling edge as you seal the edge from the middle to the tip. Then repeat on the other side (video may help with seeing how to fold). As you are folding, try to make sure you don't trap too much air inside the dumpling. Also, make sure the edge is well sealed.
- Traditional method - heat 1-2 tablespoon oil in a skillet/frying pan over a medium heat and place some dumplings in there fairly close together. Cook for around 2-3 minutes until browned on the bottom. Add around ¼ to ⅓ cup boiling water to the pan so that water comes around ⅓ of the way up the dumplings then cover with a lid. Allow the water to steam the dumplings so they go translucent and the water evaporates. Remove lid and, if you like, brown the bases again slightly so they crisp.
- To steam then fry - place a few dumplings in a bamboo steamer (if you like, lined with paper or a cabbage leaf to help prevent sticking), fairly close but with gaps between them. Cover and place over a pot or wok with boiling water. Steam the dumplings 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.
- Serve with soy sauce with a little sriracha added, to taste, or your choice of dipping sauce.
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