These lamb dumplings are a little different from many of the more familiar pork-based dumplings. Made with lamb and vegetables, they also include a touch of cumin which adds a warm spice flavor. They're incredibly flavorful and most definitely worth trying soon.
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There's something both fun and comforting about dumplings, in all their many shapes and forms. We love trying different kinds and they are something we'll often pick out as an appetizer when we go out if it's an option. They are high on the request list at home, too.
For us, that's more likely to mean one of dumplings' Italian cousins, as they are ones we'll eat for dinner as a main (pumpkin ravioli, crab ravioli and tortellini in brodo are big favorites). But I do also make some Chinese-style dumplings now and then like pork and cabbage dumplings or vegetable dumplings.
As I was looking into different kinds, I came across this lamb variety and knew I had to try it. If you're a regular around here, you'll know I'm a lamb fan, and the flavors in these sounded wonderful. And I wasn't disappointed. I have drawn on a few sources for these, in particular this recipe from Chinese American Family.
Where are lamb dumplings from?
These lamb dumplings are from Northern China, particularly the Muslim minority community, though they are also eaten more widely. Some say that a version of these were actually the first ever dumplings, created by Chinese medicinal healer Zhang Zhongjing during the Eastern Han dynasty (150-219 CE).
The story goes that he returned to his hometown in winter to find a number of poor people had suffered frostbite in their ears. He developed the filling based on his knowledge of Chinese medicine and herbs, and shaped them into ear shapes, then boiled them and gave them to the poor. The combination of herbs, warming broth and dumplings helped to heal them.
In part in memory of this story, these and other dumplings are popular to enjoy during the Dongzhi Festival which is a celebration of the winter solstice. At this time of year, it can be very cold in the North, so warm foods are needed.
Other regions also enjoy dumplings of various kinds during Dongzhi. Dumplings were traditionally a luxury food and so are popular for many festivals, not just Dongzhi but also the Lunar New Year and the lantern festival soon after.
Steps to make these dumplings
If you have made other dumplings before, the process to make these is much the same.
- Shred the cabbage and carrot and cook both in a little oil - this helps to soften them up a bit, as they may not cook quite enough in the dumplings otherwise. Also, it helps the carrot to be a little sweeter and the veg generally more flexible and so easier to work with.
- Finely chop the vegetables - this again makes them easier to work with.
- Mix all the filling ingredients.
- Spoon a little of the filling on each dumpling wrapper. You don't want to over-fill them, so leave an edge to let you seal them. Keep the filling away from this outside area as the filling makes it hard to seal the dough. You might want to try sealing one dumpling to get a feel for the right amount.
- Seal up the dumplings.There are a number of ways to seal dumplings and really none is right or wrong. For these, you typically go relatively simple and seal with a slightly gathered edge, but you can also simply seal the two sides (see picture above). Make sure the sides are well-sealed and you don't have an air pocket.
- Cook the dumplings for a couple minutes. This type is typically boiled rather than steamed or fried.
Top tip: use water to seal store-bought dumpling wrappers
Store-bought dumpling wrappers are certainly more convenient and are one less thing to prepare. You just need to watch when sealing as they can be a little drier. You should dampen the edge of the wrapper with some water before sealing to help the two sides stick. Sometimes you may want to dampen the pleats on the outside as well so they lie flat.
I like to keep a small bowl of water next to me as I make dumplings so I can dip my finger in water to help dampen the edges.
If you use homemade dumpling wrappers, they should stick without any water, but it's not a bad idea to have water on hand just in case.
If you make extra, you can freeze uncooked dumplings on a baking sheet/plate then once frozen, carefully transfer to a freezer bag or container. Then simply cook from frozen and add an extra couple minutes to the cooking time.
These cumin lamb dumplings have a delicious mix of flavors, with juicy meat, vegetables and a lovely aromatic spice. They are comforting, so easy to eat and perfect n a cold day. Though really we could enjoy them any time.
Try these other Chinese favorites:
- Hong shao rou (sticky braised pork belly - it needs a little waiting time but is easy and delicious)
- Cong you bing (scallion pancakes)
- Shrimp shumai (open-topped dumplings with a shrimp-based filling)
- Plus get more Chinese recipes and appetizer recipes in the archives.
Cumin lamb dumplings
- 4 oz white cabbage
- 3 oz carrot
- ½ tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 Chinese chives or slightly more if smaller
- ½ lb ground lamb lamb mince
- 2 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or sherry if you don't have
- 1 teaspoon ginger finely grated
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 26 dumpling wrappers approx
- Shred the lettuce and coarsely grate the carrot. Warm the oil in a skillet/frying pan and cook the carrot and cabbage for around 2 - 3 minutes until starting to soften.
- Remove the vegetables from the heat and transfer to a chopping board. Chop them relatively finely so they are in small chunks. Finley chop the Chinese chives.
- Place all of the ingredients apart from the dumpling wrappers in a bowl (cabbage, carrot, chives, ground lamb, light and dark soy, Shaoxing wine, ginger and cumin). Mix everything together well so that everything is well distributed.
- Working with just a few at a time, place a rounded teaspoonful of the mixture to one side of the middle of a dumpling wrapper. Make sure the filling is away from the edge. Dampen the edge with a little water then fold the two sides together, by joining in the middle, then working to either side to join and ensure no air pocket. You can then leave as a flat edge or make a few pleats/folds. You can also add a little water on the outside to help stick if the wrappers are a little dry. Note you probably don't need water if using homemade dumpling wrappers. Repeat with the rest of the filling and mixture until all dumplings are formed.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil (relatively wide is best) and add a little salt and oil to the water (this helps to season the dumplings and stop them sticking). Then add a few dumplings at a time so you don't overcrowd the pot. Stir slightly so they don't stick to the bottom. Bring back to a boil and cook for around 5 - 6 minutes until the dumplings are floating at the top and look slightly shriveled. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and repeat with rest.
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