The above picture is reproduced with kind permission of Suanne over at the Chowtimes blog where she has recently been posting articles about a trip to China. The picture shows some dumplings she saw being cooked by a street-market vendor in the Muslim quarter of Xian. I was inspired, after seeing these interesting little delicacies, to have a go at making them, especially as the method of wrapping is considerably simpler than many Chinese dumplings and should be fairly easy to follow even for novices.
Suanne said that the dumplings were available with a variety of different meats and were served with a chili paste on the side as a condiment. Since lamb is very popular amongst the Muslims in China (pork being avoided), I decided that I would use it for this attempt at reproduction. Beyond the very basic information from the picture and Suanne’s description, I don’t know a great deal about these treats so I am largely going to be ‘winging’ it. As such, this should be prove to be a very interesting little experiment and, since I don’t even know the name used by the street vendor, I am simply going to call mine ‘Xian Market Dumplings’…
I can’t see much in the dumplings in Suanne’s picture other than ground meat but I want my dumplings to have a rustic heartiness so I am going with a filling mix that will be very robust and flavorful rather than delicate. Here are the ingredients I decided upon:
- 1 recipe Basic Hot Water Dumpling Dough;
- Extra four for rolling (not shown);
- 2 cups ground Lamb;
- 2 large Scallions finely chopped,
- 6 cloves Garlic, minced;
- 1 tbsp. Sugar;
- ½ tsp. Salt;
- 1 tbsp. Sichuan Chili Bean Paste;
- 1 tbsp. Cumin Seed;
- 1 tbsp. Black Peppercorns;
First, grind your cumin seed together with the peppercorns. Add these to a bowl along with the rest of the filling and mix together well with your hands. Next, use a wooden spoon and stir the mixture forty or fifty times until it becomes sticky. Stir in one direction only so that the meat fibers all align and you have a nice smooth mix. Set this aside to rest for at least 30 minutes. I often put dumpling fillings in the freezer for about twenty minutes before actually forming the dumplings as it makes the mix easier to handle. However, there isn’t going to be any tricky folding techniques here so I didn’t bother this time.
Now, divide your dough into 16 equal amounts and roll each part into a ball. You can, if you like, do this with the filling mixture also as it helps, I find, to keep your finished dumplings a uniform size.
Take one ball of dough and, using extra flour as necessary to prevent sticking, roll it out to a circle roughly about a hand-span in diameter. Shake off any excess flour then lay a line of filling down the center of the circle.
Now for the folding… Simply pull one side of the circle over the filling and then do the same with the other, overlapping the first. You don’t need to pleat, pinch the ends, or do anything else other than set the dumpling aside on a lightly oiled plate for now. Repeat the steps for each of the remaining dough balls…
Now that the dumplings are formed, it is on to the cooking… The street-vendor in Suanne’s picture is using a curious piece of equipment to cook his dumplings and it is not clear to me if the lid, once closed, contacts that dumplings so both sides are cooked at the same time. I also can’t tell whether any liquid is used during the process in the same way that Pot-stickers are cooked, but I am guessing not. Lacking the equipment the vendor has, here is the process I settled upon…
Heat a pan over medium heat and add a liberal glug of cooking oil. I cooked my dumplings in two batches and kept a good 4 tablespoons of oil in the pan during the whole process. Add your dumplings seam side up and allow to cook for several minutes until the underside is golden.
Turn the dumplings and cook the other side until they are nicely crispy and golden brown as well. Plate, after blotting off any excess oil, and serve while hot with a dipping sauce of your choice.
I served my dumplings with a little Sichuan Chili Bean paste and sugar slightly diluted with just a little vinegar. I love dumplings of all sorts and they have to be pretty bad before I can’t scarf them down by the bucket-load so I am happy to report that these were very good indeed. The garlic was surprisingly not that strong given the amount I used, and I would have liked just a touch more saltiness, but other than that, they were really tasty.
For those who are not quite ready for the trickier sorts of dumpling folds, this would be an excellent foray into Asian dumpling cookery. There is all sorts of scope for variation in the filling and it is pretty easy to produce something both attractive and tasty. I urge you all to give these a try!