Sunday, January 15, 2012

Veggie jiaozi and homemade wrappers for the New Year

Jiaozi play an important part in northern Chinese New Year celebrations not only because they are delicious and allow everyone to take part in their preparation, but also due to their color and shape, which suggest a silver ingot (yuanbao), meaning hopes for wealth for the coming months. 

Zester Daily has an article and video by me that shows you how to host a jiaozi party, as well as a step-by-step look at how they are formed. The video is embedded here, as well, at the bottom of this story.


The wrappers and all of the fillings can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. In fact, they are much better this way, as the dough then has sufficient time to relax and the fillings can take on extra flavor as they marinate. (See the Tips below for more ideas.)

Edible bottle gourds
In the previous article on Chinese "dumplings," I introduced both a Muslim beef filling and a Cantonese shrimp and pork filling. But what if you are having over people who are avoiding meat for any number of reasons?

The best solution is a delectable meatless filling that can be enjoyed by everyone. In fact, this is one of my all time favorites, perfect for any jiaozi party. The eggs meld perfectly with the soft threads of the squash-like gourd, and only a few aromatics -- like ginger, green onion, black pepper, and rice wine -- are used so that the natural sweetness of the gourd shines through.

The star of this show is the vegetable known as the edible bottle gourd. Called hugua in Chinese, it is a sweet and juicy member of the squash family that is able to keep its shape without mushing down, and yet it has a gentle aroma that makes it the perfect foil for the curds of scrambled eggs that nestle up to it. Easy to make and certainly not at all expensive, I like to make twice as much of this filling as any other because they always disappear so quickly.
Tender peeled gourds

As for how many dumplings you should serve – although why jiaozi is translated as “dumplings” instead of the ravioli I have no idea – figure on about a pound of filling per four people; that way there will be enough to ensure extra.

It is always better to make too many than not enough, though. Giving your guests food to take home is also a wish that they enjoy plenty in the new year.


Jiaozi wrappers 
Jiaozi pi  餃子皮   
Shandong
The insides should be white & tender
Makes 2 to 3 dozen

6 cups Korean flour, or about 4 cups all-purpose and 2 cups pastry flour
2¾ cups room temperature filtered water
Extra flour for kneading and rolling out the dough

1. Place the flour and water in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until the dough forms a ball and no longer sticks to the bowl. (You may also mix it by hand.)

2. Scrape the dough onto a floured flat surface (see Tips below), sprinkle some more flour on top, and knead the dough until it is soft and satiny. At this point, the dough should not stick to either your hands or the board, and when pinched between the fingers it will feel like an earlobe. Form the dough into a ball, dust it liberally with flour, and place it in a plastic bag. (It may be prepared up to this point a few days ahead of time and refrigerated; allow the dough to return to room temperature before shaping the wrappers.)

Shredded & salted gourds
3. Knead the dough gently on a lightly floured board to wake up the gluten, but avoid using too much flour, which will dry out the dough. Cut the dough into fist-sized chunks and knead them one at a time until they are once more soft and supple; use a tea towel to cover whatever dough you are not working with so that it stays moist.

4. Roll the dough out into a long rope about an inch in diameter and cut off Ping-Pong ball sized pieces. Dust these with flour. Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a round disc. Roll out each piece into a wrapper about 2 inches in diameter. Lightly the dust the wrappers and cover with a tea towel; fill immediately.

5. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add about a dozen jiaozi to the boiling water and bring it back to a boil while stirring gently with a wooden spoon. Add around a cup of cool water to the pot and bring the water to a boil (see Tips). Repeat this one more time, at which point the jiaozi should be floating. Remove them to a serving platter with a slotted spoon. Cook the remainder in the same way. Serve the dumplings immediately


Gourd filling 
Muxu hugua xian木須瓠瓜餡  
Shandong
Enough for about 36 jiaozi

3½ to 4 pounds edible bottle gourds (zucchini, pumpkin and other squashes can be substituted)
1½ teaspoon sea salt
Fresh, organic eggs
8 large organic, free range eggs
4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped fresh ginger
3 tablespoons regular soy sauce
3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Ground black pepper to taste
4 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
8 fresh or plumped up black Chinese mushrooms, stemmed and finely chopped
½ cup fried green onion oil (or ½ cup more peanut or vegetable oil)
4 green onions, finely chopped

1. Up to a day before filling the jiaozi, peel and trim the gourds (remove any seeds), grate coarsely and place in a colander in the sink. Toss the shredded gourd with the salt. Wait about an hour and then squeeze the gourd dry in your fists. Place the shredded gourd in a large work bowl.

Simple aromatics
2. Lightly beat the eggs. Scramble them over medium-low heat with the 4 tablespoons oil until curds have formed but the eggs are not dried out. Add them to the work bowl and gently break apart the eggs into small clumps.

3. Toss in the ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, pepper, sesame oil, mushrooms and fried green onion oil.  Place the filling in a covered container and refrigerate.

4. Up to an hour before filling the jiaozi, toss the gourd with the green onions. Adjust seasonings (see Tips) and then fill the jiaozi.

Tips

Flour. In this recipe, as well as in every other one of Chinese pastry recipes, I call for Korean flour, which is similar in gluten content to Chinese all-purpose flour, but is of more consistent quality. As with French and Italian recipes, American flour results in a tougher dough, while Korean flour provides a gentle suppleness combined with just enough snap that you end up with perfect Chinese pasta. The mixture of American flours listed below as an alternative is a distant second when it comes to good results, as gluten qualities and freshness vary so much. You can find Korean flour at many East Asian markets.  
Test the frying pan's heat carefully

Freezing. Uncooked jiaozi freeze beautifully, so try to make more than you think you will need. Freeze the extra uncooked jiaozi on a cloth-covered baking sheet; make sure that they do not touch each other or else they will stick together. As soon as they are very hard, remove them to a resealable plastic freezer bag and return to the freezer; boil the jiaozi without defrosting them first.  

Any leftover cooked dumplings can be lightly fried in a few tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until golden all over, and they are just about as delicious as the freshly boiled ones. Do note that you cannot steam these jiaozi, as these use what is called a “cold dough” (only room temperature water is mixed into the flour), while steamed ones call for “hot dough” (where boiling water is stirred into the flour).

A perfect flat surface. One of the best places to roll out dough (or knead bread, for that matter) is the underside of a pullout chopping board. Most people use only the top side of the board to cut things on and forget that there is a nice, unblemished surface underneath. If you are lucky enough to have such a board, place a damp cloth on your counter to keep the board from moving around and place the board on top of that. Then, when you are through making the wrappers, be sure that you turn the board right side up before you put it away in order to protect its smooth surface.

Perfect scrambled eggs
Testing the frying pan and frying scrambled eggs. One of the best ways to check to see whether a frying is the right temperature for frying eggs is to lightly touch the rim: it should feel so hot that you can barely keep your hand there, but not so hot that you feel the heat from a few inches away. Add the lightly beaten eggs to the heated oil, let them sit in there for a few seconds to form a thin omelet. Then use a spatula to gently stir the eggs around while they cook. As soon as they look fluffy but still slightly wet, remove them from the heat, as they will keep cooking from the residual heat.

Add the onions and cabbage last. Raw onions can overwhelm a dish and take on a slightly foul aroma if not cooked immediately. Likewise, cabbage can become watery if added to the filling to early, even if salted first. So, I recommend that for meat fillings, you pack them into containers, layer the salted squeezed cabbage on top and don’t add the onions until the last minute. The vegetarian filling, too, should wait until the last minute before the onions are mixed in.

Adjust seasoning as desired. Fry a small amount of the filling (no additional oil should be necessary) and taste it to adjust the seasoning; more sugar, oil, salt or any other fine-tunings can then be made right before you fill the dumplings.

12 comments:

  1. This is exciting! I was a pescetarian for years, and searched in vain for a good veg jiaozi recipe. Now that I'm eating meat again I'm hooked on pork jiaozi and wontons, but it'll be great to have a veg alternative. Can't wait to try this recipe!

    Lisa Hsia (Jen showed me your blog!)

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  2. I know. We were complete vegetarians for way over a decade, and most of the veggie fillings we tried were less than inspiring. This, though, is great. And if you can eat shrimp, add a couple tablespoons of those little, white, dried baby shrimp. It adds another layer of funk and goes really well with the vegetables and eggs.

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  3. Hi Carolyn, thanks for the veggie filling recipe! I'm going to try that apart from my usual filling (pork and cabbage), though not with hugua but with zucchini - hugua nowhere to be found in my local store. looking forward to the large dumplings fest!
    Wishing you and your family a great Dragon Year!

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  4. Hoi Kattebelletje. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. And many wishes for a wonderful Year of the Dragon!

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  5. Carolyn, I'm making the veggie jiaozi tonight, and I just had a thought. Maybe they're translated as dumplings and not ravioli because they're so closely related to that large family of filled-dough items that includes xiaolongbao and Tibetan momo -- which don't look as much like raviolis, and are evidently just as related to the breadier mantou as to wontons.

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  6. Satsumabug, that might be an idea worth considering. But I think I worked as a professional translator too long.

    My problem with the word "dumpling" is that it means something quite different in Western cuisine: i.e., a ball of dough with some sort of shortening in it that is cooked in a broth, such as chicken and dumplings (and we also have sweet dumplings made with apples and so forth). Just seems to be a lazy interpretation of jiaozi as far as I'm concerned!

    Xiaolongbao are made with yeast doughs, as are mantou of course, and neither wontons nor jiaozi have any sort of leavening. No, to my mind, jiaozi are very much like raviolis: thin sheets of pasta with a filling. Same thing, different cuisines! But then again, that's just my take on it...

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  7. Are xiaolongbao really made with yeast doughs? The best ones I've had have had very, very thin wrappers.

    Speaking as a former historian of course, I also think it might have to do with the history of ethnic cuisines in this country; it would be interesting to trace the parallel path of jiaozi and ravioli in American foodways to see how the terminology changes!

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  8. I know! The best ones really do have those paper-like wrappers holding a world of juiciness inside. (Just thinking of Ding Tai Feng's in Taipei makes me hungry.)

    However, the clue is right in the name, because just about anything called "bao" is made with yeast dough. And especially with xiaolongbao you can see the genius of Chinese cuisine at work: those incredibly small bubbles in the dough are what allow the skins to be so light and yet so tensile. But it's the pleats at the top that really are the mind blower for me, for the yeast makes those pleats light and airy and completely melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

    Love your idea of tracing terminology... that would be a terrific history of food. Please send me a copy if and when!

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  9. I've been searching for a good vegetarian recipe for jiaozi for awhile. This one is great - I did a trial run yesterday and so now have a stash in my freezer. Thank you!

    As a side note, I used what was labelled as 'Chinese hairy melon' in stores near me. No idea if it's hugua or not, but it worked well!

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    1. Wow, that's wonderful, Mary! Glad that you liked them. This is a recipe we've been enjoying for years.

      Hairy melons are the perfect substitute here for hugua, which aren't fuzzy at all, but rather as smooth as eggplants. Called maogua in Chinese, Joy Larkcom's "Oriental Vegetables" notes, "Strictly speaking, hairy melon is the immature young fruit of a variety of wax gourd known as the 'jointed gourd.' However, young fruits of small fruited types of wax gourd... are also grown as hairy melons. To add to the confusion, some varieties of bottle gourd are known in Chinese as 'hairy gourd.'"

      In other words, pretty close to hugua!

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  10. Awesome! just tried mine and could´t wait to tell you how good they taste! so thanks for the recipe! Would you know how to make the traditional shihongshi jidang jiaozi? It´s traditional in Tianjin but I can´t find this particular flavor anywhere else :D

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    1. How wonderful to hear this. Thanks! Yes, those egg and tomato jiaozi are good... my husband remembers them vividly from when he was a little boy in Beijing. I will come up with the recipe for them soon. Great suggestion!

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