How to make Chinese New Year dumplings

Ji Ying Xue and Qi Rong Xie came to Dunedin in 2007 from Tianjin, near Beijing.

Their sons were educated here, but now one is in Australia and the other has returned to China with his wife and child.

However, they enjoy living here, being involved in the community and learning new things.

Chinese New Year, the most important Chinese festival, occurs between January 21 and February 20, depending on the solilunar calendar.

It is a spring festival lasting 15 days from the new to the full moon and this year it is on January 23.

People clean their houses, sweeping away the bad luck of the old year. They decorate their houses with cut-out red paper banners and other ornaments that symbolise luck, money, prosperity and spring.

Everyone who can goes to visit their family on New Year's Eve and eat the last meal of the old year together around a large table.

Everyone, even the poor, prepare as many dishes as they can, so the table is full. Dishes may include chicken, duck, fish and meat, but dumplings are the most important where they come from, Ji Ying says.

At midnight, everyone lets off strings of firecrackers to say goodbye to the old year and welcome in the new.

On the day following, they visit their families, parents and grandparents, and on the second day a daughter may visit her birth parents.

Ji Ying says when she was a child, she had to kowtow to her grandparents.

Thanks to Afife Harris and Mamma Mia Pizza.


Makes about 70

Of all the New Year foods, Ji Ying Xue (left) and Qi Rong Xie say dumplings are the most...
Of all the New Year foods, Ji Ying Xue (left) and Qi Rong Xie say dumplings are the most important where they come from. Photo by Charmian Smith.
Dumpling skin
1 cup lukewarm water (just under 30degC)
3 cups plain flour

Filling
3 eggs
2 Tbsp cooking oil
250g finely minced pork or chicken
200g peeled prawns or shrimp, finely chopped
250g Chinese or garlic chives, finely chopped
10g dried wood ear fungus, soaked in boiling water then chopped finely
10g ginger, finely chopped
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
about 1/4 cup unsalted chicken stock
1 tsp salt

To serve: a selection of vinegar, hot chilli oil or chilli sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, wasabi

To make the dough

Put the warm water in a large bowl and add the flour. Mix with your hand until it forms a dough, then knead until smooth. If the dough is too hard add a little more water and if it's too soft add a little more flour. The dough is ready when it no longer sticks to the hands or the inside of the bowl and the surface of the dough is smooth.

They call this "the three cleans".

Cover the dough with a damp cloth or a lid and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling

Break two of the eggs into a bowl. Beat lightly then briefly cook in the oil in a hot pan, stirring so the eggs are fluffy and just set. Put into a bowl to cool.

Shell and remove veins from prawns and chop finely.

Soak the black wood ear fungus for about 20 minutes in boiling water, drain, squeeze and chop finely. Chop the ginger finely. Chop the Chinese chives finely to about 3mm.

Mix the meat with the ginger and the third egg, the prawns, wood ear fungus, sesame oil, soy sauce and some of the chicken stock. The filling should not be too moist or the dumplings may leak.

Add the chives, but don't add the salt until just before filling the dumplings as it can extract liquid from the vegetable.

To make the dumplings

You need a dry surface to roll out the dumpling skins. Flour the surface lightly.

Take half the rested dough and shape into a ring, break the ring and roll into a sausage. Break or cut into 35 pieces.

Roll each into a ball between your hands then press flat. With a rolling pin roll each into a circle, thinner at the edges (about 2mm) than in the middle. Don't get too much flour on the top or the edges won't stick together. However, the underside needs to be floury so it doesn't stick to the board or other dumplings.

Add salt to the filling and stir.

Hold a dumpling wrapper in one hand, take about one and a-half teaspoons of filling and place in the middle of the skin.

Fold the skin in half and press the edges together tightly, forming dumplings that look like little purses full of money. Make sure the edges are firmly sealed or they may open during cooking.

To cook the dumplings

Bring a big pot half full of water to the boil on a medium high heat.

Cook the dumplings in batches so they don't overcrowd.

When the water is boiling, put 20-30 dumplings in to it and stir gently with a spoon, making sure dumplings are not sticking to the bottom. Take care not to break them. Stir two or three times every 30 seconds.

Once they float, there is no need to continue stirring. When they come back to the boil, add cup of cold water and allow it to come back to the boil. Repeat with another 2/3 cup of cold water. This allows the dumplings to cook without the risk of breaking up because of vigorous boiling.

The third time the dumplings come to the boil, lift them out with a drainer or slotted spoon and serve immediately, while hot.

To serve the dumplings

Vinegar is essential to serve with dumplings, Ji Ying says. You can add freshly crushed garlic and sesame oil to the vinegar if you wish.

Other dipping sauces are soy sauce, chilli sauce or oil, sesame oil or wasabi.

Ji Ying and Qi Rong also like to serve some of the cooking water in a bowl to help with digestion.


Tips

- Warm water helps the dough mix more quickly than cold.
- Pork and chicken are most often used in dumplings, but you can use beef, lamb, fish or tofu.
- Chinese chives are traditional in New Year dumplings as it is winter in China and there is not a great choice of vegetables. However, you can use other finely chopped vegetables, but if they are too juicy, the dumplings may leak. To extract the moisture, sprinkle with salt, leave for 20 minutes or so, then squeeze.
- You can add more prawns or meat or vegetable if you like. Quantities are variable.
- Rolling out dumpling skins so the middle is thicker than the edges takes skill and different amounts of pressure in each area. Ji Ying uses the end of her rolling pin to roll half the skin and gives it a quarter turn between each roll.
- Often the whole family will sit around a table and fill dumplings.
- Dumplings can be boiled, steamed or fried. Steamed dumplings are often made with self-raising flour so they rise.


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