...to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free....

04 February, 2011

Celebrating the rabbit: a tutorial

Xinian Kwaile, good people!  This means Happy New Year in Mandarin Chinese, and it is pronounced "SHIN-yan  KWY-la".  On the other side of the earth, people are saying this a LOT these last few days.  Spring Festival is what we westerners call "Chinese New Year", and it is every bit as important as the combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year is for us.  It is a festive, two week celebration.  All who are able go back to their hometowns (don't even imagine public transportation on the days before.) The machinery of commerce and government shuts down tight. There is much visiting, fireworks and all kinds of delicious food--including lots and lots of DUMPLINGS!
...Which I am going to show you how to make.  (Believe that??  My fourth blog entry and I am already telling people what to do.........)

Whole families gather around the table and create these morsels of goodness, part pasta and part filling.  Think ravioli, pierogi--most cultures have thier version.  Think appetizers in your favorite Chinese restaurant.  In China, these are called "jiaozi".  Pronounced vaguely, in two syllables, like this:  JYOW-tza. (I learn food terms easily, don't you?)

How come I mentioned a rabbit?  According to the Chinese Zodiac, this New Year, which started on Feb 3, is the year of the rabbit.  If you were born twelve years ago, or twelve years before that, etc.  you are a rabbit kind of person.  But that's for another day, maybe. 

O.K.  Not to digress....

Meet my dear daughter-in law, Jun.  She is one of the best things that has happened to our family.

This is where she was born and raised, in Xinjiang China.  Pretty far out there, huh?  Tibet is to the south, and the countries to the west mostly end in '-stan'.  Mongolia is just to the northeast. 
I haven't been there yet, but I aim to one day.

Meet her mom and dad.  They taught Jun how to make jiaozi, then she taught me. They are the salt of the earth.  Outstanding cooks.  And nobody uses a recipe book.

So, you should know that I am going to show you something that you could find in a recipe book, which we all depend on here in the western world.  I am even going to show you the method for making the pasta pockets, though you could go to your favorite supermarket and buy won ton wrappers if you like.  They are square, and jiaozi wrappers are round, but you could punt.   You'd just be missing out on the fun.....  

Don't stress.   Don't expect perfection.  Gather your peeps and get ready to giggle.

Assemble some ingredients.  A third to half pound of ground pork, maybe some shrimp if you have any lying around (finely chop or grind it),  some daikon radish, a napa cabbage,  a nubbin of peeled, fresh ginger, one or two cloves of garlic, some scallions, some salt, some sesame oil, soy sauce, some rice wine vinegar or dry sherry, a smidgen of ground pepper.  Jun would tell you at this point that you can put anything else you like in as well, or take out what you don't like.  Use tofu if you don't like to eat animal products, or just use vegetables.  You are in charge.  

She would also tell you to wash everything you got from the produce section.  (She hates it when I forget that part.)

In the far willywags of Xinjiang even today, and certainly centuries before, food processors do not exist. But if you've got one, it will make this next part a whole lot easier.

Cut or tear the napa cabbage into small pieces.  Then chop as if your life depended on it, or this is where the food processor comes in.

Jun's mom is grinning below because there is no food processor in that kitchen and her husband is doing the chopping, so she doesn't have to.

When it is all ground and smushy, put it in a colander and squeeze the extra water out into the sink.

So it begins to resemble this:

Next, grate the daikon pretty finely, (use the "Cuise")--maybe chop it a bit as well, and add to the cabbage.

With a fine grater, grate the fresh ginger to taste.  YUM!

Then do the same thing to the garlic clove(s), or chop them quite fine.  Add both to bowl and mix well.

Thinly slice some green onions.  Chop fine or process.  Add that, too.

You get the idea. 

 Mix all, and salt. 

  Add some sesame oil and the pork.  MOOSH with your hands 
until it is well blended, and looks like this:

Set your filling aside.  Probably in the fridge.

Now, if you are really into fun and creativity, here is the good part.

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of flour, more or less, and put in a bowl.  Make a crater in which you pour about a half cup of water, with a smidge of salt added.

Mix all until a dough forms,  sprinkle flour on a surface, then knead the dough a bit.  That means you slap it on the counter or table, push the lump away with the heels of your hands, pick up the dough and turn a quarter of a turn, then repeat.  This is a wonderful, rhythmic process.  Very zen.  See how blissed out Chin Jia Mu is?? (Or maybe that's because she is still happy she didn't have to chop.)

Keep sprinkling with flour if it gets sticky.  Put on Aretha Franklin or Billy Joel.  Sing along. You know  you can stop when the lump is no longer sticky, and has a smooth, elastic kind of quality.

Now go back to preschool in your head.  Take a chunk of dough, and make a nice big snake out of it.
Cut that snake into little bits of equal size.  This is Chin Jia Gong at it (love his hands!)

The little discs by the blue-ish plastic are the cut pieces.  Now find kids.  Family, friends, hungry neighbors.  The mailman.  Everybody at the table.  Next, we take any round roller type thing  (again, nothing fancy) and roll each one of these discs into a little round-ish flat thing.  Try to make them kind of uniform in size.  But hey, most of us are Westerners, and it is the finished product that counts.  Relax!
 This is a good size to aim for.  You can see the dough patty is quite thin.

Here's what it looks when a Yank does the rolling.  I just can't get my hands to do it the Chinese way, like above. But that's ok.

Once you have a bunch created, split the crowd into two groups.  Pour more beer.  

Get out the stuffing mixture.  Pour some water into a shallow dish or cup.  Find a teaspoon.  Take a tiny amount of filling (too much will make a mess--you'll figure it out after a few tries) and put it slightly off center in one of the discs.  Now fold the circle in half, and wet your finger with a little water.  Wet down the edges of the circle and press them together so they stick.  Here's where you can get creative--I make some pleats in the semi-circle that is the two edges put together, just to kind of seal and tidy up the bundle.  See how they look below?  Everyone does it differently.  Just make sure your edge is sealed.

Make more.  (More beer, too, maybe??)

Get a kettle of water boiling.  Drop the dumplings gently into the water, and wait til the water boils.  When they rise to the surface, let them gently simmer awhile (a few minutes is all).  In China, there is this complicated regime that calls for letting the water boil, pouring cold water in the pot, letting it boil again, repeating once more.  I always thought this was because there were no kitchen timers in ancient China.  Anyway, I don't find it is necessary.

In a 2 cup measuring cup, pour some soy sauce, some sherry, some rice wine vinegar and a little sesame oil, add some grated ginger, and maybe a tiny dollop of sugar and stir well.  Parcel this out into little custard cups, one for each person.  Drain the jiaozi and commence to eat.  These are out of this world, and typically a single person will eat until full.  None of that one or two on a plate stuff for jiaozi.  Here's my main man enjoying his jiaozi with some edamame beans, salted.  

Whew.  I feel like I just finished a term paper.  But I feel much better.  See, my son, daughter in law and grandson are in Xinjiang, probably getting up soon for another day of festivities.  I am jealous, but somehow feel I am closer to them today because of this post.

Let me know how it goes!!!


  1. This reminds me of the afternoon we spent making dumplings with our tibetan friend, Yungchen Lhamo. She scoured my kitchen and managed to turn ingredients I didn't even realize I had into the delectable treat, Momo, (tibetan dumpling). As we struggled to get the hang of it, Yungchen assembled the momos into beautiful little packages. We love to make momos and think back on that delightful afternoon.
    Love you dear friend. cb

  2. Yum, sounds ever so good. So,..... I am on my way to a Chinese restaurant! LOL!

    I love your blog already!

    Your pal, Jane

  3. I love dumplings. I don't like all the work, though. Someone should come to my house and make them for me. I'll take the photos.

  4. Holy cow... I think I need to lay down a while on the fainting couch...lol! Lotsa work there! I admire people who love to do this type of involved food prep, and wish I were one of them, but I'd be massively intimidated and unwilling to invest the time. How cool that they've shared the way to cook these ancient dishes with you!

  5. My Mom in law always reminds me to rinse the rice before I cook it too, I love that your daughter in law holds to the same standards! What a great collaboration from across the globe, and a most wonderful tutorial. You deserve another beer for sure! ~Lili

  6. I too love the intercultural sharing that has spread through your extended family. I found a place that has good green Chinese cabbage today, so have hopes in the near future of trying out this recipe. I adore your gentle and humorous approach to recording a recipe :) Will let you know how it turns out. Victoria in CO