Monday, November 30, 2009

Janelle's Dumplings

Here's Janelle with her little dumplings.

Ha ha. Very funny.

I'm going to post a recipe for the dumplings Janelle taught me to make. (For those of you who don't know, Janelle was my piano trio partner [violinist], college roommate, dear friend, etc. from the University of Colorado. She is now married to Kelly, and they have 2 kids, Elaine and Elliott.) In Japan, dumplings of this style are called gyoza, but I don't know what they're called in Taiwan (where Janelle grew up). I don't think the dumplings I make now are "authentic" either in Japan or Taiwan, but I think they are delicious, and since they are made with easy to find, inexpensive ingredients (here in Japan), they are a great thing for me to make. The ingredients shouldn't be hard to find in major North American cities either... the one thing you really need is gyoza wrappers. Wonton wrappers work too.

Anyway, here's what you need. I don't do measurements. Use your judgment, and look at the pictures which follow.
  • Dumpling wrappers of some description. I think gyoza wrappers (the round ones) are easier to deal with.
  • Ground meat. I would recommend chicken or pork. Generally, you want to have slightly less meat than vegetables.
  • An egg. This helps everything stick together.
  • Minced vegetables. I typically use napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, green onion (negi in Japan), zucchini (usually I substitute cucumber in Japan--see hint below), carrot, onion, ginger, and perhaps a little cilantro. This isn't a fixed list, but my dumplings usually are about like this. Have fun and experiment with your favorites and what you have on hand!
  • A little seasoning: salt, black pepper, hot pepper flakes (I use shichimi tougarashi in Japan) if you like it hot, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and powdered dashi (Japanese soup stock) if you happen to have some on hand. Otherwise, use more salt.
  • Corn starch or potato starch. Your mixture will likely be quite moist, especially if you included cucumber. Adding some kind of starch will help take care of this problem. You don't want your mixture to be too moist.
First, chop your vegetables and put them in a big bowl.

Next, add the meat, egg, seasonings, and cornstarch. (If you really like meat, you could use a bit more than this relative to the amount of veggies. Or, just leave the meat out if you don't want it at all. I can't vouch for the texture, having never done these meat-free.)

Mix, mix, mix! I usually use my hands, since that seems to work the best. You could try using a mixer if using your hands grosses you out. Add more cornstarch if necessary.

Lay out a few wrappers at a time, put about 1-1 1/2 tsp. of filling on each one. Wet the edge of the wrapper, fold in half, and pinch shut.

You can boil, steam, or pan-fry your dumplings, but I usually pan-fry... although there was a memorable hotpot I made into which I threw about 45 dumplings which had stuck together after sitting (raw) in the fridge overnight. (That reminds me... always cook them right away! Don't let them sit for very long, or they will turn into a sticky mess! Or freeze them--see note below.)

Anyway, pan-frying. Actually, I think this might be called steam frying. I don't know. It works really well, though. Heat up some oil (I prefer sesame oil) in a frying pan over medium heat. Put a single layer of dumplings in the pan, and brown one side. Flip them over, then pour about 1 cm of water into the pan. Cover the pan, and wait until the water is gone, and the other side has gotten a bit browned.

Now you're done! Arrange them all pretty-like, sprinkle with green onion and sesame seeds, and serve with dipping sauce. (Or just dump them on a plate and shove in front of starving husband.) I have included two suggestions for sauce below.

  • If you are using cucumber, grate it, salt it, and then leave it to drain for about half an hour. This will give it a chance to lose some of its moisture, which can make the filling very sloppy.
  • To test the flavor of your dumplings, immediately cook your first 1-2 dumplings (or more if you have lots of taste testers), then taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. (You obviously can't taste the raw filling, that would be gross! And the onions wouldn't be cooked.)
  • Dumpling wrappers usually have one side with more cornstarch on them than the other. You want to put your filling on the more cornstarchy side--then it will be easier to stick it together.
  • If you want to freeze your dumplings before cooking them, spread them so they're not touching on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Wait until they freeze, then put them in a container.
Sauce 1:  Sweet Wasabi Sauce (my own invention)
  • 1/3 c soy sauce 
  • 1/3 c seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp wasabi (use real grated wasabi if possible, not the powdered stuff)
  • ½ T ginger
  • A few drops sesame oil
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Green onion
Mix the ingredients together. If raw garlic, ginger, and onion isn't your thing, you could saute them in a frying pan for a bit to mellow them out, as with the following recipe. Yum...

Sauce 2: Negi (Green Onion) Sauce (from a Japanese magazine)
  • Minced Negi/green onion
  • Tougarashi/red pepper flakes
  • 100 ml soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sake
  • 2 Tbsp hot water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger
Heat a frying pan with the sesame oil, fry the negi and ginger. Add all the other ingredients, then turn off the heat.


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