Beyond Potstickers: A Dumpling Lover's Confession

Mandu Dumpling i i

Mandu are the dumplings in Korean cuisine, either boiled in water and served in soups (this variety often has their dough corners pulled together) or fried on one side like potstickers and then dipped in sauce. Deb Perelman hide caption

itoggle caption Deb Perelman
Mandu Dumpling

Mandu are the dumplings in Korean cuisine, either boiled in water and served in soups (this variety often has their dough corners pulled together) or fried on one side like potstickers and then dipped in sauce.

Deb Perelman

About the Author

Deb Perelman writes about food, technology and the daily grind in New York City. Her cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, was the recipient of a 2006 Food Blog Award in the Humor category.

I am a dumpling fanatic. I have yet to find a piece of dropped or stuffed dough beyond the reaches of my adoration.

Whether fried or boiled, baked in the oven or submerged in broth, steamed in bamboo or coasting over a thin puddle of sauce, breaking my fork, spoon or chopstick into a not-yet-unveiled center summons in me the excitement of a pile of brightly wrapped birthday presents. Even if I know exactly what's inside, tearing open the packaging is always half the fun.

When you love dumplings, the entire world steps out to welcome you into its home, setting out platters of spicy empanadas flecked with raisins and hard-boiled eggs throughout South America; brothy bowls of thin and slippery wantons in China; tiny, artful tortellini draped lightly in sauce in Italy, and spicy, petite manti in ayran, a yogurt sauce in Turkey. Really, we're just getting started, so you probably want to sit down and stay for a while.

There are but four features that, to me, define a dumpling, be they called ravioli or pirozhki: A filling—meat, cheese, vegetable or some combination thereof, almost always minced; a wrap, with its varied yet specific folds, crimps, tucks and turns; a preparation—boiled, steamed, pan- or deep-fried, and a presentation— in a broth, dipped in sauce or mounded with butter-fried onions.

Of course, trying to abbreviate a whole world of pocketed delights into four parts leaves a few things out. Gnocchi, matzo balls and Kentucky chicken 'n dumplin' soup pout at me for omitting some dumpling history.

In the beginning, dumplings weren't filled at all. They were lumps of grain or cereal dough dropped into soups and stews. They evolved into the folded and sealed varieties I have fallen so hard for.

Other dumplings defy strict classification. So Chinese xiaolongbao (soup-filled dumplings), Russian golubtzi (stuffed cabbage) and German kartoffelkloesse (potato dumplings with a small crouton in the middle) stare angrily at me from the corner, tasty hands on delicious hips.

Fear not, I have room in my belly for all of you.

There are two dumpling camps: Those who have made them from scratch their whole lives find it incredibly simple and think it's ludicrous to use packaged dumpling skins or pre-sheeted pasta, and those who have tried to make them for dinner one night and realized they misjudged the prep time by several few hours.

Because most dumplings have four features—a wrapper, filling, preparation and a presentation—they also have four sets of instructions, or enough reason for anyone to dream of cutting corners and buying the first step at the store.

But if you do choose to make your dough at home (and I will not judge you if you do not), you'll realize that there is something homey and simple about most recipes: typically just flour, water and something to enrich the dough stirred in a bowl and kneaded until someone's grandmother says you're done. It's not a quick process, but it can be a relaxing one.

From there, the fillings, cooking and sauces or garnishes come together quickly, as if rewarding you for your elbow grease.

The most important thing to know if you're going to cook dumplings at home is how to flash freeze them, since they so often yield dozens when you only need 10.

Arrange your uncooked confections on a parchment-lined tray, being certain that none are touching, and freeze them through before putting them in a freezer bag. This will not only save you a tremendous amount of freezer space, but you'll find that uncooked dumplings keep surprisingly well frozen, for at least a month, so they'll always be fresh when you want them.

In my kitchen, that's pretty much daily.

Spicy Lentil, Potato and Pea Samosas

Samosa1 i i
Deb Perelman
Samosa1
Deb Perelman

Samosas are small, spicy turnovers typically filled with potatoes, paneer cheese or meat with variants throughout South Asia. They're typically deep-fried, but if you are frying-phobic, as I am, you will be relieved to know that they are also delicious baked. Serve them with chutney, yogurt, chopped onions, chopped fresh coriander or chaat masala, a spice mix with dried mango powder, cumin, salt, ginger, coriander and other ingredients (available at Indian stores and some specialty markets).

Dough

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter or 8 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)

2 tablespoons plain yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk

½ cup ice water

Lentils

1/3 cup yellow or green split peas or red lentils, washed and picked over

1 cup water or vegetable stock

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon curry powder

Filling

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1/2 cup chopped yellow onions

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 hot green chile peppers, minced

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 large baking potato (about ¾ pound), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice, and boiled until just tender

1/2 cup par-cooked and drained green peas

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Prepare the dough: Place the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt in the container of a food processor. Pulse for a couple seconds to blend.

Cut half the butter into bits, add it to the flour and turn on the machine. Let it run until the butter and flour are the consistency of cornmeal. Add the yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk and pulse a few times. Then with the machine running, add ice water through the feed tube 1 tablespoon at a time. The instant the dough forms a ball, stop adding water. Knead dough for one minute by hand, then cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Prepare the lentils: Boil lentils in water or vegetable stock with salt and curry powder partially covered for 30 minutes, until soft and beginning to turn to mush. Add additional liquid if necessary. The mixture should be moist but not soupy.

Make the filling: In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the remaining ½ stick of butter (or 4 tablespoons ghee) over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onions and ginger, and cook, stirring, until starting to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chile peppers, salt, coriander, turmeric and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 45 seconds.

Add the potatoes and cook, stirring until the potatoes start to color and become dry, about 3 minutes. Add the peas and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in cooked lentils. Remove from the heat and add cilantro and lemon juice. Stir to combine, then adjust seasoning to taste. Let sit until cool enough to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 1 minute. Break off pieces, about 1½ ounces each. Place each ball on the floured surface and roll into a thin circle, about 6-inches in diameter. Cut each circle in half (2 semi-circles).

Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each semi-circle. Brush the edges with water and fold the dough over the filling. Press the edges together to seal. Place on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining ingredients.

To deep fry: Preheat the oil in a large pot to 350 degrees. Add the samosas in batches and cook, turning, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

To bake: Bake on a lightly oiled baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned.

Spinach and Ricotta Agnolotti with Butter-Sage Sauce

Agnolotti i i

Agnolotti Deb Perelman hide caption

itoggle caption Deb Perelman
Agnolotti

Agnolotti

Deb Perelman

Agnolotti, meaning "priest hats" in Italian, are small ravioli made by folding pasta dough over a filling, typically with meat or vegetables inside. They are associated with the Piedmont region. They're usually served simply, either in a butter sauce or fried in a pan and garnished. This pasta dough from The French Laundry Cookbook, by Thomas Keller (Artisan 1999). The filling is from a recipe in Italian Cooking & Living Magazine.

Makes 8 first-course servings or 4 main-course servings

Dough

1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour

6 large egg yolks

1 large egg

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

1 tablespoon milk

Filling

1 cup cooked fresh spinach

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

Nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup ricotta

Egg Wash

1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Sauce

1 bunch fresh sage, washed, leaves only

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into cubes

Make dough: Mound flour on a board or other surface and create a well in the center, pushing the flour to all sides to make a ring with sides about 1-inch wide. Make sure that the well is wide enough to hold all the eggs without spilling.

Pour the egg yolks, egg, oil and milk into the well. Use your fingers to break the eggs up. Still using your fingers, begin turning the eggs in a circular motion, keeping them within the well and not allowing them to spill over the sides. This circular motion allows the eggs to gradually pull in flour from the sides of the well; it is important that the flour not be incorporated too rapidly, or dough will be lumpy. Keep moving the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour. Using a pastry scraper, occasionally push the flour toward the eggs; the flour should be moved only enough to maintain the gradual incorporation of the flour, and the eggs should continue to be contained within the well. The mixture will thicken and eventually get too tight to keep turning with your fingers.

When the dough begins thickening and starts lifting itself from the board, begin incorporating the remaining flour with the pastry scraper by lifting the flour up and over the dough that's beginning to form and cutting it into the dough. When the remaining flour from the sides of the well has been cut into the dough, the dough will still look shaggy. Bring the dough together with the palms of your hands and form it into a ball. It will look flaky but will hold together.

Knead the dough by pressing it, bit by bit, in a forward motion with the heels of your hands rather than folding it over on itself as you would with a bread dough. Re-form the dough into a ball and repeat the process several times. The dough should feel moist but not sticky. Let the dough rest for a few minutes while you clean the work surface.

Dust the clean work surface with a little flour. Knead the dough by pushing against it in a forward motion with the heels of your hands. Form the dough into a ball again and knead it again. Keep kneading in this forward motion until the dough becomes silky smooth. The dough is ready when you can pull your finger through it and the dough wants to snap back into place. The kneading process can take from 10 to 15 minutes.

Even if you think you are finished kneading, knead it for an extra 10 minutes; you cannot overknead this dough. It is important to work the dough long enough to pass the pull test; otherwise, when it rests, it will collapse.

Double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to ensure that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before rolling it through a pasta machine. The dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before proceeding.

To form sheets for agnolotti: Use 1/2 recipe pasta dough, divided into two or three pieces. Run the dough through a pasta machine as for ravioli, but make the sheets wider. The size will vary according to the pasta machine used, but the sheets should be at least 5 inches wide. It is important that your pasta sheet be thin enough so that you can see your fingers through it, but not so thin that it's translucent. Keep the pasta sheets covered, as they dry out quickly, and proceed with filling the agnolotti.

Make filling: Drain cooked fresh spinach and squeeze to remove any excess water. Heat oul in a large sauté pan. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant but not burned. Add the spinach, season with grated nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté about 5 minutes. Remove into a bowl and let cool. Combine with the ricotta and mix until incorporated. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Form agnolotti: With a pastry bag or teaspoon, mound little heaps of filling about 1 inch apart in 2 rows. Brush around mounds with egg wash. Cut the pasta sheet in half between the rows, lengthwise. Fold the dough over filling and squeeze dough together between mounds. With a serrated pasta cutter, cut agnolotti. Cut away excess dough lengthwise; there should be no more than ¼ inch around the edges. Cut individual agnolotti and pinch to seal.

Cook agnolotti: Depending on the thickness of your pasta, it should be boiled for between 5 and 10 minutes. Test at regular intervals, by sampling a dumpling.

Make the sage-butter sauce: Roll sage leaves and cut into chiffonade. Cube the butter and set aside. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the cubed butter and let cook until the butter begins to foam, being careful not to burn. Add the sage and lightly sauté and continue to cook until the butter turns a light brown. Spoon over the cooked ravioli and serve hot.

Beef-Tofu Mandu

Mandu i i

Mandu Deb Perelman hide caption

itoggle caption Deb Perelman
Mandu

Mandu

Deb Perelman

Mandu are the dumplings in Korean cuisine, either boiled in water and served in soups (this variety often has their dough corners pulled together) or fried on one side like potstickers and then dipped in sauce. If you wish to omit the beef, it can be replaced with an equivalent amount of tofu, ground pork or other ground meat. Though the dough is made simply—flour and water kneaded together—this recipe allows a wonton skin shortcut. I promise not to tell anyone.

Makes 24 mandu, or 6 to 12 servings

Filling

¼ pound ground beef

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ medium onion, minced

½ cup shredded cabbage or prepared kimchi

¼ cup roughly chopped bean sprouts

1 green onion, finely chopped

4 ounces firm tofu, mashed to a fine consistency

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1½ teaspoons salt

Dash pepper

Wrappers

24 wonton skins

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon oil

Dipping sauce

8 tablespoons soy sauce

6 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons green onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

Heat wok over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons oil and cook meat until brown, mashing with a fork to break into small pieces. Drain off fat and set meat aside. Rinse and dry pan.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat for one minute, then add the onions and sauté them for 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft.

Add cabbage or kimchi and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 to 3 minutes or until cabbage is crisp-tender. Add bean sprouts, green onion and tofu, mix well and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.

Remove pan from heat and pour cooked mixture into a colander to drain excess liquid.

In a large bowl, combine meat, vegetables, hoisin, salt and pepper and mix well.

Place 1 wonton skin on a flat surface. Cover remaining skins with a slightly damp kitchen towel (not terry cloth) so they won't dry out. Brush the edges of skin with beaten egg. Place about 1 teaspoon of filling mixture just above the center of skin. Fold skin in half over filling to form a triangle and press edges together to seal. Repeat with remaining skins.

Heat a skillet with just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom surface. Feel free to use two skillets to speed up the cooking process. When the oil is very hot, gently place a layer of mandu in the skillet, being careful not to overlap them. Once they are browned on the bottom, flip them over, and quickly add 2 tablespoons water to the pan, cover it and steam the mandu until they are cooked through. This should take about 2 minutes.

Once they are ready, mandu may be arranged in a serving dish or kept warm in a low oven while the remainder are cooked.

Prepare dipping sauce by combining all ingredients in a bowl. Stir to dissolve sugar.

Serve the mandu with dipping sauce.

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