New Year Dumplings
Chinese New Year this year fell on Thursday the 19th of February. It’s a period where my friends and families back in Singapore would’ve been having steamboat reunion dinners on the eve and doing the customary round of visitations on the 1st day itself… with the concomitant sumptuous surfeit of food and beautiful snacks such pineapple tarts, bak kwa, kueh bangkit, century eggs and love letters.
By contrast, things are a lot quieter for those of us who are living overseas… but here’s what I got up to on the first day of CNY. Fatbee and I basically celebrated it by experiencing my friend’s (Castletime) way of celebrating the Lunar New Year in Northern China – by making dumplings!
Castletime’s pork and coriander dumpling filling (he also made pork and Chinese cabbage filling)
During the lead up to this gathering, Castletime asked if we’d like to make dumplings because he really missed how his family would make them together back in his wintry home in Harbin. I was very excited about the whole thing because I’d only made dumplings twice before and remembered how fun and social it tends to be. We agreed to each pick a filling and then get together on the day itself to make the dumplings together.
Roast duck, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, coriander
For my filling, I eventually decided on using duck and mushrooms (such a Melbournian combo!). After a quick Google Search, I took inspiration from this recipe and this recipe… then decided to just fudge my way into making my own version of the fillings. And that’s the beauty of Asian cooking, it’s instinctual… for me at least!
It wasn’t really hard at all, and the longest step involved chopping the ingredients into little pieces. In terms of proportions, I used:
200g of chopped roast duck (make sure you include the yummy skin!)
65g of chopped shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 beaten egg
A dash of dark soya sauce
A few shakes of white pepper
Salt to taste (I didn’t use any)
It turned out to be a somewhat small amount of filling and ended up making 20-25 dumplings at most. So if you’d like to make more dumplings, double or triple the recipe!
The festivities were held in Castletime and Beanstalk’s cosy Art Deco apartment… complete with their precocious and very photogenic Abyssinian cat. To help boost our CNY dumpling-making spirit, we started off by snacking on a couple of doughnuts from Short Stop.
Castletime was in charge with the preparation of the dumpling dough. He used plain flour, water, salt and an egg. On this front, I can’t give a recipe for the homemade dough because his family basically told him to make it by ‘feel’ as opposed to using exact quantities of ingredients. But a quick google search will probably lead to many recipes for dumpling dough.
And that’s how our sweatshop-like operation began. After an initial skills assessment, we each fell into the roles most suited to us. Beanstalk cut the dough into even pieces, Fatbee flatened the dough into neatish circles, Castletime rolled the dough flat and I pleated the dumplings.
I was pretty surprised I remembered how to pleat the dumplings after so many years… all I needed was a brief review of the steps and variations involved with the help of this YouTube video. Because there was quite a bit of flour lining the skins, we dabbed a bit of water on the edge of the skins (using our fingertips) to help the edges stick together.
We were very happy with the result of our efforts and made quick work out of the whole thing, spending less than two hours making a hundred or so dumplings. Back home in Harbin, Castletime’s family would normally keep the folded dumplings on their balcony where (in the winter cold) they’d chill nicely before cooking them later in the day. Of course in Melbourne’s Summer heat, we stored our dumplings by putting them in the freezer instead.
Cooking the dumplings was very easy. Just boil them for 10 minutes or so till cooked, stirring constantly to make sure they don’t stick to each other or against the pot. Castletime tells me that you can also pan fry them (frozen) over medium heat with a little bit of oil, shaking the pan to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom. There’s even variations of pan-frying where you add water and cover, allowing the steam to cook the dumplings.
And here’s our intimate Chinese New Year meal for four… in the style of Castletime’s family tradition. Homemade dumplings with a couple of simple-but-delicious side dishes and homemade chilli oil. For our dipping sauce, we used either soya sauce or Chinese black vinegar with a dash of sesame oil.
This was a marvellous meal. The only thing that wasn’t as good was the thickness of the skins… because as amateurs, we were afraid that rolling the skins too thin would make them burst during cooking. All that said, I was very happy with the idea of eating the results of our earnest efforts.
Taste-wise the filling within our freshly made dumplings definitely tasted better than what you can get in the frozen section at the Asian grocers, it also trumps what you can get at many of the dumpling places in Melbourne. All that said, we noted that the fillings, while fresh and tasty, could be a little bit juicier… so next time, we’ll try to moisten the filling a bit more by adding a bit of water or stock.
Palm sugar, coconut, white chocolate, mandarin orange, firecracker chocolate bits, chocolate tart
Cookie, more hot chocolate, strawberry, banana, white chocolate milkshake mousse, caramel, chocolate tart
For sweets, we veered away from the traditional Chinese goodies and shared a couple of tarts from T by Luxbite. It was a very good end to our meal.
I’d like to thank Castletime for inviting me to this wonderful dumpling-making adventure. The communal aspects of making dumplings together really captured my heart and I can see why it is such a treasured ritual within his home in Harbin.
For the first twenty years of my life, I only had one concept of how Chinese New Year is celebrated – quasi Peranakan-style with my half-Nyonya half-Hokkien extended family back in Singapore. It is only when I’m living overseas that I get to see and experience how families from other parts of the world celebrate the same much-cherished festival. And for that I’m very very thankful.