Kitchen Wit and Wisdom: Celebrate the Year of the Monkey

Chinese New Year is Feb. 6 and the day wouldn't be complete without some delicious dumplings, that are surprisingly easy to make

Chinese New Year in 2016 is the Year of the Monkey and will be celebrated from Feb. 8 to 13. It is known as Spring Festival in China and is the most important traditional festival for families.

You simply cannot celebrate Chinese New Year without eating Chinese dumplings, also known as jiaozi. You can steam them, shallow-fry them or boil them, depending on your taste. Fillings include meat such as pork, chicken, shrimp and of course, vegetables.

I’ve chosen two good dumpling recipes for the new year. The first uses chicken and the second a more traditional pork and shrimp variety. Happy Year of the Monkey to all my Chinese friends out there.

Chinese Dumplings with Chicken

250g minced chicken (use a food processor to get minced chicken)

2 cm piece of ginger, grated

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. light soy sauce

1/4 tbsp. dark soy sauce

1 tbsp. sesame oil

2 tbsp. green onions, chopped

1 medium carrot, grated

1/2 medium cabbage, thinly cut

1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

20-25 round dumpling wrappers

Put a muslin cloth on a bowl. Place the grated carrot, cabbage and 1 tsp. of salt onto the cloth. Mix and leave for 10 mins. Take the cloth and close it, squeezing the maximum amount of water out of the vegetables into the bowl. Keep the water as vegetable stock for soups.

Put minced chicken, vegetables and all other ingredients into a bowl. Mix well.

Place a teaspoon of filling in centre of one dumpling wrapper. Using your finger, moisten the edges with a little water.  Fold wrapper and press in the middle. Pleat on both sides and press. Place on a tray or dish. If you want to freeze and keep to eat later: after you finish doing all the wrappers, place the tray in the freezer until they harden. Then, place in airtight plastic bags and keep in the freezer, until later use.

Boil water in steamer. Oil steamer tray with some sesame oil or non-stick spray so the jiaozi don’t stick. Place the dumplings on steamer tray. When water starts to boil, place the steamer over water and cover. Steam about 10-15 minutes.

Serve with any dipping sauce you like. You can also use a rice cooker for steaming, if your rice cooker has the steamer tray. I used the rice cooker.

Pork and Shrimp Dumplings (Jiaozi)

2 cups finely chopped napa cabbage

Kosher salt

12 oz. ground pork

8 oz. peeled, deveined shrimp, coarsely chopped

3 medium scallions, thinly sliced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine) or dry sherry

1-1/2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 tsp. toasted Asian sesame oil

1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

20-25 round dumpling wrappers

Vegetable oil, as needed (for pan-fried dumplings)

Kosher salt, as needed (for boiled dumplings)

Ginger vinegar or scallion-soy dipping sauce

In medium bowl, toss cabbage with 2 tsp. salt and set aside in colander for 30 minutes to shed moisture. Wring out in clean kitchen towel to extract as much liquid as possible.

In a large bowl, combine cabbage with the pork, shrimp, scallions, garlic, Shaoxing, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Stir until well-mixed. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

Spoon 1 to 2 tsp. of the filling into the centre of a wrapper. Fold to centre, and if you’re going to boil the dumplings, seal by pinching along curved edge. If you’re planning to pan-fry the dumplings for pot stickers, make your first pinch at the centre and then pleat toward centre on both sides to create a rounded belly. This wider shape allows the dumplings to sit upright in the pan and form a flat surface for browning. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

As you work, arrange filled dumplings in a single layer without touching on large plates, so they don’t stick together.  To boil the dumplings: bring a large (7- to 8-quart) pot of salted water to a boil. Working in 2 or 3 batches to avoid overcrowding, quickly add the dumplings one at a time, making sure they don’t stick to each other. Lower heat to medium and continue to boil, gently stirring occasionally, until dumplings float and are cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and serve immediately with your choice of dipping sauce.

To pan-fry the dumplings, heat 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a heavy-duty 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working quickly and in batches if necessary (adding more oil for second batch if needed), arrange dumplings belly-side down in concentric circles starting from outer edge. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in about 1/2 cup water or enough to come about a third of the way up the sides of the dumplings; bring to a boil, cover, and cook until all the water has been absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove lid, reduce heat to medium, and continue cooking just until dumplings are dry and crisp on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Loosen dumplings from the pan with a spatula. Invert pan over a plate to flip the dumplings, browned side up, onto plate (or transfer with spatula).

Serve immediately with your choice of dipping sauce.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.