If there’s an opportunity to make dumplings from scratch, wrappers and everything, it’s Lunar New Year.
Everyday dumplings have a special meaning for the holiday: Eating the hearty folded bags, which symbolize wealth, means happiness for the coming year, and the sipping of dessert dumplings should ensure the unity of the family.
The more immediate reward, however, is the manufacturing process: kneading and rolling the dough, filling and wrapping, pinching and sealing. It’s a kind of therapeutic project that calms down like rowing on a still lake. It does take a little physical effort, but the movements become as relaxing as rocking in a canoe.
This is especially true for the pot sticker packaging, which uses a softer, easy-to-work batter made from hot water. When rolled, it doesn’t spring back like cold water dough for cooked dumplings, which is tougher and more elastic. The use of hot water makes for thin wrappings that are easy to fold, regardless of whether the dough is rolled into individual rounds or into a sheet for cutting out circles. When the pot stickers are fried and steamed at the same time, these wrappers cook with ideal delicacy.
What goes into the batter can vary endlessly, but any combination requires balance. Savory flavors should border on salt as the packaging suppresses the mixture and should tingle but not overwhelm the heat of ginger, pepper, or chilli. As for texture, the mixture should be juicy, but not watery, and stick together without being dense.
This vegetable and tofu filling (which is vegan) meets all the criteria. Aromatic fresh greens are tossed with salt for seasoning and drawing out the water. Liquid is also wrung out of tofu so it can soak up soy sauce and chili peppers and serve as a great flavoring binder for the green and crispy celery pieces.
But for beginners, kids, or anyone else, it can be more fun to start with dessert – tang yuan dumplings in this case.
“Tang” means soup and “yuan” and the translation little describes their comfort and joy. These chewy balls with black sesame filling simmer in sweet ginger soup until they rock and shine like pearls. When you scoop a dumpling with a spoonful of soup and take a bite, your teeth sink through the sticky shell that, like marshmallow, gives way to the toasted, nutty center that’s as soft as nougat. The sharpness of the ginger is softened against the rich filling.
I’ve made Tang Yuan with my daughters since they were toddlers, also because the dumplings are easy and fun to shape. Soft and forgiving, the sticky rice flour dough kneads into a sheet that is so smooth that it feels silky to the touch. A pinched piece can simply be flattened with your fingers – no rolling pin required. When the filled dough is rolled between the palms of the hands, the seams will disappear while the lumpy ball becomes a perfect round.
The spherical shape of Tang Yuan means unity and the candy-like stickiness represents how the family holds together. You can eat Tang Yuan to wish them family closeness in the New Year – and you can roll them up and cook to make sure.
Recipes: Tang Yuan | Homemade dumpling packaging | Chile crispy dumplings