DUMPLINGS: A RECIPe
Dumplings and I have a long history together. We go way back – to the day I was born.
I was born on an exhaustingly hot morning in July of 1985 at Beth Israel Hospital on Manhattan's east side. It was the sort of sweltering, humid day in the city you’re imagining. I’m hardly the first person in my family to be born a New Yorker. My Grandma was born and raised in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. My mom and her siblings grew up in Queens. We have a lot of family in this city, so whenever a new baby arrived everyone would gather around.
On the way to Beth Israel to meet her new niece, my aunt Jenny made a pit stop in Chinatown. This wasn’t an odd move for her. She was a chef and was always sharing exotic and interesting foods with us – imported French Brie, spicy Hummus from Sahadi’s, escargot, chanterelle mushrooms: things that were delicious and hard to come by. Purely coincidentally, she bumped into my mom's closest childhood friend amid in the chaos of Canal Street. This moment – bumping into your nearest and dearest on such an important day in this huge city among millions of people – was New York magic, if you ask me. Just like that, like you're home in some small town.
"She had the baby! A beautiful little girl! We have to go see her! We have to get food!"
Sesame lo mein noodles, shiny and slick with oil. Clean and fragrant won-ton soup with beads of fat floating on the surface. Steaming boxes of fluffy white rice. Garlicky Chinatown greens, scallion pancakes and pillowy steamed dumplings… salty, savory, greasy, and full of MSG. It was umami before we knew what the word meant. It hit the spot and satisfied every craving.
Loaded with take-out, grease slowly seeping through the bags, these two women stopped in an overflowing shop, Kam-Man on Canal Street, that carried a random array of knick-knacks and home goods. They picked up blue and white China bowls for a dollar each so they could serve this hospital room banquet. My mom's friend bought eight small soup bowls that day that are still in use at my parents apartment in Manhattan, where they’re filled with yogurt and granola on a lazy Sunday or the take-out of the moment on a busy week night when coming home late from work.
At the hospital, my family feasted and welcomed me into the world. My mom shared a hospital room in the maternity ward with a Chinese woman whose family spoke almost no English. As the food emerged from brown paper bags, steaming in white cardboard take-out containers, familiar aromas wafted through the sterile hospital air. The other family smiled and gave nods of approval and congratulations. Packets of soy and duck sauce, crispy wontons and hot mustard were piled on the side table as everyone helped themselves.
This must have started something for me. Maybe I remember the aromas from that day. Chinatown continued to crop up in my life. I remember my mom taking us to climb the Statue of Liberty in the first grade, and then going for dinner on Mott Street. I had a basket of steamed mushroom dumplings so juicy and earthy I could have eaten two dozen. My brother ordered razor clams and cleaned the plate as the servers looked on with amusement at this little kid, eating something likely so foreign to him and asking if we could order another round.
I remember buying a giant bag of fortune cookies at an all-night bakery when I was ten, only to find the same four fortunes over and over, and feeling heartbroken.
When I started working in kitchens after college, my first job was at the Good Fork in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The dumplings on the menu are the restaurant’s signature dish and chef-owner Sohui Kim has a certain nostalgia for them. As I learned how to make her Korean version, I realized what a comfort they were. There was something so relaxing about folding a batch of dumplings, deftly pinching and pleating for four little folds on each plump pouch. It made me remember my childhood culinary adventures in Chinatown as a kid and how exciting the flavors and dishes were. But it also makes me think of time with my family and the familiar comfort of home.
Today, I live and bake for a living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, my new home. I love to run across the Manhattan Bridge and find myself in Chinatown, where my aunt and my mom’s friend collided 32 years ago on my birthday. I see how it’s changed, but in many ways it remains how I imagine it was back them. I feel like it’s home, too.
When I make dumplings in my little top floor brownstone apartment today, it’s still as relaxing and comforting as when I first learned to make them. I like to have people I love around me. We fold some dumplings. We fry them off pot-sticker style. The kitchen gets too hot and we have to crack a window, even in January, as we catch up on life and eat this perfect comfort food.
- 1 package Twin Marquis Shanghai style dumpling wrappers
- 1 package firm tofu
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 shallot, minced
- ½ pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
- ½ head napa cabbage, shredded
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Canola oil
- Rice wine vinegar
- Kosher salt
- Chili paste
- Drain the tofu and cut into large cubes. Set on paper towels to dry.
- In a large skillet or wok over high heat, heat a tablespoon of canola oil.
- Sautee the garlic, ginger, shallot mushroom and carrots until soft and translucent.
- Season with soy, kosher salt and chili paste to taste.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and fold in the cabbage, scallion and tofu.
- In a food processor, in two batches, pulse the mixture so it’s a finely chopped paste.
- Transfer back to the bowl and season with a little rice wine vinegar and sesame oil, adjusting the soy and chili paste to your taste.
- Chill the mixture.
- Line a sheet tray with a sheet of parchment or wax paper.
- Set up a small bowl with a little cold water. This will be your wash to seal each dumpling.
- Cover the wrappers with a damp cloth as you work so they don’t dry out.
- Holding a wrapper in your palm, fill it with about two teaspoons of filling.
- Hold the wrapper like a taco, and pinch and pleat four times, using your thumb and fore finger of one hand to pinch, and the other hand to fold over. You’ll get the hang of it.
- Once the tray is full, freeze the dumplings four about 30 minutes or longer – they will keep in the freezer like this for several months!
- In a non-stick skillet over high heat, heat a little canola oil and place one dozen frozen dumplings in the pan, with their flattest sides down.
- Once they start to brown on the bottoms, turn down the heat down a little bit and pour in water so the dumplings are half submerged. Cover the pan with a lid.
- In five minutes remove the lid – most of the water should be evaporated. Cook for one more minute or so, until all the water has evaporated and the bottoms are crispy.
- Slid the dumplings out of the pan.
- They’ll be extremely hot, so wait a minute before you bite in.
- Enjoy! My favorite way to eat these is dunked in a little soy sauce with some sesame seeds and rice wine.