February Cook the Books: Asian Dumplings

Once again, I thought it may not happen. I thought I might run out of time to cook from February’s Cook the Books cookbook, Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. Luckily, Flower came to the rescue, took the reigns, offered to host, picked out all the recipes and bought all the ingredients. She’s sweet like that. All I had to do was show up… and bring my camera. Thanks Flower!

The recipes she picked were Fish and Chinese Chive Dumplings (page 37), Pork and Shrimp Pot Stickers (page 41) and Daikon Radish and Smoky Ham Cakes (page 122).

The recipes had been preselected and the ingredients purchased, but that was about as much of plan as we had. I took on making the dough, while Flower assembled the fillings. I used to be a baker and don’t fear the dough, so it seemed like a fair division of labor.

I don’t know about Flower, but personally, I hadn’t pre-read any of the recipes, which is unusual for me. After inviting some neighborhood friends to join us last minute, I stumbled across a segment in the book called “Planning a Dumpling Party” (page 73), that suggests preparing the dough and fillings ahead of time, so that the guests can focus on assembling dumplings. “Whoops”, Flower said.

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Lucky for us, by the time our guests arrived, we were almost done with the dough and the fillings. So for an impromptu dumpling party, it ended up working out perfectly. We’ll talk about our assembly line more later.

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For the purpose of this post, and since Flower and I did different things, we have reviewed everything together. We have organized it by what we made, how we assembled it, how it was cooked and how it turned out and tasted. We’ll start with the dumplings and the pot stickers.

FISH AND CHINESE CHIVE DUMPLINGS (page 37) and PORK AND SHRIMP POT STICKERS (page 41)

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The dough for both of these were the same and we folded them the same way so we are going to review both of these together.

Dough– Basic Dumpling Dough (page 22)

Lilly: Aside from absentmindedly adding wheat flour to the food processor my first go around, this was a very easy dough to make. All it requires is a couple of cups of all purpose flour and some recently boiled water drizzled in. The food processing makes it roll into a ball all on it’s own. After that you just scoop it out, knead it a little bit, put it in a sandwich bag, and label it (if you are making more than one kind of dough). Make sure to squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can before sealing it. Then leave it out on the counter, while you prepare the filling or in my case more dough. Each recipe requires one batch of dough and since we were making two kinds of dumplings, I made two batches of basic dumpling dough.

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Fillings

Flower: I will admit, at first this book totally intimidated me. The recipes look long!! However, upon further inspection, most of the recipes just did not call for many ingredients and the majority of them I had on hand! I am not a recipe follower but I know Lilly is so I tried my hardest to follow the recipes to the t. T is for teaspoon!

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The Fish and Chive recipe was fun because I have never pureed fish and it looked well, um, kinda gross! Once chives and other ingredients were added it started to take on more of an appeal. I will say I thought this filling was a little bland. It needed to get kicked up just a notch. Thank God for delicious dipping sauces!

I chose the Pork and Shrimp Dumpling recipe because the header of the recipe quotes a friend of the author as saying, “If I can’t have sushi, I must have gyoza”. I totally agree!

This recipe again, was fairly simple ingredients and super duper delicious. I had these in Miso soup the next day and they did not disappoint!

How it was assembled/shape it was folded into

Flower: We had many hands in the kitchen that day so we had a little assembly line. One person cut the dough, another formed it into a ball and flattened with a tortilla press, and we had two people filling and folding. We primarily went with the pleated crescent shape, as I felt that was more traditional looking but I also did a few half moons, which were adorable!

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How it was cooked

Flower: We threw the first batch in the bamboo steamer and they stuck so I went kamikaze on it and ended up crispy browning them in a pan with peanut oil and then adding a 1/2 cup of water and steaming them for the last 4-5 minutes. This is my favorite way to eat dumplings, but as I mentioned previously, I did add some to soup the following day and they were wonderful even without the crispy outside!

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How they turned out/tastedLilly: The pork and shrimp pot stickers were the clear winner for me. I figured it was just because I steer towards those flavors more, but maybe Flower was right, maybe the fish filling could have use a little something. Honestly, they were both good though. The fish and chive dumplings had a nice consistency, so how could you go wrong with fried doughy goodness in a little dipping sauce? Which leads me to the sauces…

Sauces we made to go with themLilly: Flower made one sauce and Val the other (Wild and Free represent). We had conquered dumplings, had hungry guests and didn’t really need a cookbook telling us what to do at this point. The book recommends a Tangy Soy Dipping Sauce (page 215) for the Fish and Chinese Chive Dumplings and I think Flower made something very similar. The Pork and Shrimp Pot Stickers recipe recommended chile oil (page 216) and Japanese hot mustard. Val made a second sauce, with fresh orange juice, soy sauce and sesame oil. Like I said, I am usually a recipe follower, but I felt pretty good about these rogue sauces. They were damn good.

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They even got Declan’s seal of approval!

DAIKON RADISH AND SMOKY HAM CAKES (page 122)

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DoughChinese Flaky Pastry (page 120)

Lilly: This dough was for sure trickier than the basic dumpling dough, but like I said, I ain’t afraid of no dough! This dough has an inner and outer dough and while I had never made anything like this before, I think I understand the concept now. I did have to read the instructions closer on this one, but I was determined not to let them scare me. I am totally simplifying here and I encourage anyone attempting this to read the instructions closely as well. It basically goes like this though, the outer dough is mostly flour, and then some sugar, salt, vegetable shortening and water. This provides the flake. The inner dough is mostly shortening and just a little bit of flour. This holds everything together. You make each dough separately, then roll out the outer dough to a rectangle larger than the inner dough. You then fold the outer dough around the inner dough like an envelope to seal in the inner dough.Then you fold that rectangle in thirds (like a letter) to combine the two. I then rolled it out to letter size again and then folded in in thirds, for the second and last time. Now here’s where not pre-reading the directions bit me in the butt. The dough is supposed to sit in the fridge for an hour before using. By that time, all our guests had arrived and were chomping at the bit to get dumpling making. Flower came up with the grand idea to put the dough in the freezer for 10 minutes and that we did! Same difference, right? That’s what I love about Flower, she breaks every rule in the kitchen and somehow it always works out for her, so I trusted her on this one.

Ten minutes later, I took the dough out the freezer and followed the directions for forming pastries for Daikon Radish and Smoky Ham Cakes. The recipe has you flatten out the dough, roll it up into a cylinder and then cut it into 12 even pieces. I then followed the instructions for pastries with a spiral pattern and flattened them out to 1/4 inch thick disks.

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Filling

Flower: Again, simplicity but not at it’s finest. I figured you could not go wrong with Ham and Daikon! If it had been up to me and my mad recipe changing skills I would have added salt first and foremost, in the form of soy or well, salt. These were a little bland. They were a delicious breakfast snack which got me to thinking they would have been so good with a boiled egg in the filling!

How it was assembled/shape it was folded into

Flower: These were so simple to make into little pouches. We cut squares, placed a little filling in the center and squeezed all the sides upwards and twisted.

Lilly: The recipe called for brushing the cakes with egg, but we didn’t have an egg. Matt had just returned from the store, where he was getting some other stuff we were missing. Rather than send him out again for just one egg, I improvised and brushed them with sesame oil and then rolled them in sesame seeds.

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How it was cooked

Lilly: The recipe said you could deep fry or bake these. I bet they would have been amazing deep fried, but for the sake of time, mess factor and lack of stove top space, I opted for baking them.

How they turned out/tasted

Flower: There was some slight tearing of the crust but it all worked out in the end and I thought these were cute to look at. I was wishing we had chinese mustard! OOh, or better yet, brush the inside of the crust with mustard and then add a boiled egg to the filling!

Lilly: Ours definitely did not look like the picture in the book, which showed perfectly flaked spiral pastries (like a croissant), but that didn’t really bother me. They held together in the oven, which was accomplishment enough, considering the shortcuts I took on the the dough. They were flaky when you bit into them, but they were a bit bland. I wonder if brushing them with the egg would have helped the flakiness and the flavor. I thought the dough could have been saltier too, or sweeter with a filling that goes with sweet.

JAPANESE PORK AND RAMEN SOUP- This recipe was not from Asian Dumplings, but from America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook.

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Lilly: Matt’s been on a huge kick with the slow-cooker he bought me for Christmas. I would lament that it’s like when Homer bought Marge the bowling ball, but since it results in him cooking delicious things that I get to eat, I can’t really complain. I had kind of been wondering what to eat with dumplings, to make it seem more like a meal and not just appetizers, so this was the perfect addition. It was nice and salty with delicious Shitake mushrooms and slow cooked shredded pork. Yum.

Final notes

Lilly: I loved this whole experience. I probably never would have even attempted this if it weren’t for Cook the Books. When we had our little assembly line going, it really seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves and I loved that. Especially, since making that many dumplings on my own would have taken forever.

Also, since dumplings freeze well, this has opened up a whole new world of preserving stuff from my garden. Move over Swiss Chard ravioli, it won’t just be you in the freezer this year. If Chuck Woolery were to ask, I will definitely be making dumplings again!

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We win at dumplings!

 

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