Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year! (新年快乐!)

Chinese New Year is full of symbolism and superstition; it is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year’s will set the tone for the rest of the year.  People do not sweep or dust their homes in fear they will sweep away good fortune.  Red clothing is worn to bring the wearer a bright future and children receive “hong bao” which are red envelopes with crisp, new dollar bills inside for good luck.  Certain foods are also eaten because their Chinese names are homophones for words like wealth or luck.  For example, the word for tangerines sounds like the word for “luck” in Chinese, so friends and families give them as gifts.  Also, nian gao (which means sticky rice cake), is eaten on New Year’s because it sounds like the phrase “year growing taller” supposedly giving the eater a better year than the last.  Many families realize these superstitions are merely that, but they continue to practice the traditions to so they can pass down Chinese heritage to their children.

One treasured tradition is dumpling making which is also a very symbolic food.  Dumplings are called “jiao zi” which was the old term for ancient Chinese money because the gold and silver pieces had a dumpling-like shape.  Essentially dumplings are symbolic for eating money and it is believed the person will have prosperity, luck, wealth (and hopefully a full stomach too).

To me, one of the most important aspects of Chinese New Year is the food.  Where there is food and families, bonds are strengthened and memories are created.  Many Chinese families treasure dumpling making on New Year’s because of these statures.  Usually one family member will roll the dough, and the rest will fill and pleat the dumplings; they will all talk and enjoy valuable family togetherness.  I find particularly special that each person has a certain dumpling “thumbprint”; in other words, at the dinner table one can usually tell who has made which dumpling as they are eating.

Chances are you may not celebrate Chinese New Year, but I encourage you to make these dumplings with your family or even try making nian gao (the recipe can be found on my blog  Until then, I wish you all the happiest New Year, one with much luck, fortune, good health, and prosperity…may this year be brighter than your last.  新年快乐!(Happy New Year!)

Pork and Chive Dumplings (makes about 12)


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and boiling water.  Using a wooden spoon, mix until dough forms a rough ball, then transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and shiny (about 8 minutes).  Wrap lightly in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.

1/2 1b. ground pork
1/2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine*
1/4 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce (Lee Kum Kee)*
2 teaspoons finely minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar*
2 teaspoons soy sauce*
pinch of white pepper powder*
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
*See bottom of post for a picture of these ingredients.

1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until just combined.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Roll out wrappers:

1. Divide dough into two pieces.  On a lightly floured surface roll each piece of dough into a 1-inch diameter log.  Cut each log into 1-inch long sections.

2. Pinch a dough section into a circle, then roll out on floured surface using a floured rolling pin into 4-inch diameter round circles.  Set rounds aside.

Fill and pleat dumplings:

1. Lightly flour a baking sheet.  Hold one wrapper in the palm of your hand.  Place one heaping tablespoon filling in center of wrapper, then fold wrapper in half without sealing the edges, open side up.  Between your thumb and forefinger, gently push down fillings with other hand to keep edge of wrapper free.

2.  Using thumb and forefinger of left hand, begin pinching edges of wrapper together while pushing one edge into tiny pleats with thumb of right hand.  Continue pleating and pinching across entire semicircle until wrapper is sealed (the other unpleated side will naturally curve).  Set dumpling on floured baking sheet and repeat.

Pan-fry dumplings:

1. In a large lidded non-stick saute pan over moderately high heat, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil until hot.  Add dumplings, pleated sides up (don't let them touch).  Then immediately pour cold water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the dumplings.  Cover and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the bottoms of the dumplings are brown and crispy.  Transfer dumplings to a plate, browned sides up.

Lucky Dumpling Sauce (serves 4)

4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon Shaoxing wine (optional)

1. Mix all ingredients together and serve with dumplings.


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