Thursday, 16 February 2012

Chinese Jiao Zi - mushroom and tofu dumpling recipe

A long time ago, Confucius asked “is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?”

For me, there are few greater delights. Sharing time, meals and adventures with friends from distant lands is always joyful. The great changes that happen in our respective lives pale in comparison to the things about us that never change. I find comfort in that.  

This is a post about one of my dear friends’ favourite foods, jiao zi (Chinese dumplings). Lao Xia is from China, and I received news recently that he is quite ill, and for the foreseeable future will be undergoing serious medical treatment. The news of his condition shocked me. Just a month before we’d spent time together in Bali, and he was fit and well, with his characteristic joie de vivre. It’s at these times the stark reality of geographical distance between friends hits one like a plank of wood to the back of a head. The news left me sad, stunned and feeling helpless.

After much pondering, I decided perhaps there was something I could do, to let Lao Xia know we are thinking of him, and hoping for his recovery. So I gathered some of his London-based friends and cooked one of his favourite meals, jiao zi. We toasted his good health with Tsing Tao, and sent him the best vibes possible for his impending surgery.

I learned to make these dumplings in 2003, when I was posted to Datong, in western China, on an environmental project. It was an isolating experience. I was one of only two expatriates in the city. My Chinese was rudimentary at best. For the first couple of months, my project was unable to convince the Chinese authorities to rent me an apartment, and as the only available alternative, I was placed with a host family. With little to do on the weekends, I embraced my Chinese family life, which meant making, and eating, jiao zi.         

Jiao zi are folded differently across China. The style I use is Shaanxi style, because that’s where I lived, and the way I was taught. But all provinces and many regions have their own individual folding styles. When I show my folding style to Chinese friends they are quick to remark that I must be from Shaanxi. Families also often have their own favourite fillings, combinations of ground meat and vegetables. The recipe below is vegetarian and is mushroom and tofu based.

Jiao zi are comfort food, peasant food, fast food, and can be eaten as part of breakfast, lunch of dinner. I like to make them a large batch, serve them for dinner, and then freeze the rest in meal sized portions. They do well being pulled from the freezer, and dropped directly into the steamer. Following the steaming you can also pay fry them for a golden, crispy edge.

Some of the ingredients may not be found in your local supermarket. If this is the case, find your closest Chinese supermarket – I have no doubt you’ll find everything you need, and some other things that are completely foreign, but look delicious enough to bring home anyway.

Here’s the recipe (makes 60 dumplings):

60 dumpling wrappers at room temperature (shui jiao pi, ask your Chinese grocer)
For filling
400 grams firm tofu (cut into 0.5cm cubes)
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup dried black fungus
1 cup mung bean sprouts
5 spring onions , chopped finely
2 tea spoons ginger, minced
5 garlic cloves , minced
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
Dash of sesame oil
To serve
Chinese brown vinegar
Chinese chopped chilli and peanuts 

Step One:  In a saucepan of boiling water, revive the mushrooms. With the remaining water, blanch the mung beans.

Step Two: In a large bowl mix all the filling ingredients.  Mix well with a large spoon.

Step Three, the fun bit: Place a small quantity (about a tea spoon) of this mixture in each dumpling wrapper. Pinch the sides together. You will probably find the wrappers quite floury, so a glass of water to dip your fingers in helps, the wrappers stay together. Stack on a plate.

Step Four: Boil a saucepan of water and add dumplings (6 or 7 at a time), into the boiling water. When they float, they are cooked. Scoop out the cooked dumplings and add another batch. You can eat them boiled, or move on to step five below.

Step Five: In a frying pan or wok, heat some sesame oil. Once the oil is hot pan fry the dumplings on each side. When you see them turn a lovely golden brown and this indicates they are ready.

Serve with small bowls of the chilli and vinegar. Enjoy!

All photos of this meal were taken by Asheline Appleton, friend of Lao Xia’s an fabulous photographer. You can see more of her work here.


Anonymous said...

I seen my mate Lor has commented far too. If she gave you
five forks then I do know it is reputable.

My blog post; restaurant dining guide

Anonymous said...

Exceptional things. Children cherished it.
Generated a couple of tweeks as did not have mushrooms and put to use parmesan in
its place. sooooo yummy. Very simple. Cheers for this.

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Anonymous said...

I love eating those slippery little suckers. Usually I have pork mixed in mine though. Deeeelish!

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