When my bestie and I want to get really cute, we call each other dumplings.
Is it an insult to be compared to something soft and squidgy, with delicate pudgy folds of goodness? Not at all. Because we love everything about dumplings, from the humble siu mai to the slightly dangerous xiao long bao (it’s like extreme eating). It’s a sign of our affection for each other.
But sadly, a lot of the commercially-produced dumplings in London are filled to the brim with MSG. I’ve got a real beef (boom tish!) with MSG, mainly because I consider it to be a chemical form of cheating, but also because I get headaches when I eat it. Chinese have almost no tolerance for hippie predilections, so the only alternative is to make my own.
I’d never tried making dumplings before, but it’s actually quite simple to do in a tiny kitchen. You make the filling in one bowl, then you just need a small flat surface to make the dumplings and a plate to hold the finished product. It’s a little time-consuming, but it’s compact and easy enough to do.
Now whenever I make these, I think of my bestie, my little dumpling, half a world away.
500g pork mince (reduced fat if you can get it)
2 cups shredded cabbage (this translates to about 4 full leaves)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese wine, white wine or dry sherry
6 tbsp sesame oil
½ teaspoon white pepper
2cm ginger, grated
1 shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
Whoah, does that look like a scary lot of ingredients? It really isn’t – and it’s really easy to make the mix. Start by taking the shredded cabbage and salting it with 2 tablespoons of salt. Leave it for 5 minutes and you’ll see the leaves have become shiny and wet.
Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, pepper, ginger, shallot and garlic – basically all of the seasonings for the mix.
Take your shredded cabbage and squeeze very hard to get all the moisture out, then place it in a large bowl and shake it to loosen.
Add the mince. At this stage I always find it a bit easier to shake the mince a bit so it’s nice and loose, which helps the seasoning to go in evenly.
Add the seasoning and mix well, trying not to overwork the mix. That bit is done!
To make the dumplings, take a wrapper and lay it flat on a board. They should be lightly floured so they won’t stick. Mix the cornflour with a little water (room temperature) so it forms a white liquid.
Place about a teaspoon of mixture into the centre of the dumpling wrapper. If you can be bothered to get fancy, quenelling helps to form the right shape, but otherwise just lightly roll a little meatball. Dab the cornflour water all around the edges, and fold into a semicircle. Pinch the edges hard. You can leave them like that if you want, but I like to try to make mine stand up, so I crinkle and schmoosh a little so they stand up properly.
To serve: steam for 8 minutes and serve with the classic dumpling sauce (vinegar, soy sauce and chilli).