I love foods that come in pockets: ravioli, tortellini, empanadas, and dumplings. There is something so warm and inviting about the vessel for the filing, and there is such a variety of what you may find inside.
For my dumplings, I decided to go with what I had in my refrigerator; these could be renamed “Everything but the Kitchen Sink Dumplings.” My cooking philosophy is solidly based in improvisation and working with what I’ve got, so I encourage you to adapt this recipe to your taste preferences and the ingredients in your fridge.
Two key tools in this recipe are a cheese grater and dumpling wrappers; these items both add great ease in completing this recipe in a reasonable amount of time with minimal effort. The grater will allow for small, somewhat uniform shredded vegetables that will mix well and cook quickly and evenly. Buying premade wrappers eliminates needing to make dough from scratch, which can be laborsome and time consuming, if you are not up for the challenge. Maybe next time I will try making them myself, but I believe that the premade wrappers taste just as good as anything I would have made myself. You can easily find them at most grocery stores.
I will say that making dumplings is a bit of a project, not something you would want to start when you are hungry after a long, hard day at work. It is a perfect weekend activity or if you need, you can break the process into two parts, making the filling first and let it sit overnight, and then stuff or wrap the dumplings at a later date. The benefit of letting the filling sit overnight is that it allows the flavors to marinate, enhancing the taste of the tofu in particular, which soaks in all of the excess liquid from the other vegetables and marinades.
1 package of dumpling wrappers (includes ~48 wrappers)
½ package of firm tofu
1 celery stalk
1 carrot (3-4 baby carrots)
3 icicle radishes (can substitute regular radishes)
3-4 tbsp of chopped scallions
5-6 basil leaves
2-3 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tbsp lime juice
Spices (optional but recommended)
Two baking sheets
Bowl of water
The first step of this dish is to press the tofu. Slice the block of tofu into even, flat rectangles and arrange them side by side on a paper towel or clean dish towel. Use another layer of towel on top of the tofu to separate it from a large heavy pan. I usually use a cast iron pan and then weight that with a bag of sugar or cans.
While the tofu is being pressed, start grating your celery, cucumber, radishes, onion, and mushrooms into a large bowl. The grating process can be a bit tedious, and make sure to be careful with your fingers. I would recommend saving the mushroom for last – it will feel extraordinarily easy after the rest. Next chop your scallions and basil and add that to the bowl.
After about 20-30 minutes has passed, you can remove your pressed tofu and slice it into small cubes. Add those to your mixture and gently combine. When thoroughly mixed, drizzle the soy sauce and lime juice. Lastly, crack an egg over the top and mix again. This is your filling. Either set in the fridge for later, or set aside while you set up your dumpling filling station.
Get out two baking sheets (if you only have one that is also okay) and line them with parchment paper. Set them somewhere within reach – you will be putting your filled dumplings here. Have some dampened paper towels near the baking sheets to cover the filled dumplings so they do not dry out, crack or otherwise open up before cooking. You will also need a damp paper towel to cover the opened dumpling wrappers while you are working. With your bowl of filling on one side, a clean surface (I used a cutting board), small bowl of water and dumpling wrappers in front of you and the baking sheets on the other, you have your dumpling station.
Start with placing a modest tablespoon of filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper. I used a melon baller for scooping the filing, but anything will do. It may take a few tries to find out what is a manageable amount to stuff in the dumplings. Next, wet your fingers in the water bowl and dampen the edges of the wrapper. I would recommend a liberal application of water- this step makes the dough malleable and sticky, necessary to create a well sealed edge. It does not matter exactly how you fold the two edges together – feel free to experiment with different styles. For my first try, I stayed simple and folded one side of the dough over the other, creating a half circle. I started in the center, pressing down and outwards until completely sealed. If you do not moisten the wrapper enough, the dumpling will crack during this pressing process. To mend a crack, use a little water and press the edges of the crack together. When your dumpling is complete, place it on the baking sheet and cover with a paper towel. It’s important to remember that your hands will probably come in contact with the filling, which has raw egg in it, during this process, so carefully wash your hands and the surface and tools you use.
The amount of filling should be more than enough for the package of dumpling wrappers, depending on how much you use in each one. When you finish filling all of the wrappers (my package had approximately 48 and I used all of them), I picked out the number that I wanted to eat and put the rest, laid out on the cookie trays, into the fridge to freeze for later. Be absolutely sure to remove the damp paper towels before.
I did not do this and spent a hair amount of time blowdrying the frozen paper off of my dumplings. Not fun. When the dumplings are frozen (you can leave them in overnight) remove the dumplings from the parchment paper carefully and store in a ziplock bag in the freezer for later use!
To prepare the dumplings, heat a pan with coconut oil (or oil of your choice). When the oil is hot, sear the dumplings for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until a crispy golden brown. When both sides are seared, add a few tablespoons of water and cover to steam. This will take a few minutes, and then they are ready to eat! Like I said, the process is a bit laborsome, but the pay off is great: you have dumplings for days!
Madeline Zappala is a photographer living and working in Boston. She is currently working towards her Masters of Fine Arts at the School at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She works in an intimate, personal documentary style of photography, exploring interpersonal relationships and what it means to be transitioning into adulthood in this contemporary cultural climate. See more of her work at zappalaphoto.tumblr.com.