Monday, May 16, 2011

Our First Taiwanese Cooking Adventure!

Posted by Angie at 11:18 AM
This post could also be titled:  Far Too Many Words About Dumplings.  Enjoy!

Ahhh, Taiwan, famous for their delicious dumplings.  Dumplings have been made for centuries throughout Asia.  Countless adoption blogs have raved about the fabulous Din Tai Fung and other similar dumpling houses in Taipei.  We can't wait to try them!  In the meantime, we decided to try our hand at making this fun dish.  Anticipating complications, we decided it would be best for us to become expert dumpling makers that by the time there is toddler pitter-pattering around our kitchen, making them will be practically second nature! 

After searching the internet for about 30 minutes, I chose this recipe for its traditional elements, homemade quality, and (perhaps most importantly) step by step instructions complete with detailed pictures.  We followed the shrimp dumpling recipe pretty closely (I will tell you the few changes I made at the bottom of this post), so refer to it if you feel brave enough to embark on your own Taiwanese Cooking Adventure! 

First, I assembled our ingredients for the evening.

Finding these ingredients at our local grocery store of choice (Kroger, in case you are curious) was relatively easy.  Except for the pesky water chesnuts.  Why were they so hard to find?  Because I had no idea what they looked like!  I thought they were a type of leafy green vegetable.  After searching the produce section in vain for about twenty minutes, I swallowed my pride and asked an employee to identify the little boogers for me.  He led me to the Asian section (who would have thought, ha) of the ethnic foods aisle and pointed out the cans.  Still uncertain as to what exactly they were, I bought 2 cans to make sure we had enough.  We only used one.

With all ingredients located, purchased, and assembled, Dasher (the dog), Haley (the cat on the chair), and I (the one behind the camera) felt impatient.

And so, we decided to get a jump start on the chopping before Future Papa got home from work!  I'm glad we did, because there was A LOT of chopping...

My trusty assistants, (yes, the cat and dog) began to lose interest (although, as you can tell from the previous picture, arguably Haley had little interest to begin with...she was still asleep in the chair).

In about 30 minutes I had a beautiful bowl filled with all our chopped ingredients, which would make up the filling of our shrimp dumplings.

On to the dough!  All you needed was flour and water, so I began mixing and kneading by hand (again, as the recipe described).  Future Papa got home from work when I was right in the middle of it.

Good thing, too, because my assistants had lost all interest by this point.

Future Papa took care of some dishes while the dough set for about 15 minutes.

And then we were off again!  I cut the dough into 4 equal chunks.

Then, I rolled each chunk into a roll (they looked like rolls of slice and bake cookies).  I put the rolls I wasn't working with back into the bowl covered with a wet towel so they would not dry out.  Then, I began cutting little slices, which I rolled into little pancakes.

The rounder I made them, the better, because while I was rolling, Future Papa was stuffing and pinching.

The only complaint that Future Papa had about the recipe was that he felt like the folding instructions were not very clear.  The pleating technique gave him trouble.  I think he did a pretty good job, though!

And soon, we had two plates full of dumplings ready to be cooked.

Ok, so in my research I discovered that dumplings are made when these little bundles are boiled.  Potstickers, on the other hand, are born when the bundles are fried.  We decided to make them both ways to see what we liked better.  Here are some of our little bundles waiting to be fried:

Here they are in action!

The result?  The stuck to the pot all right.  We burned them!!! ACK!!!

We aren't entirely sure how it happened, but we think the scalding began when we added in the water, because before that our potstickers had a nice golden brown color.  We will probably try turning down the temperature of the stove eye before adding the water next time.  Unless there is a potsticker expert out there who knows what we did wrong.  Anyone?

The boiled dumplings turned out fine, though.  You can see them in the bottom right of this picture of our spread.

You also may notice the two sauces in the above picture.  The dark brown one is soy sauce.  The orangish one is a sweet and sour sauce from a jar.  The recipe included instructions for a homemade sauce, but we decided to try that another time.

Our tea choice of the evening? Snapple.  Because we love The Amazing Race!

Note to self: Buy real chopsticks.  Practice eating with them.  I don't want to look ridiculous trying to learn how to use them in Taiwan!

Now, for the news you have all been waiting for:  they tasted delicious!  I preferred the dumpling variety while the hubby liked the potsticker style (charred edges and all). 

We also set aside some uncooked ones to freeze and cook later.

Eager to see how they would be, I pulled a few out Sunday after church and boiled them.  I thought they still tasted pretty good, but the center of a couple of them burst open in the pot.  Whoops!

All in all, the entire process probably took us about 2 hours.  Once the chopping is complete, this is a very kid-friendly cooking experience (the rolling and pinching part), so it would probably be a lot of fun to get them involved!  We plan to make these about once a month, experimenting with a variety of fillings.

I felt very close to my child's birthmother as I made these.  I could just imagine her making these with her mother or grandmother.  I know that we are not going to be able to incorporate all elements of our future child's Taiwanese culture, but we want to include some.  And this is one delicious piece of heritage that I am hoping we can master!

And there you have it! Far too many words about our first Taiwanese Cooking Adventure!  For those of you who may want to try it for yourselves, here are the only changes we made to the recipe:
  • I bought frozen shrimp that were already peeled, tailless, and deveined- a real time-saver.
  • I am a vegetarian (well, technically a pescatarian, I eat seafood), so we did not use actual pork, but a meat substitute.  Next time, I would probably leave out the substitute and just use the shrimp.
  • Sesame oil was VERY expensive at our grocery store, so I used vegetable oil. 
  • We doubled the dough recipe.
  • We made the dough by hand, not in a mixer, simply because we don't have a big enough mixer!
  • The recipe talks a lot about the dumpling skin thickness (thinner on the outside and thicker on the inside).  For this adventure, I focused on making them circular and not on the various thickness directions.  That may be why the frozen ones burst open when I boiled them.
Happy cooking!
Much love,
Future Mama


SassyAgapi on May 16, 2011 at 1:39 PM said...

looks like fun! i'm sure you'll be an amazing Taiwanese cook by the time your little one is home :) 

Laura M said...

Might I suggest reusable chopsticks? A little more eco friendly

Future Mama on May 16, 2011 at 2:57 PM said...

That is a great idea Laura!  Thanks!!  

Future Mama on May 16, 2011 at 2:57 PM said...

Haha, I'll settle for decent ;-)  Thanks girl!

Sarah Habuda said...

Fun! I'm totally going to try these. Thanks for the recipe...and the cute pictures of the process! :)

Oh and I will email you back asap. Things are crazy right now with school ending. Promise!

Sarah H said...

I love potstickers/dumplings! Alton Brown on the Food Network did a whole episode on dumplings and showed how to do the potstickers so they don't actually stick- I bet you could check it out on the website You might also be able to steam them, I know when I buy the frozen ones that is a cooking option. Looks like a great first attempt, you'll be a pro in no time! 

April Neilson Chism on May 21, 2011 at 3:43 PM said...

When I make potstickers, I boil them first and then pan fry them for a few minutes in a small amount of oil.  It gives them a nice crisp on the outside.  If the dough wasn't cooked when you put them in the pan, that could be why they stuck.   And if you can find cheaper sesame oil, it really adds a great flavor to a lot of Asian dishes.  (Store it in the fridge or it can go rancid quickly.)  Great job on your Taiwanese cooking adventure! 

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