Some of my favorite family memories revolve around food, especially the late afternoons on Chinese New Year when my whole family would come together to make plates on plates of noodles, wontons, and dumplings. In quarantine, while Iâ€™ve been away from my family, Iâ€™ve loved making dumplings from scratch and listening to audiobooks as I prepare the dumpling filling, mix it all up, and wrap it into potstickers. The hum of the narratorâ€™s voice perfectly complements the rhythm of chopping up green onions and shitake mushrooms, and I let myself drift into the world of the audiobook as I methodically scoop filling into each dumpling wrapper. Hearing the cadence of voices in my ears reminds me of the bustling commotion of my familyâ€™s kitchen, of the ambient noises of communal cooking that have been so rare to come by in the pandemic.
Though my family has no official dumpling recipe (they are firm adherents to the mix-it-all-up-with-no-measurements-and-somehow-it-turns-out-delicious-every-time methodology), here are a few of my grandmotherâ€™s tips when making dumplings from scratch:
1. To make sure your dumpling filling fits your tastes, microwave or pan-fry a dollop of it and then taste it. That way, you wonâ€™t eat raw meat and youâ€™ll get to adjust the filling seasoning and ingredients as you like.
2. Have a small bowl of water at the table. When you wrap the dumplings, dip the tip of your finger into the water and smudge it along the edge of the wrapper before sealing the dumpling. With that touch of water, youâ€™ll be able to wrap the dumpling securely without letting it get soggy.
3. When you dice up the ingredients, especially the ones that require fine chopping (like green onions or chives), push the knuckles of your non-dominant hand out as you hold down the item to be chopped. That way, no matter how you use your knife, its blade will only brush across your knuckle bones–youâ€™ll never accidentally slice your fingers.
4. Make sure you donâ€™t include too many vegetables that release water, like bok choy or cabbage, or your dumplings will lose their shape. My familyâ€™s dumpling fillings usually include pork, chives, scallions, and shitake mushrooms, combined with one egg and a mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic.
And finally, the most important lesson Iâ€™ve learned from my familyâ€™s unconventional but decidedly unique way of preparing dumplings: the preparation process matters just as much as the final moment of lifting the potstickers out of the pan. Everything is important, from the mincing of the meat filling, to the folding and cooking of the dumplings, to the placement of the food on everyoneâ€™s plates. As my family always says, you canâ€™t truly enjoy the food if you only look at one part of the process.
So, to enhance your food preparation experience, I recommend listening to an audiobook on your journey to making those perfectly-crispy, golden-brown dumplings. Some food-related audiobooks Iâ€™ve loved are Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, a heartfelt memoir that explores the intertwining of family, food, and culture, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, an Alice in Wonderland retelling involving lots of baking, and Hunger by Roxane Gay, a bracingly candid exploration of the tension between food, desire, and the body.
Looking for more kitchen inspiration? Check out our Listen and Cook series.