I sadly flaked out on the first round of Cook the Books (hosted by Grow and Resist and Oh, Briggsy...). I was mired in a January funk that I couldn't find my way out of. I did make a few things from the excellent Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan, but nothing felt triumphant (and I'm sure that's nothing to do with the book--I take full responsibility). I did feel triumphant, however, with this month's book, Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. I just got the book out from the library on Thursday, so I had to get cooking to post this weekend. Having a cold didn't stop me from making two different recipes--that's how approachable this stuff is.
Andrea Nuguyen is a stellar teacher; it shows through the pages. Every step is fully detailed. Her thoroughness is thoughtful and never pushy. I first took on the pan-fried pork and scallion buns because I had everything in house. Sort of. For the filling I fudged a little and used chicken thigh meat, leeks, and salt pork. Really, aren't the idea of dumplings to use up what you have? The dough recipe was exquisite: soft and squishy, not too sweet, and because of working it in the food processor, very accessible.
I already see that these dumplings will now be a part of my routine meal cooking. They are called baozi (mini bao) but I think mine were probably regular sized. I will absolutely have to buy this book. When you live in the sticks like me, you don't have access to a few squishy bao or a good bowl of dumplings or, at least without a long drive, or some cash. They are neither cheap nor plentiful. Now I have it covered.
Now I must admit: I've made a ton of filled pastas in my life. It was a household task growing up to make ravioli, tortelli or cappilletti, so my fingers are still nimble and know the language of dough folding. I felt like quite a natural at the beginning. I always thought that the exquisite soup dumplings I got were such things of beauty, twirled up so neatly. How did they do it?? I wondered. Well, it's really nothing at all I realized, especially when you make enough of them. Another thing I loved learning was the technique for pan frying these mini-bao: to first fry, then pour water into the hot oily pan to steam. So simple!
My second triumph was the pork and napa cabbage water dumplings. I was intrigued by the technique of using just boiled water to form the simple dumpling dough, whose only other ingredient was flour. I did go out and buy cabbage and scallions this time, but I used (mostly fat) pork belly instead of the fatty pork asked for, so my fat-to-meat ratio was skewed to the fat side. They were very rich, but not overly so. My one mistake was to not really squeeze the water thoroughly from the cabbage. You must do it otherwise your dumplings will be a little wet. But in the end it was just fine. Every single one was eaten!