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Happy Birthday China Dumplings

Jiao Zi Lined Up 1

Yesterday we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China – the anniversary of the day Communist forces took over, vanquishing the Kuomintang forces that subsequently fled to Taiwan.  Xiamen, being a more laid back and less political city than others, wasn’t TOO crazy, but nevertheless many people were out on the streets, parading Chinese flags (and we eventually joined them).  We were sincerely happy for the Chinese for how far their country has come in the last few years, and grateful too, in a sense, for if the Communists hadn’t won the war, who knows if Chris and I would have come to China at all, and who knows if we would ever have met?  Regardless of our political opinions, we are certainly glad for that.

Jiao Zi

We celebrated with several of our friends by having a potluck National Day dinner to which, in honour of National Day, I brought homemade Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi (though I cheated by using pre-made skins) and mooncakes, anticipating the Mid-Autumn Festival, which will start tomorrow (click to read an article I wrote about the Mid-Autumn Festival.)

Now, mooncakes aren’t necessarily my favorite, though I did grow up with them.  I do like them more than Chris does, but that’s not saying much.  In Hong Kong I’ve had some good ones – modernized ones with a glutinous rice outer shell (like mochi), and fruit flavoured custard fillings.  And the mooncakes I bought last night were filled with a fruit puree, that wasn’t too bad.  They didn’t have salty egg yolks in them though.  And how can you have a mooncake without a salty egg yolk in the middle?  It’s just not moon-like.  It’s like having a galette des rois without a fève in it.

Moon Cake

The traditional mooncakes are made with a cookie-like crust enclosing a filling made with red or green bean paste, or lotus-seed paste, fattened up with lard, and the yolk of a salted preserved egg.  I know, it doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it?  They are heavy and full of cholesterol, which is why you aren’t supposed to eat a whole mooncake by yourself, but cut it into quarters (or sometimes eighths), and share it.  My ideal mooncake wedge has a piece of the salty egg yolk in it, giving relief to the mealy sweet paste that fills the rest of the wedge.  I nibble it slowly over the course of, oh, say, half-an-hour or so.

When I was a kid, my mom would buy paper lanterns and stick birthday candles inside them, us girls would dress up in traditional Chinese costumes, and parade up and down the driveway carrying our lit lanterns.  My mom would buy her favorite brand of mooncake, which was more expensive than all the other brands – almost $30 for 4 mooncakes!  They came in a square tin box decorated with a picture of Chang’e, the lady in the moon.

Anyway, in honour of things Chinese – both National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival, I’ve brought you a basic recipe for Chinese dumplings, also known as jiaozi. Jiaozi are eaten anytime, and not especially for Mid-Autumn festival, but they are quintessentially Chinese, which is why I’m sharing them here.

I didn’t make my own jiaozi skins, but they are easy to make – just flour and water, and a good recipe can be found at Rasa Malaysia.

Jiao Zi in a row

Sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product – I was in a rush to get them to the potluck, and then they were eaten before we got a chance to photograph them.

Chinese Dumplings, or Jiaozi

Chinese leeks have a strong and distinctive taste somewhere between spring onion and grass (they’re better than they sound, really).  They are immensely popular as a filling for dumplings, fried pastries, and all sorts of snacks.  If you can’t find them you can substitute ½ cup of finely chopped Shanghai bok choy or Napa cabbage.

1 pack circular jiaozi skins (makes 24 dumplings)
½ pound ground pork (not too lean)
2 tsp Asian (toasted) sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp finely minced fresh ginger
½ cup Chinese leeks, chopped
salt for seasoning

Mix all the ingredients together (except the skins, of course), and add a small pinch of salt for seasoning.  Allow to marinate together for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

Place a heaping teaspoonful of the meat filling in the center of a jiaozi wrapper.  Dip your finger in a little water and moisten the edges of the wrapper.  Press edges together to seal, forming a semi-circular dumpling.  Place on a lightly floured plate.  Repeat with rest of wrappers.

Heat a pot of water until boiling.  Reduce heat to medium, and then add the dumplings.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the dumplings float to the top of the water.  Drain and serve with seasoned vinegar sauce.

Seasoned Vinegar Dipping Sauce

In a small bowl combine 4 tablespoons of Asian black vinegar with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.  Add one fresh red chili pepper, finely chopped.  Let the chili pepper marinate in the sauce for 5 minutes, then serve as a dipping sauce for the Chinese dumplings.

8 comments to Happy Birthday China Dumplings

  • Mathew

    Hi Camilla, the jiaozi have a real clean flavor that is so hard to find in restuarants in China. Your pork jiaozi actually have pork in it! I think this points out one of the biggest reasons why it’s great to cook at home when you live in China. You can control the quality of the ingredients you use. Perhaps you even get a more authentic dining experience by taking a Chinese recipe, preparing it yourself, and not take the shortcuts that restaurants take to save money. This is also probably why I hardly ever pass up an invitation to eat at a Chinese friend’s house.

  • Camilla

    Thanks Mat. It’s funny but true that you can get a more authentic recipe if you cook it yourself – though perhaps the MSG laced kind IS the authentic kind?

  • Karola

    The Jiaozi look great. I wish I could have shared them with you.

  • Camilla

    Let’s make them when we come home!

  • I love mooncakes and I love jiaozi too! Sadly, I have no Chinese heritage or friends to check my recipes against, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying every bite! Thanks for this post – they look amazing!

  • Camilla

    Chinese food is pretty simple (at least the kind most people eat at home), and really not as intimidating as it seems. Chances are you’re getting pretty close to the real thing if you’re making it yourself =). The most unauthentic Chinese food is the kind you get at “westernized” Chinese restaurants (you know…doughy chicken balls, greasy chow mien…)…

  • David

    I’ve made jiaozi with several chinese families in my traveling. usually around new year and mid-autumn festival, I love the variety that jiaozi allows with the many fillings and 3 different ways to cook(fried boiled and steamed. although I also opt out of the MSG. When cooking “authentic” chinese food of any kind, there are a few basics, Vinegar, oil, salt, msg, ginger, garlic, and soy. most chinese meals use these ingredients as a base for whatever is being fried.

  • i always cook jiao zi… but i dont cook such a nice shape one.. i will learn more from here. thanks!