Chinese New Year is round the corner, actually no more than a week away, but this is when it's most exciting. The couple of weeks before Chinese New Year is when the new clothes get shopped for, the garish lanterns go up, the tacky music floods the radio stations, and when tubs and tins and jars and packets of goodies start piling up on the living room table. That was until 4 years ago though, when I moved to London.
They say Chinese New Year is about the people and not so much the clothes/lantern/music/goodies, and in a sense I guess you are right, because it is pretty much the only time in the year when I meet some of my relatives. But because it's the only time in the year when I meet some of these relatives, these meetings unfortunately usually look like this: A hot and crowded living room, a row of blank faces staring at the tv pretending there's something interesting going on, and maybe a cluster of people bravely attempting to strike conversation. There never was that heartwarming scene of people folding dumplings together. (We still all love one another though k.)
But I thought I would start getting this dumpling business down. I got some friends over for a premature Chinese New Year dinner, and instead of having food ready on the table, I made them work for their food. We made 2 sorts. There was a gluten-free girl, so none of your usual potstickers or shortcut wanton wrappers. We did steamed cabbage dumplings, using cabbage leaves to wrap a juicy pork-and-scallion filling, and one of my favourite dumplings, soon kueh, turnip dumplings. They have a slippery smooth thin wrapper made of tapioca and rice flour that I absolutely love, and that isn't used in any other dumpling except soon kueh. The filling is actually made from bamboo shoots ("soon") and jicama (yam bean), not a turnip per se, but I've done it before with a British turnip from the farmer's market and though it's not the same, it's not half bad at all. I also skipped the bamboo shoots (taste-wise it doesn't affect much) but then I don't know if you should call it soon kueh. Hmm.
SOON KUEH (STEAMED TURNIP DUMPLINGS)
Recipe thanks to Kitchen Tigress who tried 6 recipes, before settling on Rose's Kitchen's ratios so thank her too.
makes 16 pieces
150g rice flour
50g tapioca flour (starch) + more to dust
1 tbsp groundnut oil
big pinch of unrefined sea salt
300ml boiling water
500g turnip (jicama or yam bean, though British turnip can work)
1 small carrot
1 small chilli (optional. I just like chilli, a lot.)
2 cloves garlic
4 tbsp dried shrimps
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp unrefined cane sugar
1-2 tbsp good soy sauce (traditionally fermented)
1/2 tsp white pepper
a drizzle of sesame oil
1 tbsp groundnut oil or lard from happy pigs
fried shallots + fried shallot oil
thick dark sweet soy sauce (can make by mixing equal ratios of good soy sauce to blackstrap molasses)
To make the dough,
1. Mix rice flour, tapioca starch and salt. Pour the boiling water evenly over the mixture and stir immediately to mix. It will be extremely hot to handle, but handle it when it's just cool enough. Knead to make a smooth sticky dough, then dust with more tapioca starch and continue kneading, till it's not sticky but kind of tacky. Cover and let dough rest for 10 min- a few hours.
To make the filling,
2. Soak the dried shrimps and shiitake mushrooms in some warm water till soft, about 10 min and 40 min respectively. Reserve the soaking liquid, it's the most amazing quick stock.
3. Chop garlic. Peel and slice the turnip and carrots into matchsticks, or you can use a very coarse grater (make sure it doesn't turn into mush). Then when the mushrooms are rehydrated, also slice the mushrooms into thin shreds.
4. Over high heat, fry the dried shrimps and garlic in the oil/lard till fragrant, and then the mushrooms, till all are nicely golden. Then add the shredded turnip and carrots with the soy sauce, sugar, pepper and sesame oil and continue to stir-fry till the liquid dries up. Add the soaking liquid and simmer till the liquid almost dries up again and the turnip and carrots have softened.
To wrap dumplings,
5. Roll dough into a log and cut into 16 roughly even blobs. Roll each blob out into a thin circle, dusting with tapioca flour. It doesn't have to look perfectly circle but if you want to be anal, you can use a rice bowl to cut off the edges.
6. Place 1 tbsp of filling into the centre of the wrapper, fold the bottom half up, bring the edges together and press to seal. Repeat 15 times. Note: Turnip at the end gets a bit wet/soggy so you might have to drain off the liquid.
7. Place soon kuehs on greased steaming trays and steam over high heat for 10 minutes, till puffed up. Remove onto greased plates (these will stick if you don't) and brush with shallot oil. Serve with crispy fried shallots sprinkled over, sweet dark soy sauce and a dollop of shit-hot sambal.
The soon kueh we made were, well, rustic. The skin was slippery, smooth and soft, but frankly not very pretty, I already chose the best ones to photograph. But within the ugly shapeless wrapper is a wonderful burst of flavour from the stewed turnips and mushrooms that are plump with sweet juices from the dried shrimps. And anyway, homemade dumplings aren't meant to be exquisite works of art; they're meant to be imperfect, delicious, and an excuse for you to get messy with your favourite people.
Happy chinese new year! If you're in London, come wish for prosperity and/or Ryan Gosling with us at the next supperclub!
See also:Steamed cabbage dim-sum dumplings (as published in Flavour magazine)