Glancing up from trying to form a pleated pea pod, I saw a row of backs, heads down in concentration. All around my kitchen, using every inch of available counter space, stood friends absorbed in the task of shaping Asian dumplings. Each had a stack of round gyoza wrappers in front of them, and a bowl of various fillings—pork and napa cabbage, pork and shrimp, or tofu and shiitake mushroom. Spoons clinked against bowls like muted temple bells. Fingers flew, jokes were tossed over shoulders, appetizers and drinks were disappearing. Outside the window the evening was blustery and dark, trees dripping with chill autumn rain. But here in the kitchen were warmth and light, good smells and good humor.
A couple of weeks before, my friend Christie had given a wonderful dinner party while I was visiting her in Eastern Washington. When she came over to Seattle to stay with me, I thought it was high time for a dinner party of my own. I wanted to do something interactive, get everyone’s hands dirty helping with dinner. I had just checked out a gorgeous book from the library–Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen, with photos by Penny De Los Santos. The book was not only full of beautiful photos, it provided excellent recipes and tips for making all sorts of Asian dumplings from scratch—even instructions for making the actual dumpling wrappers, for the intrepid. Which I am not.
A dumpling party, I decided, should fit the bill.
Christie and I made the rounds of the Asian grocery stores, shopping lists in hand. We spent the afternoon chopping and measuring and stirring, making the dumpling fillings and dipping sauces. We folded origami cranes for the table, squinting at a set of instructions and murmuring “fold corner D toward center…” with furrowed brows. I made Thai fresh rolls for appetizers, and a plum crumble for dessert, and Christie set the table. Michael assumed his duties as bartender extraordinaire, mixing Moscow Mules with a liberal hand for the vodka. All was festive and shining with readiness when the guests arrived.
Maybe those potent drinks had something to do with it, but I had such a good time at my own party. I had brought together a group of people, many of whom didn’t know each other—a few of my oldest friends, a few I wanted to get to know better–and everyone was busy, engaged, and laughing. Forget awkward conversational pauses, there were dumplings to make!
Half moons, pleated pea-pods, closed satchels, big hugs, pleated crescents, and some original dumpling designs invented on the spot. As the finished dumplings piled up, plump and neat as coin purses, all were fitted into the bamboo steamer, to emerge ten minutes later, translucent and puffy.
At last we all gathered at the table, to pass bowls of dumplings, rice, baby bok choy, sesame noodles, and dipping sauces before digging in. The first bite of each dumpling was a surprise, as we didn’t know which of the three fillings we would get, but all were delicious. The dumplings were tender, yet chewy. They burst with the fresh flavors of pork, mushrooms, or shrimp, and the savory notes of ginger and sesame. Everyone there could feel justifiable pride in the meal before us.
How to Host Your Own Dumpling Party:
It’s fun to have a group of friends in the kitchen, cooking together. But a little advance planning improves the experience for everyone. If everything is organized in advance, you and your guests can turn out an abundance of dumplings within half an hour or so. Here are some tips:
Assemble and/or cook your dumpling fillings and dipping sauces earlier in the day or the day before, and refrigerate. This will allow the flavors to meld, and will allow your dinner guests to concentrate on the fun part—filling and shaping dumplings.
Organize work stations for your guests. Two people can share a bowl of filling, but everyone will need space to assemble their dumplings, access to a small bowl of water for sealing the edges of the wrappers, a plate for their finished dumplings, and somewhere to put their drink.
Keep the drinks full and the appetizers handy. Starving dinner guests can be surly guests. It’s no fun to learn to shape dumplings under those conditions!
Provide brief instructions, and photocopied diagrams of how to fold some common dumpling shapes, for inspiration. Then let your guests unleash their creativity.
If you want to be able to identify a particular filling, as for vegetarian guests, make sure that all of those dumplings are shaped differently than the rest. For example, the pleated pea pod shape can be designated for the vegetable dumplings.
If you are planning to serve side dishes with the dumplings, have your ingredients and tools assembled near the stove in advance, to avoid interrupting the groove of your dumpling makers to get at items in drawers and cupboards. Have the rice in the cooker, the water already in a pot on the stove waiting to be heated for noodles, etc.
Pork and Napa Cabbage Dumplings
(adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen)
- 1 package round gyoza wrappers
- 2 cups lightly packed finely chopped napa cabbage
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp shredded ginger
- ¼ cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
- 2/3 lb ground pork
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 1 ½ tbsp sesame oil
Put the cabbage in a bowl and toss with the salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw excess moisture from the cabbage. Drain in a mesh strainer, flush with water, and drain again. Squeeze cabbage in your hands over sink to remove more moisture.
In a skillet over medium heat, brown the ground pork, breaking into small pieces. Drain fat, and add pork to cabbage in a large bowl, along with all other ingredients. Stir together. Cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Filling can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated.
To make basic dumplings: Place 1 tsp filling in the center of a gyoza skin. Dip finger in water and run it around the edge of the skin. Fold in half, to make a half moon shape. Pinch edges together to close.
Steam dumplings in a bamboo or metal steamer over boiling water, for 8-10 minutes, or until translucent. Serve with dipping sauce.
Korean Dipping Sauce
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp finely shredded ginger
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 small scallion, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Set aside for at least an hour to allow flavor to develop.