The biggest issue I have faced when creating vegetarian dumplings is that the filling does not stick together. When meat is cooked, the pieces bind together as they cook but this does not happen with vegetables. You can buy an enzyme called transglutaminase which will bind meat together when it cooks and can be used to make some very Frankenstein-esque meals, but no such thing exists for vegetables (as far as I am aware). The best way I have come across to bind fillings together is by using egg and flour. Both of these will help prevent your filling from tumbling out of the dumpling after you take a bite.
These dumplings fall under the heading of potstickers. This means that have been steam-fried. The dumplings are first lightly fried on the belly (the plump base away from the pleats) before water or broth is added and they are covered and allowed to steam. Once all the liquid has been absorbed the dumplings are again cooked uncovered, allowing the base to crisp up again to provide a wonderful contrast of textures. The dumplings should be cooked in a non-stick pan because I can guarantee that, if they are cooked in a regular pan, they will stick and tear. You could also cook them in a steamer or plain boil them – both of these methods work – but I think they are far nicer if the base is crispy.
There is some disagreement about overcrowding the pan when making potstickers. If the dumplings are pushed up against each other they will lightly adhere to their neighbours. This means that you can flip out the entire pan of potstickers onto a plate and they will stay in their beautiful formation. The counterargument is that, when the dumplings stick together, they will then tear when you try to serve them. This has never been too much of an issue for me – I find that they generally come apart without tearing and you can serve the entire batch on a central plate and people can take what they want. I have even seen recipes when people add seasoned cornflour water to the pan which cooks and crisps up a layer on the base of the frying pan and dumplings, which really does stick everything together and results in a more “tear’n’share” kind of meal.
Of course you can use any filling you like with this cooking method. I used to eat a lot of turkey dumplings at university because the minced turkey was often reduced in shops, meaning that the meal was incredibly cheap – we are talking one to two pounds per person. I am also partial to beef dumplings but I do find that the quality of the minced beef is really noticeable in the final product. Pork and cabbage or kimchi is another popular filling, as is shrimp, so you can see how versatile these dumplings can be.
Let me know how you get on if you try them as I love hearing about your cooking!
Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
400g firm tofu
2 bunches spring onions
5 garlic cloves
1 inch peeled ginger
1 medium heat chilli (or more if you prefer)
1 medium carrot
Half a cabbage
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp plain flour
A couple of grinds of black pepper
1 tsp salt
Two packets of dumpling skins
Crumble the tofu into a sieve and then gently press on it to squeeze out lots of the liquid. You will get a good third to half a cup of liquid out of the tofu. Tip this squeezed tofu into a large bowl.
Finely chop the spring onion, chilli and mushrooms and add these to the tofu.
Finely slice the cabbage, grate the carrot and add to the rest of the veg.
Grate the ginger and the garlic into the vegetable mix.
Whisk together the egg, soy sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, sugar, cornflour, salt and pepper.
Pour the egg mix over the vegetables and tofu and use your hands to mix until everything is coated.
Fill your dumpling skins and pleat the edges. For instructions on how to pleat properly, see my recipe for beef dumplings. You can also just fold them over and crimp the edges with a fork if you don’t want to go to the effort of pleating the entire batch.
Pour a thin layer of a oil to the bottom of a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. MAKE SURE THIS FRYING PAN HAS A LID FOR THE NEXT STEPS.
Add the dumplings to the pan belly side down. Try to pack the dumplings in so they are touching each other. Overcrowding is not an issue!
Fry for three minutes until the base of the dumplings are a deep golden brown.
Pour in 100ml water and cover immediately. Be careful as this water will spit when it hits the pan.
Cook covered for about three to five minutes until the water is fully absorbed into the dumplings. The skins should have started to turn translucent. If they haven’t, add another few tablespoons of water and cook again.
You want to make sure the pan has basically boiled dry as this will allow the bases of the dumplings to crisp up again.
To serve, place a large plate upside down over the pan and quickly invert the frying pan to flip the dumplings onto the plate.
For a delicious dipping sauce, allow people to mix soy sauce, rice vinegar and chilli sauce (I use sriracha) in a little ramekin to make their own personal sauce.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for an absolutely stunningly good tart (and it’s even vegan – but you wouldn’t know from the taste).