Dumplings can transport you to another place. I read about these jiaozi (the generic term for Chinese dumplings) in Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Beyond the Great Wall, a travelogue and cookbook about relatively remote parts of China. They came across these supersized dumplings (each is 7 to 8 inches wide) in Lhasa, Tibet, at the market near the Barkhor, the walking route encircling the Jokhang Temple. There was a certain rusticity about the recipe and cooking technique that captivated me.
The dumpling maker was from Hunan and her gingery vegan filling of noodles, mushroom, and pressed tofu was unlike the meat-centric ones typically found in Tibetan momo dumplings (if you’re interested, there are a several momo recipes in Asian Dumplings). In fact, locals found the Hunanese dumplings to be exotic.
I found the dumplings unusual because of their size, weren't eaten with sauce, and were slightly stretched before being dropped into oil and deep-fried to a crisp. From Alford and Duguid’s description, I imagined that they looked like big fried pies more than the dainty Chinese dumplings. They seemed kinda crazy and cool.
After realizing that the photo at the top doesn’t do justice to the dumplings’ size, I took this shot of one in my hand:
I had to give the giant jiaozi dumplings a try. Last night I made the filling and this morning, I prepared the dough. I used the Basic Dumpling Dough from Asian Dumplings, which is very similar to that is prescribed in Beyond the Great Wall. Everything came together just in time for lunch. Instead of eating the jiaozi out of hand like a street food, Rory and I enjoyed the dumplings with a salad, imagining ourselves exploring Lhasa.
Giant Fried Jiaozi Dumplings
Aside from their unusual size, these dumplings are not served with a sauce. For that reason, a little salt in the dumpling dough is warranted to give the overall experience extra oomph. My husband liked these with a dip in Thai Sriracha sauce.
As suggested in Beyond the Great Wall, you can make them just as big as the original ones. But if the extra large dumplings prove too unwieldy, make them a little smaller! They’ll taste the same. For those who are not into deep-frying, try shallow frying them but know that they won’t be crisp all over. Pressed tofu is sold at Chinese markets in the refrigerated section. Or, you can purchase “baked” tofu at specialty markets or health food markets.
Makes 12 extra large or 24 large dumplings
8 large Napa cabbage leaves, cut crosswise into 1-inch strips then lengthwise into short 1/4-inch-wide ribbons (4 cups)
3 thick capped dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, stemmed, and thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
3 dried wood ear mushrooms, reconstitute, trimmed, and cut narrow strips (1/4 cup)
2 small (1.3 ounces) bundles cellophane noodles, soaked in hot water until pliable, drained, and cut into 1-inch lengths
4 ounces brown pressed (baked/5-spice) tofu, thinly sliced then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide rods (3/4 cup)
2 dried red chiles, stemmed and crumbled or generous 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 large scallions, cut lengthwise into thin ribbons and crosswise into 1 1/2-inch lengths
About 1/4 salt
3 tablespoons shiitake mushroom soaking liquid or water
1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil or fragrant peanut oil
1 pound Basic Dumpling Dough (see Asian Dumplings, page 22) made with the addition of 3/4 teaspoon salt
Canola oil, for deep-frying or shallow-frying
Sriracha chile sauce, optional
1. The filling comes together relatively quickly so prep the ingredients. Make sure you have the cabbage, two types of mushrooms, noodles, and tofu near the stove. Nearby have the seasonings -- chile, ginger, scallion, salt, mushroom soaking liquid, and soy sauce ready to go.
2. Put the oil and chile in a large nonstick skillet. Heat over high heat. When the chile is gently hissing and has slightly darkened, add the ginger and scallion. Cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds, until aromatic.
Add the cabbage and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Keep stirring for about 45 seconds, until the cabbage has softened slightly. Add the shiitake, wood ear mushroom and mushroom soaking liquid. Cook for about 1 minute to develop the flavors before add the noodles and soy sauce.
Keep stirring and cooking for about 2 more minutes, until the cabbage is tender, the noodles are soft, and there is no liquid left in the skillet. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Taste and if needed, add extra salt by the 1/4 teaspoon. Let cool to room temperature before using. Or cover and refrigerate overnight, returning the filling to room temperature before making the dumplings. Makes 3 scant cups.
3. To form the dumplings, have the dough made and rested. You can shape 12 extra-large or 24 large dumplings. Work with half of the dough at time, roll it into a rope, then cut it crosswise into 6 or 12 pieces, depending the size that you are making. You can make some of each size, if you want.
Flour, press, and roll each piece of dough as usual – with the dowel rolling pin. For extra-large dumplings, aim for a 6-inch-wide wrapper. Wrappers for large dumplings should be about 4 1/2 inches wide.
For each dumpling, place 1/4 cup of filling (extra large) or 2 tablespoons of filling (large) slightly off center. Then form a half moon, squeezing out excess air as you seal the edges together. The wrapper is very thin and I found that letting it sit on the work surface as I closed it up was the best way to go.
Finish with a rope edge if you want a pretty look. Lightly flour the dumpling and set aside on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet or your work surface.
Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Cover the shaped dumplings with a dry dish towel.
4. To deep fry the dumplings, pour 1 1/2 inches of oil into a large wok or deep skillet. Heat to about 350F degrees over medium-high heat.
Fry in batches of 3 extra large or 6 large dumplings. Pick up a dumpling between and gently stretch it to a length of 7 or 8 inches (extra large) or 5 or 6 inches (large), then slide it into the hot oil. It will look deflated and sad initially. Let it fry for about 1 minute, until it starts puffing and has some lightly colored spots on the underside, then turn it over. If you want, spoon hot oil over the dumpling and watch it puff up!
Continue frying for 2 or 3 more minutes, turning occasionally, until a rich golden brown. Use a skimmer to lift each dumpling from the oil, letting excess oil fall back into the pan. Drain on paper towel. Return the oil to temperature in between batches.
Shallow-frying alternative: Use a large skillet, 1/4 inch of oil, and medium-high heat. Fry the dumplings for about 3 minutes total, turning them midway when they have crisped and browned. The second side will only pick up color where the filling is, due to the dumpling plumping up. The photo below shows the difference.
5. These are best hot or warm. They can made in several hours in advance, kept at room temperature and then reheated in a 350F toaster oven for about 5 minutes, turning midway, until hot and crisp.
Recipe adapted from Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.
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