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Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (鍋貼 Guotie, 餃子 Jiaozi) for Chinese New Year: Tutorial and Recipe

Unlike many Chinese families, our family never really participated in the traditional Lunar New Year activities growing up. My parents would give me and my sister the obligatory red envelope (利市 lai see or 红包 hong bao), but that was about it. It wasn’t until I spent more time with my husband’s family that I learned more about the traditions and foods that surround the Lunar New Year. We eat symbolic foods like apples (蘋果 ping guo) that represent peace (平安 ping an), noodles — never cut — for longevity, and fish (魚 yu) for abundance (有余 you yu). (A lot of the association comes from the words sounding alike.) And of course, there are dumplings (known as 餃子 jiaozi when boiled or 鍋貼 guotie when panfried), which represent wealth and prosperity because they have the shape of gold nuggets, the ancient Chinese currency for money.



When I visited my sister in Beijing about a year and a half ago, she and I took a noodle and dumpling class from a former Beijing chef. He shared with us many tips for making perfect dumplings, which I’ll also share with you in the primer that follows below.


Take a look at these professionally folded dumplings by our teacher, after 20 + years of practice. Someday, I hope to make dumplings this beautiful!


Back in the US, I hardly ever made my own dumpling wrappers since store-bought ones were so much more convenient. But during my two years in Grenada, I really got the chance to practice my skills at making wrappers because, like most other Asian foods, they were impossible to find on the island! If I ever wanted to eat dumplings, I knew I’d have to make them from scratch. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one in Grenada who missed them, so my friends and I would often spend afternoons making absurd quantities of dumplings together and then share the loot. It’s really the perfect group activity. Funnily enough, store-bought dumpling wrappers are not that common in Beijing either because everyone makes them from scratch!

Toward the end of my visit to Beijing, I was on the hunt for a dumpling roller to take home with me. I kinda waited until the last minute, and I didn’t have any luck at the couple of grocery stores and shops I went to. Finally, on my last morning, as I was out picking up breakfast with my sister and her family, we happened upon a vendor rolling breakfast buns with exactly the kind of dumpling roller I was searching for. Unlike the light wood ones that stores typically sell (see photo above), his was a beautiful shade of dark brown (see photo below). I asked him if dumpling rollers were available to purchase anywhere nearby, and he responded with a very definitive no. I asked him if he’d be willing to sell me his, and after much hesitation, he went on a long spiel about how he carefully selects each piece of Chinese mahogany wood for his rollers, and then crafts each of them by hand. He pulled out a second back-up roller from the back of the stall and said these were the only two he had. I finally made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he very nonchalantly agreed to sell me one. I ended up paying 50rmb, about $8 — which is probably much more than one would cost in a grocery store but seemed like a steal to me for something crafted by hand, made of better wood, and bearing such beautiful patina from age and use by a Beijing dumpling maker. Plus, it now came with a great story. It’s still my favorite souvenir from Beijing!

So now, let me share with you my favorite tips for making dumplings, just in time for Chinese New year. Round up your family, your children, or a group of friends for a day of dumpling-making! It’s become one of my favorite ways to spend time with new friends and people I love. I often tell my sister that I think in another life, I could be a dumpling maker. :)



Ingredient List
Adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen

2 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 cup warm water

2 cups finely chopped Napa cabbage or regular cabbage
2/3 lb ground pork or turkey (I used turkey here to make it healthier, but pork is more traditional)
1/3 cup minced Shiitake mushrooms (if using dried, soak in hot water for 20 minutes to rehydrate)
1⁄2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1⁄3 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions (Chinese chives are the traditional ingredient, but if you don’t like the flavor, you can substitute scallions)
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄4 tsp black pepper
1 1⁄2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp oil
1 1⁄2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice wine

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 1⁄2 Tbsp rice vinegar
(or 1 Tbsp white vinegar + 1 Tbsp water + 1⁄4 Tbsp sugar)
2 tsp minced garlic
chili oil (optional)


People who make dumplings regularly, like the chef we took our class from or even my sister’s ayi (nanny) in Beijing, rarely use recipes for this dough. They gauge the proportions of water to flour by the feel of the dough and adjust accordingly. The dough can feel very different depending on the humidity of your environment, the amount and type of flour used, and even the amount and temperature of the water. So take all these factors into consideration when trying your hand at dumpling dough. In the end, it all just comes down to practice. 

MLS_Dumplings_5_MG_2223 copy1. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the water in and stir (either with your hand or with a spoon), evenly moistening the flour. Gently mix until all the lumpy bits have been incorporated. Add more flour or water as necessary. The dough should start looking shaggy and hold its shape when pinched, but it shouldn’t be too moist.

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2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about 2 minutes. The dough should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic. Press down on the dough; the impression should slowly bounce back.

_MG_2226 copy3. Smooth out the top of the dough and pinch the ends together on the bottom. Place the dough in a Ziplock bag and let it rest (alternatively, you can put it in a bowl and cover with a plate).

While the dough is resting, use this time to prepare your ingredients for the filling. Filling can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight. Letting it sit for a few hours or overnight can help bring out the flavors, but it’s not absolutely necessary if you’re short on time. There are all sorts of fillings you can put inside a dumpling, but here I have stuck with some of the classic ingredients.

4. Combine all the filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add seasonings and mix well. Use your hands!

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This might just be my favorite part of making dumplings! It is so much fun, and I love the challenge of trying to make the perfectly round and thin wrapper. 

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5. Remove the dough from the bag and place on a floured surface.

6. Cut the dough into thirds and put two of the thirds back into the bag. Seal completely.

_MG_2261 copy_MG_2264 copy7. Roll the remaining third of the dough into a 1-inch thick log. Cut the log into even pieces, about 3/4 ” thick each. (If the ends of the log are thinner, make those cuts a bit longer, about 1″ thick.) Now here is the trick I learned in the dumpling class: After each cut, rotate the log a quarter turn, so that the dough pieces are pinched in different directions on each side (see photo above). As you’ll soon see, this is an important step in forming perfectly circular dumpling wrappers!

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8. Roll the pieces lightly in flour and then set each piece on one of its cut ends. Flatten each piece of dough with the palm of your hand. Because of the quarter turn when cutting, the dough will naturally flatten into the shape of a circle. How brilliant, right? :) Without the turn, you’d get more of an oval shape, due to the way the knife pinches the dough flat. Then, if you take as much delight in this process as I do, you can simply reshape any pieces that don’t look as perfectly round as they should. :)

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9. To roll the wrappers, start with a lightly floured surface. If you’re right-handed like me, hold one of the flattened pieces of dough in your left hand and the wooden rolling pin in your right. You’ll want to roll the rolling pin gently back and forth, while turning the dough in a counter-clockwise motion in your left hand. Roll up about 1/2″ – 1″ in from the edge, avoiding the center of the dough completely. This way, you’ll leave the center a little thicker — perfect for holding the heavy filling — while making the edges a little thinner — perfect for making delicate pleats to seal the top. After the dumplings are folded and the outer edges pressed together, the thicker center will have about the same amount of doughiness as the outer pleated edges. I love how perfectly this all works out. :)


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10. Continue rolling until you have about 10 wrappers to work with. You don’t want to roll too many at a time, or else they will start to dry out (unless you have a partner to fill the dumplings while you roll!).

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11. Fill your wrappers with about 1 tablespoon of filling. Flatten the filling a bit in the center. Fold using your favorite method! The Beijing method for boiled dumplings is very easy and involves simply folding the wrapper over, and then pinching it shut by holding the edges between thumbs and index fingers of both hands. Andrea Nguyen also has some fantastic videos on basic dumpling folds here and here (I tend to use the method in the second video).

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At this point, your dumplings are ready to be fried, boiled, steamed, or frozen. I like to make a huge batch of dumplings and freeze them for later use. Be sure to put them on a nonstick tray (lined with freezer paper, or a Silpat mat works well) and space them out individually in the freezer; otherwise they will stick together and be impossible to separate once defrosted. After 30 minutes or more, the dumplings are frozen enough that you can place them all into a Ziploc bag for quick and easy meals. Frozen dumplings do not need to be defrosted before cooking — just add a few minutes of extra cooking time to each of the three methods below.

COOKING THE DUMPLINGS: 3 ways to cook fresh or frozen dumplings

My favorite go-to method for cooking dumplings is in a frying pan. I love the crispy bottoms and tender, steamed tops. Here’s how to get perfectly cooked dumplings every time:

_MG_2336 copy1. Heat up 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a non-stick pan on medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add in the dumplings in a single layer. Arrange them in a circular shape, allowing them to hug one another. Leave about 1/8″ between each dumpling because they will plump up.

2. Let the dumplings fry until the bottoms are golden brown.

3. Add in about 1/3 cup water (until there is about 1/4” of water in the pan) and cover with a lid. Let them steam for about 5-7 minutes, until you hear the dumplings begin to sizzle after all the water has evaporated.

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4. Remove the lid. The dumplings should look translucent at this point. Fry just a little bit longer, until the bottoms are crispy again.

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5. For a nice presentation, find a plate just slightly smaller than your frying pan. First flip the plate onto the dumplings in the pan, and then invert the pan of dumplings onto the plate.

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6. Serve immediately with dipping sauce. Enjoy!

Place dumplings into boiling water. When the dumplings begin to float, cook for an additional 5-6 minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon. I tend to think this is best served in soup. In Beijing, though, they’re just eaten as is dipped in some vinegar. Traditional Beijingers even drink the flour water that the dumplings were boiled in!

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a large wok. Place dumplings into a bamboo steamer basket and place into the wok. Steam for 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

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smashed cucumbers (pai huang gua 拍黄瓜)

Cucumber has become what I associate with summertime in Beijing. During these oppressively hot months, you’ll often see street vendors selling not popsicles (ok, you can find those too) but, yes, cucumbers — on a stick!

Last summer, when Becca visited and we went to the Summer Palace, we came across just these cucumber street vendors and couldn’t resist giving it a try. For a couple kuai you can have the cucumbers peeled and attached to a stick to make for easier munching as you stroll through the Long Corridor or climb up Longevity Hill.

It’s convenient that cucumbers are considered cooling in both American and Chinese cultures, so it’s not too hard to accept this as a good and healthy snack in hot weather. But on top of that, I should point out that the cucumbers in China are just plain delicious. None of the waxy skin, none of the watery, bland flavor. They’re of a variety that is long and skinny, with a somewhat prickly skin. But the most distinctive characteristic of these cucumbers is that they are wonderfully, satisfyingly crunchy. They beg to be taken up in your fist and munched on right on the spot. Those street vendors really have the right idea!

We are fortunate to get an organic CSA-type delivery here, and during the weeks of summer, the cucumbers have been really plentiful. I think at one point I had something like 10 cucumbers in my fridge at once. I tried to make cucumber soup, very cucumber-ful Greek salads, very cucumber-ful Vietnamese noodle bowls… But on many nights, the most efficient preparation of all has been this classic smashed cucumber dish, which you can find at just about any restaurant in Beijing.

Traditionally, this dish is made by actually smashing the cucumber with the side of a cleaver until the cucumber breaks into chunks. This not only helps release a lot of the cucumber juices but also gives the pieces nice ragged edges, all the better for holding the garlic vinegar dressing. After trying a couple different methods, I’ve decided that the easiest for me is actually to smash the cucumber with my heavy stone pestle. I’ve found that keeping the cucumber whole (rather than first cutting it) before you smash it makes for much easier smashing. That way, the cucumber skin is still firmly gripping the surface it’s sitting on, and you also have the benefit of the cucumber still containing most of its juices. After smashing, I roughly chop the cucumber into chunks.

Smashed Cucumbers (pai huang gua 拍黄瓜)
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

If Chinese cucumbers are not available, substitute with crunchy kirby cucumbers. English cucumbers would also work. For a simple, quick version, this dish can just be dressed with just some chopped garlic and a splash of Chinese black vinegar.

2 Chinese cucumbers or 4-5 kirby cucumbers
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt

1. Using the side of a cleaver, the handle of a large knife, or a large pestle, smash the whole cucumbers until they begin to crack open and release juices. Chop the cucumbers roughly into bite-size chunks.

2. Toss the cucumber with the remaining ingredients in a bowl until well dressed. Let the cucumbers marinate for 10 minutes to soak in some of the sauce. If desired, chill before serving.

Yunnanese Cuisine and Mint Salad

I really hadn’t heard of Yunnanese food until I came to Beijing, where it is incredibly trendy these days. It seems like I’m always learning about yet another Yunnanese restaurant around town. But I’m definitely not complaining — Yunnanese food has quickly become one of my favorite types of Chinese cuisine.

Yunnan (云南 or 雲南) is a region in southern China that borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, and its food reflects some of the influence of these neighboring countries. (Ok, now you understand why I am biased toward this cuisine. :) Also influential are the many ethnic minority groups — more than in any other region in China — who live there. Yunnan is also a mountainous region with more temperate weather, so it has diverse plant life and is rich in natural resources. In fact, this is where the fictional paradise Shangri-La is supposedly located.

I hope to give more details on some of my favorite Yunnanese restaurants around Beijing in the future, but here I just wanted to highlight some of the characteristics of Yunnanese food. I think, like me, you’ll quickly find that it is very different from the Chinese food we’ve come to know abroad!

One of the features of Yunnanese cuisine is the use of the province’s variety of mushrooms that come in beautiful, strange, and intriguing shapes. (Even the controversial Chinese truffle can be found in this region.) They are used in soups, stir-fries, salads, and stews. You can find a helpful guide to Yunnanese mushrooms over at Saveur.

Like Vietnamese cuisine, Yunnanese food makes use of fresh herbs, even some of the same ones like fish mint! There are herb salads, like the one I share below, and sometimes the herbs come fried and crispy in a stir-fried dish, similar to the fried basil you might be familiar with in some Thai dishes.

You can find flowers in Yunnanese cuisine…

… as well as bugs! Often it’s bees and worms. We sampled some at the Yunnanese provincial restaurant in Beijing and concluded that they mostly just tasted crunchy. As you can see, the dish here mainly consists of a huge pile of bugs. Maybe it might be a bit more interesting if the bugs were incorporated better into a fuller dish?

A little more tasty is Yunnan’s famous dry-cured ham made with salt from the region. It is often used in stir-fries and also lends a nice, deep flavor to soups.

I also noticed rice noodles make an appearance in Yunnanese food, which for me is a nice change from the wheat noodles up here in the north. Here is Yunnan’s famous crossing-the-bridge noodles, which is a noodle soup supposedly named for how a wife delivered the dish to her husband. Traditionally, it is served with all the components on separate dishes, and the noodle bowl is composed at the table, so that everything tastes as fresh as possible. Legend has it this serving method came about when the wife realized the dish would taste fresher when assembled on the spot, after crossing the bridge to deliver lunch to her husband.

If you are a cheese lover, like I am, you will love the goat cheese that is one of the specialties of Yunnanese cuisine. It is most popularly served fried and resembles haloumi.

These are just some of the characteristics I’ve noticed about Yunnanese food from some of the restaurants in Beijing. I can’t believe this regional cuisine has not caught on yet in the US the way Sichuanese or Cantonese has. I really think it could become as popular as it has here in China, especially since it features more fresh produce and is lighter than some other Chinese foods. If you live Stateside and are curious about this cuisine, there does seem to be a couple Yunnanese restaurants in the more heavily Chinese-populated cities in the US. I have not had a chance to try these, but those in New York might want to check out Yunnan Kitchen, and those in southern California may want to try Yunkun Garden or Yunnan Garden in Monterey Park and San Gabriel — and then you’ll have to tell me what you think!

If you don’t live somewhere where Yunnanese food is available, here is a super easy dish you can try at home that will give you a taste of Yunnanese flavors. I have yet to visit Yunnan myself, so this is just an approximation of the mint salads I’ve had at various Yunnanese restaurants about town. I am thoroughly intrigued by this cuisine, so you can be sure to hear more about it here in the future!

Mint Salad
Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Don’t be shy with the dressing in this herb salad. The mint can get overpowering, so the key is to make sure the leaves all get coated, even drenched, in the tangy dressing. As with many Southeast Asian salads, you can tell it’s been well dressed when you can see a pool of dressing at the bottom. :)

2 cups (packed) mint, or one large bunch
1 clove garlic
1 Thai bird chili
2 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/4 tsp salt
a pinch sugar
1/4–1/2 tsp chili oil
a few drops sesame oil

1. Wash and spin dry the mint leaves. You’ll want to leave the mint leaves on the stem, which is edible and has some of that minty flavor. This will help give the salad some heft. But if there are any particularly thick and tough stems, go ahead and pick the leaves off, but try to keep the leaves in clusters.

2. Pound the garlic and chili with a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, you can mince the garlic and slice the chili with a knife.

3. Mix the garlic and chili with the remaining ingredients.

4. Toss the mint leaves well in the dressing, making sure that the leaves are well coated.

5. Plate the leaves and pour any leftover dressing over top.

yong tau foo (stuffed tofu and vegetables)

While my mom was here in DC helping us with our new baby, my dad was left to fend for himself at home. When it comes to eating, though, no one need feel too sorry for him. My mom even offered to cook and freeze him a bunch of meals for the time she’d be away, but he actually shuddered at the thought and pleaded with her not to. You see, my dad hates eating “leftovers” (yes, technically, meals made just for him and then frozen are not really leftovers, but, well, to my dad, anything less than freshly cooked and still steaming hot from the stove is considered a leftover). He also likes to make things on a whim according to whatever strikes his mood at the time, so having a freezer full of food he didn’t make himself is just not his style. Plus — and this is where it gets a bit contentious — he secretly (or not so secretly) thinks that my mom takes shortcuts in her cooking, which means her food is just not up to his standards.

So while my mom was here cooking up bun rieu and bo kho for us, what was my dad making for himself at home? Fried eggs? Easy stir-fries or one-pot meals? No, I tell you, the man was wrapping his own dumplings and wontons. We called him one evening, and he told us he was making these stuffed vegetables I’m about to share with you. There are no boring meals when eating with my dad.

These stuffed vegetables are something my family made often while I was growing up, and I was glad to find them at the markets when I visited Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. Yong tau foo (which means “stuffed tofu”) is traditionally a Hakka dish and originally involved stuffing tofu with ground pork. These days, you’re more likely to see the dish as tofu and vegetables stuffed with fish paste, and it is really popular in Malaysia and Singapore. In our home, we actually called it yeung yeh, which means “stuffed stuff.” :)

Yong Tau Foo (Stuffed Tofu and Vegetables)
Serves 2 as a main dish accompanied with rice, or 4 as part of a larger meal.

You can stuff practically any kind of vegetable you’re able create an opening in. My family’s favorites include eggplant, chili peppers, bitter melon, tomatoes, and long beans that my mom weaves into small wreaths. In Malaysia, I found that tofu puffs and okra (called lady fingers) are also very popular.

Although it is possible to make your own fish paste, after helping my mom make it once, I have to admit it can easily double or triple the time it already takes to make this dish. And it is tricky to get the paste to come out to a smooth consistency. So most of the time, we just get store-bought fish paste and add some extra seasonings and oil to make it smoother and less dense. My mom also adds an egg for richer flavor, and recently she has taken to beating the egg white separately until foamy, before adding it to the fish paste for an even smoother and lighter texture.

Traditionally these stuffed tofu and veggies are served in a broth, but nowadays you’ll see it with sauce more often than not, either on the side or cooked with the vegetables. 

Vegetables (suggestions):
1/2 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into four square pieces
4 long banana peppers, sliced in half, with the seeds and ribs taken out
1 tomato, cut in half and deseeded
1 long Chinese eggplant, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces and then butterflied (sliced lengthwise almost all the way to the other edge); you can also optionally peel off strips of the skin so you don’t taste as much of the chewy skin, as well as for a pretty striped look
corn starch for dusting

Fish Paste:
1 12-oz container fish paste
1/4 tsp ground pepper (white pepper is preferable for appearance, but otherwise black is fine)
1/2 tsp chicken bouillon powder
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 egg, separated
vegetable oil for pan-frying

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp fermented black bean paste
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp water

1. Prepare the vegetables (and tofu if you’re using) by washing, cutting, and making any necessary holes or incisions. If you use long beans, you can create a wreath by tying a loose knot on one end and then winding the long leftover end around the loop until you run out of space; you can then stuff the wreath by filling the hole with fish paste.

2. Dust the vegetables with a bit of cornstarch where you plan to stuff them. This will help the fish paste adhere better and not come apart while cooking.

3. Prepare the fish paste by mixing it in a bowl with the ground pepper, chicken bouillon powder, vegetable oil, sesame oil, and egg yolk. Mix in one direction for best results. The paste will separate when the oils are added, but keep mixing to distribute the oil, and the paste will come back together. For a lighter mixture, beat the egg white in a separate bowl until frothy, then mix it in together with the fish paste mixture. (If you don’t have time, this step can be skipped, and the whole egg simply mixed into the fish paste at once.)

4. Stuff the vegetables with the fish paste mixture.

5. Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat. Add 1-2 Tbsp of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the stuffed vegetables in the pan in batches. Avoid overcrowding. Let the stuffed vegetables brown for about 3 minutes on one side, then cover the pan and let them finish cooking. Depending on the vegetables, this may take another 3-5 more minutes. Lift the cover and turn the vegetables over to the other side to finish cooking and browning. Repeat with each batch until all the stuffed vegetables are cooked. Set the vegetables aside.

6. In the same frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil. Add the chopped garlic. Once the garlic turns golden, add the fermented black bean paste, oyster sauce, sugar, and chicken stock. Mix and let the sauce come to a simmer. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with cold water until dissolved. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the sauce in the pan. You can serve the stuffed vegetables in the sauce or serve the sauce on the side.