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Making Mushroom-Ginger Jiaozi with Chinese Seminary Students
January 17, 2013, 2:01 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China, recipes | Tags: ,

I recently had two jiaozi-making parties with my students at the seminary here in Nanjing.  The first party was on Christmas Day with a group of master’s students, and two weeks later I had another jiaozi-making extravaganza with a group of undergrads.  Back home in California, I’d made jiaozi numerous times, but I had always used packages of pre-made dumpling wrappers from the grocery.  When I told my students here that I made jiaozi with store-bought wrappers, they were stunned.  They always make the dough from scratch, rolling-out each jiaozi wrapper with a special slender rolling pin.  I told them I was ready to learn how to make them the real way.

jiaozi party with students

At our gatherings, the favorite filling was the mushrooms-ginger one.  It’s a filling that my family has been making for years, picked up from an old Ming Tsai episode on TV (way back in the 90s, I believe).  My students and I experimented with several vegetarian fillings at both parties, but Ming Tsai’s mushroom-ginger filling was the clear winner.  If you are making vegetarian jiaozi, there are so many options in front of you.  Greens, garlic, tofu, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, or anything else you dream of.  You could actually choose your favorite Chinese stir-fried dish, chop it fine, and stuff it into your jiaozi.  This particular mushroom filling has a nice punch of ginger balanced by the mellow sesame oil.  The chopped black mushrooms, chopped cellophane noodles, and scrambled eggs all work to hold everything together (the way pork would hold a non-vegetarian filling together).

mushroom-ginger filling

At both jiaozi-parties I was more involved in making the filling, and I missed the process of actually making the dough.  Good thing I already have another jiaozi-making party scheduled right after Chinese New Year, when all of the students come back to Nanjing after the holiday.  I learned how to roll out the dough and shape the jiaozi, but next time I’ll learn how to actually combine the proper proportions of flour and water to make the dough.

dough for jiaozi wrappers

In Northern China, folks eat and make jiaozi more often than in Southern China.  My students come from all over China, and my northern students are the ones who are more confident in making jiaozi.  They were the ones taking charge to mix the dough, and the ones giving me detailed tutorials about making the wrappers.  A student from Dalian repeatedly stopped me to give me more precise instructions on using the rolling pin, so my technique kept improving.  My wrappers started to look pretty good and round, but she is much, much faster.  Good thing I’m open for more jiaozi-parties, and more chances at improvement!

rolling out dough to make jiaozi wrappers

If you can find a slender rolling pin, that will work better than a standard hefty Western rolling pin.  The rolling pins here in China are only about 1-inch in diameter.

Here’s what I can tell you about rolling out the dough to make the wrappers.  Start by pinching off sections of dough that are about 1-2 tablespoons in size.  Roll each one into a ball, and then use the palms of your hands to flatten each one into a semi-flat disc, similar to a UFO shape.  Then with plenty of dough on your work surface, hold the top third of the dough-disc in your left hand, while rolling the bottom of the disc with the rolling pin under the bottom of your right palm.  Roll from the bottom of the circle into the center of the circle, and then back out to the bottom.  Then use your left hand to rotate the circle.  You’ll keep rotating and working your way all around the circle, like a clock.  When you push the rolling pin from the bottom of the circle in, start with more pressure, and the decrease the pressure as you approach the center of the circle.  Use even less pressure as you take the rolling pin from the center back out to the bottom of the circle.  This will keep the periphery of the circle thinner, and the center of the circle thicker.  This way, the dough will be thick enough in the middle to protect the filling while boiling, and it will be thinner on the edges because that is where you’ll be crimping dough together.

making jiaozi wrappers

We all worked to make the jiaozi around my little round coffee table in my living room.  Looking around at the girls, I noticed that they were all making dumplings in different shapes.  I asked them about it, and they explained that there are regional differences in dumpling shapes, and they were all from different provinces in China.

various jiaozi shapes

I admired the shape from Ningxia province, and practiced making that shape.  The Ningxia dumplings sit upright, with a seam that curves across the top.  To make the Ningxia shape, after you put a little filling in the center of the circle, bring the top and bottom of the circle together.  When you bring the top and bottom together, the sides will still be open on either side.  Bring the center of each side opening up to the top, which will give you 4 diagonal openings, 2 on each side.  Mash or crimp the 2 back pleats flat into the top seam.  The long seam will now still be open at the front edges, so close the open seam, as you crimp it forward.  The seam will curve forward now.  You’re then supposed to squeeze the dumpling gently to reinforce the shape.  This process is a bit hard to explain, but the result is a dumpling with a curved seam along the top, instead of a flat Cornish-pastie-shape.  The girl from Wenzhou made ones that were more football-shaped, with fluted patterns on the top that she delicately scratched with her fingernails.

homemade jiaozi

jiaozi party

MUSHROOM-GINGER JIAOZI FILLING RECIPE

A single batch of this filling will make about 2.5 cups.  So depending on the size of your party, you might want to double or triple this recipe.

1 cup dried black mushrooms

1 cup cellophane noodles

2 tablespoons ginger, chopped

1  1/2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

1/2 cup garlic chives or green onions

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

METHOD FOR THE FILLING

Soak the dried black mushrooms in a bowl of hot water.  Likewise, soak the cellophane noodles in another bowl of hot water.  When they are soft, you can drain them and chop them both fine.  In the meantime while they are soaking, chop the garlic, ginger, and green onions.  Combine them in a mixing bowl.  Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt.  Scramble the egg in a way to create a crumbled texture, or alternatively, chop it after scrambling.  Add the scrambled egg to the mixing bowl.  When the cellophane noodles and dried mushrooms are soft, drain them and chop them fine.  Add them to the mixing bowl, and mix everything well.

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