I didn’t expect that two weeks after leaving San Francisco I’d find myself making Chinese dumplings from scratch on the side of a Texan freeway.
Reading through my street food Google Alert, I was thrilled to discover that the theme of The Spice Cafe’s Monthly Blog Patrolling (MBP) was street food, hosted this month by Sia of Monsoon Spice. The task: make a street food recipe from a fellow blogger, write a post, and link to the original blogger. Having only just begun Streats and having a long list of bookmarked recipes to try, I was game—except that I was in the middle of a cross-country roadtrip.
The day after reading the MBP, David and I drove east from Tucson to New Mexico, and then South into Texas along I-10. We spent the night in Van Horn, a dumpy highway town where over half the single-story brick building had long-since been abandoned. Our motel, the Economy Inn, was economy—$41 for a room that reeked of cheap perfume and backed onto the train tracks. It was too unhygienic to even consider making the jiaozi and guotieh recipe I’d been aching to try from the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook blog.
In 2002, I lived in a small town in China and taught English to 5- and 6-year-old xiao pengyou (lit. little friends). I lived on jiaozi, guotieh and other street foods, hence my interest in the genre. Since my return, I’d yet to replicate the crisp, brown bottoms and doughy skins of this Chinese staple, but the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook blog looked set to change that with its insistence on home-made dough.
Not certain how I’d participate in the MBP, I doubted the quality of the only market in town, two blocks north of the motel on the desolate road running through Van Horn. With afternoon thunderstorms approaching, we trekked to Pueblo Market where I was happily surprised at the variety (if not quality) of its produce and the myriad of local New Mexican chilies. Yet I still refused to cook in the Economy Inn.
Leaving Van Horn on I-90 East, the scenery changes dramatically as the highway cuts through yellowed fields which abut old volcanic hills. Twenty miles on, I saw a shaded picnic spot—that was where I’d cook dumplings.
In Van Horn, I’d bought the ingredients needed for the dumplings but not the dipping sauce as, during my time in China, I became very partial to my own dipping sauce—Zhenjiang Vinegar, a famous, sweet, back vinegar from a neighboring town with chopped chili, ginger and cilantro. As Pueblo’s was lacking in the Zhenjiang Vinegar department, I made my dipping sauce using soy as a substitute. It lacked the sweet tang of the vinegar, but the local chilies gave the sauce its requisite kick.
Cooking in a picnic stop on a propane stove wasn’t easy, but the filling of the dumplings was straight-forward, and my makeshift cooking surface (a cookie sheet I’d bought and washed) worked. The dough kept drying out in the 90+ degree Texan heat as there’s no humidity that far west, resulting in clumsily shaped dumplings.
But, as David and I sat down in our picturesque spot with trucks and Border Patrol rushing past, and dug into freshly made dumplings, I knew I’d found the recipe I’d been craving since I left China.
Recipe From Asian Grandmothers Cookbook Blog (My photos from Texas)
Time: 1 to 2 hours (depending how nimble your fingers are at making the pot stickers)
Makes: about 40
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
1 pound ground pork (2 cups)
2 cups finely chopped napa cabbage (half a medium cabbage)
1 stalk green onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (about 1/2-inch)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons plus pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour with 3/4 cup water. Mix well with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together, adding more water if necessary. With your hands, form dough into a rough ball. You want the dough to be pliable but not stick to your fingers. Sprinkle a little more flour if dough is too wet. The dough won’t feel smooth at this point. Set the dough ball in a bowl, cover with a damp towel and let it rest while you make the filling.
Place cabbage in a medium bowl and sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt. Mix well. Taking a handful of vegetables at a time, squeeze water out. Or wrap cabbage in batches in a cheesecloth or non-terry towel and wring dry.
Make the wrappers. Knead dough for several minutes until it is smooth all over. Divide it into 4 balls. Knead each ball individually for about 30 seconds. Roll each portion into a log about 5-inches long and 1/2-inch in diameter. Pinch off 9 or 10 even walnut-sized pieces. Dust with flour as needed.
Roll each piece into a ball and flatten into a disc between your palms. Place flattened disc on a well-floured surface. Starting at the bottom edge of the disc, use a Chinese rolling pin* [I used a Yosemite mug] and roll from the outside of the circle in. Use your right hand to roll the pin as your left hand turns the disc anti-clockwise. So the sequence goes: roll, turn, roll, turn. Roll each disc into a circle about 3-inches in diameter. Don’t worry about making a perfect circle. Ideally, the wrapper will be thicker in the middle than on the edges.
Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of wrapper. Fold wrapper in half over filling to form a half-moon pocket and pinch shut.
Repeat until all the dough or filling is used up. Set pot sticker down firmly on a parchment-lined tray seam-side up so that dumpling sits flat.
Heat an (8- to 10-inch) non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into the bottom of pan to coat evenly. Place about a dozen dumplings in a single layer seam-side up in the skillet and brown for 1 minute.
Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup water to the pan, depending on its size. Cover immediately and steam 9 to 10 minutes, until all the water evaporates. The bottom of the pot stickers should be golden brown and crisp but not burned. Remove pot stickers with a spatula and serve on a plate with bottom side up.