My mother always took care of all the cooking in our household – except on those occasions when we were having dumplings. Then she would mix up a big bowl of filling – usually a combination of pork, shrimp and veggies – break open a couple of packages of round dumpling wrappers, and call whoever happened to be in the house over to the kitchen to help fold the dumplings. Since our entire meal would consist solely of dumplings, the more hands we had helping out, the better. We’d gather in the kitchen to fill and fold and pleat, and soon, there would be plates and plates full of beautifully crafted little dumplings sitting on the kitchen countertop.
I always suspected that making dumplings was as much an excuse to gather the family together for relaxed conversation – a chance to catch up on gossip and news – as it was to put together a delicious meal. Even today, I find I most enjoy making dumplings when I’m doing it with my family or friends (occasionally I’ll still make them on my own, cajoled by my boyfriend, who adores those little dough-encased packets of savory filling, but it’s never as much fun.)
Dumpling neophytes are often intimidated by the technique, which looks hopelessly complicated at first. But because I firmly believe that the dumpling experience is as much about the process as it is about enjoying the finished product, I always insist that everyone sharing in a dumpling meal try to make at least one or two. Nearly everyone I’ve harassed into giving the process a shot finds that after a few tries, they’ve got the skills down pat. Of course, you can always get creative with the wrapping as well – although the pleated crescent shape is traditional, you should by no means feel like you absolutely have to go with the tried and true.
If you’ve only ever experienced the version served in Chinese restaurants, where dumplings (a.k.a. Peking ravioli, potstickers) are generally enormous lumps of grease and fatty meat, you’ll be surprised to find that the homemade version is infinitely tastier and a lot healthier. I’ve served dumplings to the most finicky of eaters, and have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love these fabulous little food bites.