Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dumpling Lessons

When we go out for Chinese food, Katherine always orders dumplings.  She will eat any kind, but the pork-filled potstickers are her very favorites.  Any time she is asked to list her favorite foods, dumplings are in the top 5.  She dearly loves those little half-moon treats.

Kate's class is having a food tasting party tomorrow.  Each child is supposed to bring a favorite dish and everyone will try a bite.  Ethnic recipes are encouraged.  Katherine handed me the note about the tasting party on Monday.  I asked her what she wanted to bring.  She shrugged.  I asked if she wanted to take Chinese food and she nodded.  What kind?  Another shrug.  She just looked at me and I could see the wordless plea in her eyes.  I knew what she wanted.  "How about dumplings?" I asked.  Her answer was immediate - "YES!!!" accompanied by whoops of delight and much jumping up and down. 

I found a recipe for pork dumplings and we went shopping for the ingredients last night.  We could only find square wonton wrappers, not the round dumplings wrappers.  But that really didn't seem to be a problem.  In fact, it would solve the problem of trying to somehow crinkle the edges of the dumplings into the perfect little pleats they have in restaurants.  We were ready.

Tonight, we cooked.  Now Katherine and I have both made dumplings before, with Chinese friends and at China Camp.  But we have never attempted dumplings on our own.  So we knew we were in for an adventure.

We mixed ground pork with minced onion, ginger, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and sesame oil.  It smelled like China...  Then we put little scoops of the filling in the middle of the wrappers.
Katherine remembered how to seal them - dip your finger in water, rub it around the edge of the wrapper, and fold it in half to make a triangle.  We experimented with folding the corners to make the dumplings look fancier and ended up making them look like fat little diapers!
Katherine was in her element, talking and singing and enjoying every moment of the dumpling making.  Our filling and our wrappers ran out at about the same time.  Perfect!
Then it was time to cook them.  And that was where the dumpling adventure turned toward disaster.  The instructions called for boiling the dumplings for a couple of minutes and then taking the pot off the heat and letting them sit in the hot water for a while.  This was pretty much what we'd done when we'd helped make dumplings in the past.  But apparently, we have not yet learned the fine art of knowing how long is long enough to stew in hot water.  Because our dumplings stewed for too long.  The pork cooked up beautifully.  But the wrappers disentigrated into slippery shreds of noodle-like mess.  The cute little diapers were unrecognizeable.  We had a pot of sausage soup.

I felt terrible.  Katherine had so wanted to share this favorite food, this little bit of her heritage.  And it was ruined.  But Katherine was undaunted.  There was sausage in that pot.  She grabbed a spoon and took a bite and grinned.  Our stew looked awful, but it tasted just like dumplings.  Delicious!

Katherine is taking a big bowl of deconstructed dumplings for the Tasting Party tomorrow.  And she is perfectly happy with that.  After all, they taste terrific.  I wrote a note for her teacher to read to the class.  I explained how much Katherine loves dumplings and how this was our first try at making them on our own.  I described the cooking disaster.  I wrote "Sometimes when you cook, things don't turn out like you wanted.  That's okay.  Our dumplings will be better next time.  For now, take a bite of meat (it tastes like sausage) and a little bit of wrapper (it tastes like noodles) and just imagine a beautiful Chinese dumpling."

I can't wait to hear what the 3rd grade thinks of the world's ugliest dumplings.  I'll bet no one likes them as much as Katherine does.  But then, Kate understands that the best food is made with love.  I'm looking forward to the next time we try to make dumplings.


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