My nemesis: Translucent Dough


Not all attempts at making dumplings are successful.

The instigating event for this dumpling adventure was a class I attended, taught by Terri Dien and Mia Chambers of “Dear Martini” (  They taught a group of us to make delicious dumplings, including beautiful and succulent har gow.  I was SO intrigued by the skin–a mixture of wheat starch, tapioca starch, and boiling water.   So when dear friends came for dinner a few months ago, I decided to make homemade har gow.

Mistake # 1:  purchase shrimp from my local grocery store instead of the Asian market. They’re just not as fresh.

Mistake # 2: not tasting the canned bamboo shoots before adding to the mix.  I’ve eaten bamboo shoots my whole life, and never noticed this problem before, but these canned bamboo shoots had an unpleasant bitter/plastic taste.

Mistake #3:  I’m not exactly sure what happened, but the outside wrapper did not cook, even though I steamed them for awhile.  I think  this was because I used a different pot to put the bamboo steamer on instead of my wok, which cradles the steamer. 

The expectation?  Beautiful and tasty shrimp shining through a pearly translucent wrapper.  The actual result:  chemical tasting shrimp filling inside a white, starchy/mealy uncooked dough.  SO BAD we had to spit it out and throw the whole thing away. I’ve not brought myself to try again, but I will soon.  Maybe even this week. I am sorry I do not have photos of this failure.

A month later I did face my fear and attempt the wheat starch dough again.   I made “Chao Zhou Fen Guo”–this recipe is from Andrea Nguyen’s dumpling cookbook.  I summarize below; she gives much more detailed instructions.

Wheat Starch Dough:

1 cup wheat starch

1/2 cup tapioca starch

1/8 tsp salt

1 cup boiling water

4 tsp canola oil

The recipe calls for mixing by hand. But I dumped the starches and salt in my Kitchenaid mixer, turned it on low, then slowly poured in the water, then the oil.  This makes a fabulous dough that has a firm, malleable texture.    Knead it for a couple of minutes, then I cut it in three pieces and formed each into a log. The dough is so simple to make, and really JUST SO FUN to knead and form and cut.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for a few minutes.  Cut each log into 8 pieces, then roll each piece between 2 squares of parchment paper into a thin round disc.  Now that I have a tortilla press, next time I  will use the press; this dough will take well to the press as there is no elasticity to it.  The lack of elasticity also makes them FAR LESS FORGIVING when wrapping.  There is no stretching of this dough, it pulls apart, so I had to use less filling. [This is giving me anxiety about the future, when I next try to make har gow.  How will I stuff plenty of shrimp into such an unyielding vessel?]


Note the wheat starch and tapioca starch packaging in the upper right of the photo.


1/2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp white pepper

2 tsp oyster sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 tbsp water

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 tbsp chopped dried shrimp (I used fresh because I don’t like the texture of the shells)

1/4 pound ground pork (I used more)

2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stemmed, and chopped

1/2 cup finely diced jicama (I substituted water chestnuts)

2 tbsp chopped peanuts

1/1/2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Brown the garlic, dried shrimp and ground pork, then add mushrooms, jicama, peanuts.  In a separate bowl, mix sugar, pepper, oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, water.  Add this seasoning sauce to pork mixture and cook, adding cornstarch mixture to thicken.  Turn off heat and stir in cilantro.  Allow filling to cool completely before wrapping.

I attempted to make a pretty dumpling, but found there is ZERO elasticity to this dough, and I’m an over-stuffer, so the wrappers kept breaking. I ended up making a few ugly half moons that I steamed. I had a little more success creating the same dumpling but round, I just pinched it into a ball and turned it over, smooth side up. These I pan fried.  This time, the dough DID cook and turn translucent.  The taste?  Not my favorite, the filling was flavorful but I don’t think I like nuts in dumpling fillings as they lose their crunch and add an mealy texture that I’m not fond of.  And the dough was a bit tough and chewy for me.  They were passable, which I suppose is a step up from spit it out and throw it away.

The only redeeming factor is that when I last purchased these on Clement street, I recall thinking—this wrap is kind of rubbery and tough.

I will have to keep at this until I master it.


Ugly steamed dumplings. Note in the far right dumpling I made a hole in the wrapper when sealing; the lack of elasticity causes me consternation. 


Pan fried Fen Guo.  Not the most attractive thing I’ve ever made.  And Yes, I DO want my food to look pretty.




Months ago I mentioned my dumpling quest to my good friend Michael.  Departing from my naturally humble, understated nature, I channeled my inner Julia Child and boasted that I would be making not only Asian dumplings, but also ravioli, empanadas, samosas, and the like.

“My grandmother used to make kreplach” Michael mused. “But I haven’t had it in decades”.  

FINE. Go ahead. How Dare You challenge me like that.  Of course I can make kreplach.  Even though I have no idea what kreplach is.  

So, for Michael’s birthday tomorrow, I made kreplach.  And I played klezmer music while cooking.  just kidding, I played Michael Jackson and EWF.


I found this recipe on line and liked it better than other recipes I looked at :

How to make kreplach on a thursday night after working 12 hours:  

For the beef:  I purchased boneless short ribs from Costco and cooked them in my pressure cooker with salt, pepper, garlic, and wine for 45 minutes (this takes 2.5-3 hours on the stovetop). I did this 2 weeks ago and froze the beef. Then 2 nights ago I caramelized 2 large onions.  Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my 6 quart Deep Saute All Clad pan?  It changed my life.  I always use it to caramelize onions.

Since the time consuming steps of cooking the beef and onions were done well in advance, all I had to do last night was cut the Beef into large chunks, dump in the food processor with the caramelized onions, salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, a little garlic powder and process till chopped and mixed together, I didn’t process it to a paste.  The fat in the cooked beef actually made this a fairly smooth mixture even though the meat was not chopped too fine.  Taste and add more seasoning if needed.  This is a really delicious filling AND I have some leftover so I will slip it into another unsuspecting dumpling, coming soon to a theater near you. 


The dough: 3 cups flour, I added 3/4 tsp salt, and 4 eggs.  I dumped it in my kitchenaid mixture and turned it on low.  This was my very first foray into an egg pasta, and the result was quite startling, compared to the elastic flour/water doughs of the Asian dumplings.  The protein and fat of the eggs made for a very stiff yet pliable dough that is extremely well behaved.  NOW I SEE how this could be used in a pasta machine.  I’m excited. I’m going to borrow a pasta maker and make real italian pasta.  But I digress . . . .  back to kreplach:  I really hate rolling out sheets of dough and cutting them, so instead I used the potsticker method and hand rolled discs which is fun and not cumbersome.  Scoop the filling into the disc using my handy dandy small (2.5 tsp) ice cream scoop, fold in half and seal, then bring the corners together into a ring like a tortellini.  Easy Peasy.   










The recipes I looked at all call for boiling the kreplach and serving with chicken broth. I decided to do a taste test and boiled a few in water, then drained and served them in broth.  The others I cooked directly in the chicken broth. David served as the queen’s taster, and he preferred the kreplach boiled in the broth–it’s saltier.  Me, I liked the kreplach boiled in water/served in broth–they had a cleaner flavor.   They both had a nice chewy texture to the wrapper, and the filling was beefy and delicious with a sort of creamy texture due to caramelized onions and slow cooked fatty beef.  And Both of us wanted to dip these in a spicy/sweet/salty/sour sauce.  They seem to lack a little ‘oomph’. Kreplach and sriracha, anyone?  


This recipe says it makes 35 pieces, but I cut 48 and the skins still seemed a little thick, and the dumplings kind of big, more than twice   the size of a wonton.  Once cooked, these are not delicate little creatures.  Of course, never having seen or eaten kreplach before, I’m not sure what they are supposed to look and taste like.  Help from my Jewish friends is appreciated here.





Steaming Beauty


Char siu bao, har gow, and siu mai make up the dim sum trifecta.  Of the three, siu mai clearly takes the bronze. It’s the third wheel, the ugly stepsister, the also ran.  Char siu bao has snow white, tender sweet bread surrounding morsels of sweet and savory pork; you can buy one on Clement street and enjoy out of hand the steaming hot treat on a foggy day.  Har gow elicits delight; when the little steamer is uncovered to reveal delicate pink-orange shrimp shining through the translucent skin, your mouth starts to water. 

And siu mai?  It’s kind of wrinkled.  Sometimes it’s tough, sometimes gummy.  And it’s never as flavorful as the other two. But, just like many underrated characters (think ugly duckling, third daughters, Neville Longbottom) Siu Mai can become the star of your dumpling adventure. 

Siu mai, are, of course, the easiest dumplings of all to make and shape.  It turns out you need to put MORE filling than you think, because the filling needs to come all the way to the top or (a) it looks funny, like a bad floppy hat, and (b) the excess floppy skin can have an ‘uncooked’ feel to it, a little tough. So be generous, and overstuff.

A note about making vegan siu mai:  So far I’ve made 3 different versions.  Unlike wrapped dumplings, these little guys need to stand up on their own and not disintegrate into a puddle when you cook them.  Twice I used mashed potato and/or carrot as the ‘substantive glue’ to keep them standing up.  Once I used sticky rice. All three times they looked and tasted good but the texture was a bit too soft and lacked toothful substance. Next time I will add water chestnuts (which I don’t like much because they have no flavor).  Suggestions welcome here.

  1. Siu Mai:   One half pound each of super lean and regular ground pork,.  A slug of oyster sauce. 2 tbsp fish sauce. 1Diced onion, salted and squeezed dry (since I didn’t have a shallot). 2 tsp each minced ginger and garlic.  This was a successful and tasty filling.  I would make it again.  Marlon’s favorite.
  2. Vegan siu mai:  half a diced onion, minced ginger and garlic, 3 peeled and diced small  Asian eggplant.  Sauté for a long time until wilted and dry.  I chunked a carrot and potato till simmered till tender, then mashed and mixed together.  Seasoned with Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce by Soy Vay.  This was a flavorful filling, and the siu mai did not disintegrate when steamed. However the texture was too soft, like eating mashed potato inside the siu mai skin.  Need to fix the texture problem.
  3. 2nd attempt at Vegan siu mai:  potato and carrot mash, mixed with caramelized onions and chopped spinach.  Now really, this was a PITA.  I washed, then chopped and salted the spinach and squeezed out the water. Then sautéed it with the carmelized onions to try and evaporate the remaining moisture.  STILL TOO WET.  I used SO MANY paper towels to soak up extra moisture. I seasoned with Indian spices–cumin, coriander, turmeric, pepper, along with soy sauce  They were really pretty, but the amount of filling made less than 2 steamers full.  The taste was good, still felt like mash in a wrapper. Both Stacy and Jenn liked the eggplant ones better.

To wrap:  use purchased round Siu Mai wrappers, available at your friendly neighborhood Asian grocery.  Using a little ice cream scoop, scoop a generous tablespoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper.  Gather the sides up around the filling, and using your left thumb and forefinger, make an “o” like “okay” around the waist of the siu mai, cinching it in to give it a nice slightly svelte hourglass shape, and press the dumpling on the counter so that the bottom is nice and flat.  Then use the back of the scoop to press the filling down, making the top flat.  You can decorate the top with a little grated carrot (I use my microplane), if you like. Svelte Siu Mai.  You heard it here first.





To steam, fill the bottom of whatever pan you are using with 2 inches of water, and either lightly oil the upper rack/steaming tray, or line with parchment paper (cut to fit and poke a whole bunch of holes in the paper to allow the steam to come through).  Steam over boiling water for 10 minutes; they can be kept nice and hot until ready to serve by leaving them over the hot water (turn down to sim or even off). Don’t forget a nice dipping sauce. 

I am a big fan of using the bamboo steamer to cook these PURELY for the aesthetic value; they are so pretty in the steamer, and there’s great ‘wow’ when you lift the lid off at the table.  I love my 2 decker steamer, I think it’s about 11 inches so you can actually seriously make enough.  Those little ones are cutesy pie but a little impractical imho. Unless you are opening a restaurant.




note how these below (1st attempt) are understuffed. 


Can’t buy love


When we were kids, the ‘butter’ in our refrigerator was Chiffon Margarine in an 8 ounce plastic tub.  Two white tubs with yellow flowers in one pack.  We spread this on toast and I baked with it, scooping half a tub out to make chocolate chip cookies.  I didn’t discover real butter until my twenties—-around the same time I met my dear husband.  It’s been an ongoing, passionate love affair ever since.  And he’s not bad, either.

Sometimes I buy four pounds of butter at a time from Costco.

Which brings me, of course, to empanadas.  I had never made empanadas before, but I LOVE pastry, and any excuse to make pastry with solid gold butter makes me happy. I’ve now made them three times, with three different fillings.  Things I have learned about the making of empanadas:

1. Making empanada dough only deepens my enduring love for my Cuisinart Food processor.  I use it to make all pastry; it cuts the ice cold butter into the flour in seconds and makes the whole process easy instead of a chore.

2.  Use a tortilla press to make the rounds of dough, and press them fairly thin.  The first two times I rolled out the dough with a rolling pin; it was time consuming and more than a little frustrating for this impatient cook. Then I found a gorgeous inexpensive aluminum Tortilla Press. I’d been looking, but disliked the heavy cast iron tortilla presses at the gourmet shops.   My new tortilla press IS THE BOMB.  It is SO MUCH FUN.  Just put a piece of parchment paper (I just tore it into a square a little bigger than the face) on the lower surface, then put the ball of dough on top, flatten a little and put a second piece of parchment on top.  Push down on the handle and you have a perfect round of dough with very little work.  The whole tactile thing reminds me of putting a nickel in a gumball machine and turning the handle to get your little prize.  Yes, I can free associate with the best of ’em.

3. Both the Beatles and Earth, Wind and Fire say that you Can’t Buy Love, but it isn’t true.  These empanadas will make people love you.



Empanadas with Mushroom and Caramelized Onions


1.5 pounds button mushrooms (one Costco pack) washed and sliced

2 onions, peeled and sliced thin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp sage

½ tsp thyme

2 tsp soy sauce

½ cup bread crumbs

2/3 cup shredded cheese—I use cheddar or jack but any mild cheese is fine

Heat a large frying pan with a little oil and add onions, cook on medium high till starting to brown.  Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring now and then, for about 30 minutes till caramelized (very soft, brown, sweet, and almost a creamy texture).  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large frying pan with a little oil add mushrooms and cook on high, stirring, allowing all the water to be released and evaporated. Continue to cook on medium high until the mushrooms are dry and they are nicely browned.  This takes awhile but is worth the effort; the taste and texture are terrible if you stop before the nicely browned stage.  Add spices and soy sauce and onions, continuing to cook until fragrant and fairly dry. Remove from heat and add bread crumbs.  Let cool and mix in cheese. Taste it and adjust seasoning accordingly.


3 ½ cups flour

½ cup corn masa flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tsp salt

¾ cup (1.5 sticks) very cold butter, cut in small cubes about ½ inch.

½ cup ice water

Place flour, masa flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor and pulse a couple of times to mix.  Add cold cubed butter and pulse about 15-20 short pulses till it looks like coarse wet sand, you can still see little fragments of butter. Add ice water and pulse again a few times to mix.  Turn out onto floured board and gather together in a ball, adding more water if it does not stick together.  Divide into 24 pieces.  Roll each into a ball, and using a tortilla press, flatten into a disc.

[To use the tortilla press, Simply put a piece of parchment paper, cut to size, on the bottom. Place a ball of dough in the center. Place another piece of parchment on top.  Push down on the tortilla press. Keep using the same parchment unless it gets sticky, then just cut another piece of paper.] I find this to be GREAT FUN.

Scoop filling into disc and crimp edges. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.

Brush all empanadas with beaten egg.

Bake at 425 degrees for 16-20 minutes or till golden brown.

Serve with bottled Sweet Thai Chili sauce.