Simple pork and corn dumplings recipe

Dumplings all over the world have a split personality, which makes their history so interesting to learn and their presence so delicious to eat.

On the one hand, leftover foods have filled pockets of dough for millennia, so as to make something for a future meal. In the dialect of Genoa, along Italy’s Ligurian coast, “rabiole” means “things of little value” or, in the kitchen, “scraps.” The beginnings of Chef Boyardee were an afterthought.

On the other hand, these same small packets of pleasure are always celebratory, special. Opening each discloses the prize inside. Every single one of eons of countless dumplings — such a humble name! — is a surprise. What a concept.

I must note that an entire hemisphere, mostly an English-speaking one, uses the word “dumpling” not for a pocket of dough but merely for a plop of it or a ribbon or sheet of it, as in our North American chicken-and-dumplings.

All over the United Kingdom, for example, you’ll find these sorts of mostly flat dumplings fashioned from wheat flour. They broadly are what we Americans would call “pasta.” And just as we serve pasta, these U.K. dumplings are cooked in stews and soups or served as side dishes slathered in butter or wine sauce. In Derbyshire, to the north, where oats are widely grown, you’ll eat oatmeal and wheat flour dumplings shiny with caramelized onions and the drippings of a beef roast. That sounds simply scrumptious.

As they do in Derby, other Europeans combine wheat flour with a second, ancillary starch (by and large, the potato) to form an entire other class of dumpling, all in the model of our doughball dumpling, rounded with a spoon or in the palm of the hand and, by and large, unstuffed.

The Italians, of course, have given us their ravioli, but also the plump gnocchi and malfatti of various sorts. All over Central and Eastern Europe there are “knudeln” and “nocken” in a seemingly endless variety and flavoring, sometimes steamed or poached, sometimes fried. Cooks in both the Czech Republic and Austria prepare delectable steamed potato and flour dumplings (called, in Austria, mohnnudeln) that are coated liberally in butter and sweetened and vanilla-flavored poppy seeds.

These latter remind us that dumplings, worldwide, are both savory as well as sweet. The class of dessert dumplings is huge, too.

For some cooks (and eaters), dumplings also encompass noodle-like foods such as spätzle (such as you would find in Germany or Switzerland) or strapačky from Slovakia, dough mixes of eggs, flour and water (or milk) that are grated over wide holes into simmering liquids and thence cooked.

But for filled dumplings, well, the non-English world is profligate in its variety. The Poles have their pierogi and pyzy, both carrying many different possible flavorings, stuffings or toppings. Other filled dumplings: Russian pelmeni, Serbian gomboce, Nepalese momo, Indian samosa, Israeli kreplach. All these are just a dent in dumpling’s big tent.

Turning to Asia is to visit a food bazaar. Going back many hundreds of years, Asian cultures have taken the predominant grain of their area be it rice or wheat, or a pulse or starch of a various kind such as tapioca or lentil, mixed it with water (and sometimes some fat), rolled it out and stuffed it with, well, about anything that a person might eat.

On the exhaustive website tasteatlas.com, of its list of the “10 Most Popular Dumplings in the World,” six are Asian. They are China’s jiaozi, baozi, wonton, shumai and har gow, Turkey’s mani and Japan’s gyoza. The derivation of the Chinese word “wonton” is a lot like the Ligurian “rabiole.” It’s a pun on the word for “chaos,” eventually coming to mean “irregularly-shaped,” in something the way that a contemporary American might say “Whatever.”

Today’s recipe is a toast to Lunar New Year — this year The Year of the Ox — and utilizes what are sold sometimes as “wonton wrappers” as a way of side-stepping having to make your own.

Simple Pork and Corn Dumplings

Makes 24 or more

Ingredients

  • 1 package 3 and 1/2-inch round, pre-rolled, wheat flour-based dumpling wrappers, thawed if frozen
  • 8 ounces white or yellow corn kernels, thawed
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced scallion, white and light green parts only
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and grated pepper
  • Lettuce or flat cabbage leaves

Directions

Put the corn kernels in a couple of thicknesses of paper toweling and wring them, squeezing them of their water. In a bowl, mix together the corn, pork, scallion, ginger, soy sauce and salt and pepper and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to blend flavors.

Prepare a steamer by placing it over water and lining it with the lettuce or cabbage leaves. Have a cover for the steamer at the ready.

Place a teaspoon of the pork and corn mixture in the center of each wrapper, pulling it into a crescent shape and then pinching or pleating the edges into shape (use a film of water at the edges if it helps). Plop each dumpling onto a work surface to flatten the bottom so that it can stand upright in the steamer.

When ready to heat, boil then simmer the water under the steamer and place the dumplings in the steamer, in batches (no more than can fit with room around each), and cook them for 8 minutes, covered. Serve, garnished with cilantro and with a dipping sauce, while cooking the next batch.

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