Friday, October 8, 2010

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Bookshelf: Asian Dumplings

I have lost count.

I have simply lost count of the number and variety of potstickers, lumpia, shuijiao, shaomai, mandu, har gow, and ridiculously tasty xiaolongbao I’ve devoured since Andrea Nguyen’s book Asian Dumplings showed up at the Whiskey Forge this summer. That last one, known sometimes as soup dumplings, Shanghai soup dumplings, or even cryptically as juicy pork buns, is one of my all-time favorite Asian dumplings. The little steamed pocket of dough holds not just pork, but a small puddle of rich soup. Bite a small hole in the bottom, slurp out the soup, dip the rest in a chili sauce, and down it. I knew in theory how to make them using a gelatin-rich stock, but the particulars had escaped me…until now.

With thousands of food books around the house, some inevitably are used more than others. After spending a week plucking through Asian Dumplings, I knew that if I had to trim down to 100 cookbooks, this would be one of them. In fact, it’s one of maybe five cookbooks I use in the kitchen. I try to keep it clean, to keep it away from splatters and spills, but like a good knife, this a tool, not an heirloom for future generations. If future generations want to make dumplings, they can find their own damn copies. This one is mine and I’m guarding it with my good knives.

Pork dumplings at the Whiskey Forge
It’s true that there are a half dozen different dumplings in my freezer, all made with my own hands using Nguyen’s straightforward directions. Her master shapes sections show clearly how to make crescents, half-moons, pleats, and other common shapes. Some get slightly more complicated, but nothing harder than tortellini. Those dumplings I made following her instructions are for when I want to make a quick and easy dinner.

But I’ve been going out, too, using Nguyen’s book as a sort of field guide, ordering trays of dumplings at area restaurants. As a child growing up in the Midwest, the range of Asian dumplings available to me was limited — egg rolls, potstickers, wontons, and sometimes spring rolls. My tastes, budget, and exposure to new foods have evolved, but I still learned new styles and names from Nguyen. After reading the book, it’s reassuring to enter a new restaurant, review the dumpling offerings, and know exactly where to start.

Fry them? Why would you not?
Both Asian and dumpling are defined broadly in the book, so we have the expected wealth of Chinese pan-fried, deep-fried, and steamed dumplings, but also samosas and moong dal vada from India, Filipino lumpia, Spring rolls, and Indonesian lemper ayam (spiced rice and chicken wrapped in a banana leaf). There are snacks from Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal, Japan, Mongolia, and Korea — stuffed buns, pastries, various rolls, and sweet dumplings. Eat them plain or dip them in the flavored oils, sauces, chutneys described at the end of the book.

The recipes represent a transcontinental dim sum feast from India to Japan. Whether you follow Nguyen’s recipes to the letter or use her clear techniques and line drawings to develop your own fillings, folds, and doughs, there is enough inspiration here to last months. Or, in my case, years.

Come over and have dumplings if you like. Shoot, have a seat and help me make a few dozen, but if you want the book, you’ll have to get your own copy.

Andrea Nguyen (2009)
Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More
240 pages, hardback
Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1580089755

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