Spicy Lamb Dumplings

Home-made wrappers envelope a filling of cumin-scented lamb.
Home-made wrappers envelope a filling of cumin-scented lamb.

I’ve always had utmost respect for the cooks at Chinese restaurants, who huddle over a counter, rolling out perfectly thin circles of dough, one right after another, before crimping them with mind-blogging precision to turn out handmade dumplings quicker than I can take a breath.

But I have even more appreciation for their mad skills now, having tried my hand at making my own dumpling wrappers for the very first time.

Ever since I was a kid making wonton, gyoza and potstickers alongside my mom, we’d always make the filling from scratch, but buy the pre-made wrappers from an Asian market.

With the start of the Lunar New Year this week in yet another pandemic month, I figured now would be as good a time as any to finally check off that box in the annals of dumpling-making.

“Let’s Make Dumplings!” (Ten Speed Press, 2021), of which I received a review copy, proved a perfect resource for that undertaking.

It’s a comic book cookbook — yes, really — by cookbook writer Hugh Amano and illustrator Sarah Becan.

It’s as thick as a typical cookbook, but there are no photos inside, only whimsical paneled illustrations in color that depict not only the recipe with ingredients and measurements, but the techniques required. Because every step is illustrated, it makes it quite easy to follow along, no matter if this is your first time making dumplings or your hundredth.

The illustrated comic book-style of this cookbook makes it easier to grasp techniques like this one for making momos.

Amano and Becan take you through types of wrappers; methods to create all manner of dumpling shapes from pleated crescents to four-pointed stars; as well as the steaming, pan-frying, and deep-frying methods to cook them. The recipes span the gamut from “Beef & Kimchi Mandu,” “Pork, Shrimp & Mushroom Shumai,” and “Curried Beef Baozi” to “Sweet Cambodian Rice Dumplings,” “Fried Sesame Balls” and even condiments such as “Burmese Garlic-Chile Sauce.”

Making your own wrappers isn't difficult, but it does add time.
Making your own wrappers isn’t difficult, but it does take time.
Experimenting with different shapes.
Experimenting with different shapes.

I honed in on the “Spicy Lamb Dumplings” because I adore cumin-scented lamb. In fact, I love it so much that even though this filling recipe calls for 12 ounces of ground lamb and 4 ounces of ground beef, I went all in on the lamb, using a full 1 pound and skipping the beef completely.

The lamb gets emboldened with 1 tablespoon of ground cumin. Turmeric gives the meat mixture a mustardy-yellow tinge, and cayenne its heat, which you can adjust to suit your spice level.

At this point, you can just use store-bought gyoza wrappers to assemble your dumplings. Or if you want to go the whole nine yards, make your own “Dumpling Wrappers” with the recipe from the book.

The dough is simply all-purpose flour and boiling water mixed with salt. Amano explains that the boiling water causes the starch in the dough to gelate or gelantinize, making the dough more supple and easier to work with. The dough rests for at least 30 minutes before using, too, allowing it to further hydrate, so it’s softer.

Now, the fun — or work — begins with the meticulous rolling out of each wrapper. It’s not necessarily difficult, but it may take a few tries to get the hang of turning a little lump of dough into a symmetrical circle. My first few more resembled amebas than anything else.

The amount of dough is supposed to make about 48 wrappers. When rolled into circular wrappers about 1/8-inch thick and 3 1/2-inch in diameter, the resulting filled dumplings cooked up a little denser in texture than I personally would prefer.

Pan fry, then serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
Pan fry, then serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

So, I tried rolling them even thinner while still keeping them the same size. It’s possible to do, though, it will make working with them a little trickier because they become more fragile and tend to stick to your workspace more. However, when I filled these and pan-fried them, they were much more tender and to my liking. If you go this way, just note that you will end up with more than 48 wrappers, and might need to make closer to 1 1/2 times the filling, as a result.

The undersides turn beautifully crisp and golden when pan-fried.
The undersides turn beautifully crisp and golden when pan-fried.

Although the recipe recommends folding these dumplings into the classic pinched momo shape, feel free to experiment with others, if you like, just as my husband and I did.

The pan-fried dumplings get crisp and deeply golden on the bottom with a filling that’s richly tasting of lamb and warm, earthy cumin. Serve the dumplings with your favorite dipping sauce.

Then, congratulate yourself heartily on a job deliciously done.

A peek at the filling.
A peek at the filling.

Spicy Lamb Dumplings

(Makes about 48 dumplings)

12 ounces ground lamb (see Note)

4 ounces ground beef

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 bunch parsley, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

1 egg

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more or less to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

48 homemade dumpling wrappers (see recipe below) or store-bought gyoza wrappers

Place the lamb, garlic, parsley, egg, cumin, salt, black pepper, sugar, cayenne, turmeric, olive oil, and vinegar in a large bowl. Use your hands to vigorously mix the filling until it starts to come together, 20 to 30 seconds. Then, “knead” the filling by folding it over on itself repeatedly for another 90 seconds. The mixture should be cohesive.

To try the filling: Microwave a teaspoon of it for 20 to 30 seconds and adjust the seasoning to taste.

The filling may be used right away, or refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

To make dumplings: Fill each wrapper with about 2 teaspoons of filling, and fold as desired. For a momo shape, lightly wet the entire rim of a wrapper with water using your pinky, and keeping other fingers dry. Gather the dough using your thumb and index finger. Use a pin-and-fold motion to seal the wrapper, repeating while slightly spinning the dumpling. Give the wrapper a final twist, and pinch a tight rim at the very top to seal.

To pan-fry dumplings: Heat a 10-inch or larger nonstick or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of a neutral oil, and swirl it around the pan. Lay dumplings in the pan on their flattest side, leaving about 1/2-inch of space around each dumpling to allow for steam flow.

Fry until the bottoms of the dumplings are lightly golden brown (use a fish spatula or fork to lift a dumpling up for a peek), about 2 minutes. Holding the pan’s lid (or a baking sheet) near the pan to serve as a shield, pour 1/2 cup of water into the pan, and cover immediately (the water will sputter and spit furiously!) Lower the heat to medium and let cook, tightly covered, for 5 minutes more.

Loosen the lid so it is slightly ajar to let the steam escape, cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until most of the water is gone. Then, remove the lid completely and let the dumplings finish frying for another minute or so or until golden brown on the bottom and the filling is cooked through.

Using your fish spatula to leave as much oil behind as possible, transfer the dumplings to a serving plate. Serve immediately with your favorite sauce.

To freeze uncooked dumplings: Place them on a parchment-lined tray, making sure they are not touching one another. Place try uncovered in the freezer until they are frozen through, preferably overnight. Once frozen, transfer dumplings to a resealable freezer bag. They will keep for about 2 months. When ready to cook, don’t defrost; just cook them frozen, adding a couple more minutes to the cooking time.

Note: Feel free to use 1 pound of lamb and to skip the beef completely, if you like.

Dumpling Wrappers

(Makes 48 wrappers or more if you roll them out even thinner)

600 grams (about 4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

2 teaspoons salt

Boiling water

Place flour in a large bowl. Pour salt into a glass measuring cup of at least 2-cup capacity.

Bring water to a boil. Pour 1 1/2 cups into the measuring cup with the salt, and stir to dissolve the salt.

While stirring the flour with chopsticks, slowly pour in the salt water mixture. When well combined, use your hands to scrape any dough from the chopsticks. Begin kneading the dough against the side of the bowl. When the dough is in one cohesive piece, and all the crumbs and flour have been incorporated, continue kneading until the dough is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Or refrigerate for up to 1 day, letting the dough sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.

When you are ready to roll your wrappers, cut the dough ball into quarters. Keep three quarters covered and roll one quarter into a log about 1-foot long. Cut the dough ball into 12 equal pieces (or 16 or more if you want to try to make thinner wrappers).

Stand each dough piece on its cut side, give it a little pinch to shape it into a disc, and flatten it as much as possible with the heel of your hand. Using a small wooden dowel or a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into a round about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick, rotating the dough after each roll and dusting lightly with flour as needed to prevent sticking. You can roll the dough even thinner for more tender dumplings, if you like. If you do that, you will end up with more than 48 wrappers. Don’t stress too much about making them perfect circles.

Lightly dust the wrappers with flour and shingle on a lightly floured sheet pan, and keep them covered with plastic wrap when not in use. (Wrappers can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours. Just note that rather than freezing the dough balls or wrappers, these wrappers are best filled and shaped before freezing.)

Adapted from “Let’s Make Dumplings” by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan

Another Good Thing In Small Packages: My Dad’s Foil Wrapped Chicken

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One comment

  • Beef/Lamb is a wonderful combination. It is typical in Eastern European Sarma, Cevapicici, etc. Ie Serbian. I use Vegeta in this combination, plus garlic, caramalized minced onions, etc like flat leaf parsley, even grated carrot and parsnips. Serve w/Ajvar. Devine flavour! Literally a new “meat”. Friends who say they don’t eat lamb-love beef/lamb . I use the combination in many Thai dishes like W/shallots, minced Phrik Khe Nu or Phrik Chee Fa, garlic, Kaproa, nam Pla, etc. Great as won ton or potsticker filling fried and served Sriracha made in Thailand NOT the Red Rooster Taiwanese made in Cali. Real Thai Sriracha is awesome. Thai Won Ton – use Knor Tom Yum Cubes. Then I use pork and shrimp, lemongrass etc filling. If available add fresh straw mushrooms, fresh water chestnut pieces, onion, tomato, fresh lime juice. Now I am Hungary.

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