I am sitting with a half-dozen strangers at the counter of a small demonstration kitchen I’ve really never noticed before, next to the expansive, gourmet international cheese case in my local ShopRite grocery store.
We’ve gathered on a chilly weeknight for an adult culinary workshop that promises we’ll explore the world of dumplings and authentic flavors from across the globe.
How could I resist? Especially since this kind of commonality across world cuisines—breads, fried breads, particular herbs and spices, dumplings!—is a thread that we at Our Recipe for Unity℠ hope helps people see past differences and strike a common chord that can create connections and help break down barriers. We firmly believe that food is one of the key universal languages. (I used to say the universal language until a new friend at a local Jamaican food shack agreed, but added: “Food and music,” he said, nodding his head enthusiastically. “Food and music bring people together.”)
Speaking of universal: Dumplings are practically ubiquitous and certainly integral to many, many cuisines around the world. Defined, they are essentially filled balls of dough, often savory, but not exclusively. Recipes typically use flour made from the locale’s primary grain and reflect local preferences for fillings and flavors. They can be boiled, steamed, or pan-fried. Dumplings are so diverse, in fact, they are more of a cooking style or technique than a dish, per se.
Dumplings: Across the World, Across Time
According to NPR and Ken Albala, a food historian at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, there were probably even prehistoric dumplings. Earliest references include Ancient Roman recipes (1st century AD) and legend of a man named Zhang Zhongjian, who is credited with inventing dumplings during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) in China.
Regardless, dumplings are enjoyed today around the world, in plenty of variations and known by many names, including the following:
In the workshop with ShopRite’s chef and dietician, we learned how to prepare Chinese-inspired dumplings with shrimp (or shumai, pronounced “shoo-my”), Polish dumplings (or pierogis, pronounced “pye-roh-gees”) with sauerkraut and apples, as well as Indonesian dumplings with sweet potatoes in coconut milk sauce.
As ShopRite’s educational focus is on healthy foods, these recipes feature some good-for-you twists, including a dill-yogurt dipping sauce for the pierogis instead of the traditional sour cream, which reduces saturated fat and increases protein. The pierogi stuffing also features a healthy combination of sauerkraut and diced Gala apples. We learned about the probiotic and prebiotic combo of the sauerkraut and apple (pectin) and the resulting “gut health” benefits. The recipe also calls for wonton wrappers vs. dough, another substitution that makes for a lighter dish.
For the shumai, we pulse half the shrimp in the food processor with egg whites and cornstarch as the binder, with fresh ginger and garlic to punch up the flavor without the salt you might get with prepackaged ingredients. We then stir in the remaining shrimp and place a 1 ½-ounce scoop of filling into each wonton wrapper. Chef Lewis then steams these dumplings instead of frying them. They are topped with a ginger-lime sauce and slice of green onion.
The last dish of the night, Indonesian Sweet Potato Dumplings, is perfect for a dessert-y finish. The base is sweet potato puree with a healthy ½ c of dragonfruit lemongrass kombucha and rice flour, which Chef Lewis says he likes for its ability to provide a crispy finish. For the sauce, we use a light version of coconut milk, as Morgan Laugier, the dietician, calls out the drawback to what’s currently considered a superfood: that it’s relatively high in saturated fat. Conversely, she touts peanuts as an underrated nut, given that a serving provides both 7 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. A coconut milk sauce with a touch of vanilla and grated fresh ginger tops the finished dish, along with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts.
You can find all 3 recipes from the Dumplings Around the World culinary workshop in the Our Recipe for Unity℠ recipe database.
Learn and see more about 24 Dumplings You Need to Try All Over the World from Fodors (Sep 30, 2017).
For now, Chī hǎo hē hǎo! Smacznego! Or, Selamat makan! These are the Chinese, Polish, and Indonesian equivalents of Bon appétit! In other words, in English: Enjoy your meal!