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- What Is a Dumpling?
- 3 Ways to Cook Dumplings
- 4 Common Dumpling Fillings
- The Best Style of Dough for Dumplings
- Dumplings in Regional Cuisine: 13 Dumplings from Asia
- Dumplings in Regional Cuisine: 8 Dumplings from Europe and Russia
- Dumplings in Regional Cuisine: 4 Dumplings from Africa and the Americas
- Can You Make Gluten-Free Dumplings?
- What Do You Eat With Dumplings?
- How Do You Store Dumplings?
What Is a Dumpling?
A dumpling is a small mass of soft dough that is boiled, fried, or steamed. Sometimes the dough is rolled out to encase a filling, other times it's formed into a mound and cooked as is. The definition allows for a lot of variety, so there’s bound to be disagreement over what is or isn’t a proper dumpling. In China, the birthplace of the dumpling, there are so many different types of dumplings that there isn’t just one word to describe them all.
3 Ways to Cook Dumplings
Dumplings are either boiled, steamed, or fried, but there’s a couple of different ways to further differentiate these techniques:
- Boiled dumplings can be cooked in water or directly in the soup or stew in which they will be served.
- Steamed dumplings can be set in a basket over boiling water, or they can be “pan-fried,” meaning their bottoms are seared in oil, but their insides are cooked by a small amount of water trapped in a lidded pan.
- Fried dumplings can be cooked in virtually any fat: oil, lard, butter, etc.
4 Common Dumpling Fillings
The type of filling can be roughly broken down into:
The Best Style of Dough for Dumplings
The most basic type of dumpling dough is simply made of wheat flour and water, but of course there isn't one way to make dumpling dough:
- Type of flour. Buckwheat, millet, and tapioca can all be made into dough for dumplings.
- Vegetable-based. The starch component of dumplings can be supplemented (or supplanted) by vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, or squash.
- Bread-based. Dumplings such as German knödel are made with leftover bread.
- Fat and dairy. Adding eggs, cream, butter, or cheese tends to produce a richer, more tender dumpling dough.
Dumplings in Regional Cuisine: 13 Dumplings from Asia
- The most recognizable type of Chinese dumpling is probably jiao zi, a northern Chinese variety usually served with a vinegar-based dipping sauce that goes by three different names, depending on how it’s prepared. Shui jiao (“water dumplings”) are boiled. They’re usually pleated and crescent shaped and filled with ground pork and napa cabbage. Shui jiao are especially popular during Chinese New Year. Guo tie, aka jian jiao or pot stickers, are pan-fried dumplings. (Guo means “wok” and tie means “stuck.”) They’re often filled with ground pork and Chinese chives and sometimes shaped like long cylinders with both ends open. Zheng jiao are steamed. Their thin, translucent wrappers are often filled with shrimp.
- Chinese har gow are dim sum staples made of steamed shrimp dumplings with thin, transparent skin that often contains tapioca for extra stretch. Gow is Cantonese for jiao.
- Chinese shu mai are another steamed dim sum favorite. They’re filled with pork and shrimp and feature an open top sometimes garnished with crab roe.
- Chinese hun dun, aka wontons, are a type of square boiled dumpling made with egg dough and served in Cantonese noodle soup. They’re often filled with pork and bok choy.
- Chinese xiao long bao are the most famous variety of soup dumpling. They’re stuffed with pork and broth and hail from Shanghai. Soup dumplings are typically large and spherical and filled with cubes of gelatinous broth that’s solid at room temperature but melts into liquid when steamed.
- Japanese gyoza are often filled with pork and cabbage and pan-fried (yaki gyoza) and served as an appetizer at ramen and izakaya restaurants with a side of soy sauce-vinegar dipping sauce.
- Korean mandu can be shaped like Italian tortellini or Chinese jiao zi, and boiled (mul mandu), steamed (jjin mandu), or pan-fried (gun mandu), and can be filled with a variety of minced pork, tofu, vegetables, and—of course—kimchi. Mandu are eaten in soup on New Year’s Day.
- Central Asian manti are stuffed with ground lamb or beef, onion, and parsley; boiled or steamed; topped with tomato sauce and/or garlic-yogurt sauce; and drizzled with chili oil.
- Central Asian and Middle Eastern joshpara (aka chuchvara or shishbarak) are typically stuffed with ground meat and boiled in soup or cooked in yogurt sauce.
- Malai kofta are vegetarian Indian dumplings made a mixture of mashed potatoes, vegetables, and paneer, formed into balls, and served in a spicy gravy made with chili, garam masala, garlic, ginger, ground turmeric, cashews, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro.
- Indian modak are sweet dumplings made with rice flour and filled with coconut and unrefined cane sugar.
- Nepalese and Tibetan momo are usually spherical and crimped at the top, like a soup dumpling. They have thicker wrappers and are stuffed with meat and served with tomato or chili dipping sauce.
- Vietnamese bánh bôt loc have translucent, tapioca-based wrappers and are filled with pork belly and shrimp, then boiled (bánh bôt loc trần) or steamed in banana leaves (bánh bôt loc lá).
Dumplings in Regional Cuisine: 8 Dumplings from Europe and Russia
- Ukrainian varenyky are thick-skinned wheat-based dumplings that are boiled (the word means “to boil”) and sometimes pan-fried. They can be stuffed with meat, mashed potato, cheese, or fruit and are often served with sour cream and caramelized onions, similar to Polish pierogi and Russian pelmeni.
- Polish kluski leniwe are made of cheese-based dough, similar to Italian gnudi. Kopytka are potato dumplings similar to Italian gnocchi. There are many types of kluski including a wheat-based variety dropped irregularly into boiling water, just like German spätzle and Slovakian halušky.
- Polish uszka are small dumplings stuffed with meat or mushrooms that float in a clear borscht for Christmas Eve. It means “little ears” but looks more like tortellini than orecchiette, which means "little ears" in Italian.
- Georgian khinkali are round, pleated at top, filled with spiced beef and pork, and served with black pepper. Pick up by the knot at the top and eat like a Chinese soup dumpling, discarding the chewy dough top.
- Hungarian nockerl are filled with grated cheese.
- German knödel are made with day-old bread. They’re known as brezelknödel when made from pretzels and kartoffelknoedel when made with potato.
- Kreplach, filled with ground beef (sometimes shredded beef) and served in soup at Rosh Hashanah and Purim, may have come to Germany from Venice.
- Italy is home to many dumplings, including the stuffed variety—ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti, and carmelle—and unstuffed gnocchi and gnudi.
Dumplings in Regional Cuisine: 4 Dumplings from Africa and the Americas
- South African souskluitjies are made from self-raising flour, egg, milk and served in sweet cinnamon syrup.
- South African dombolo and Botswanan madombi are made of cake flour and cooked directly on top of the stew they’re served with.
- American chicken and dumplings are lumpy all-purpose flour biscuits cooked directly on top of chicken stew.
- Matzo balls are made from crushed flatbread and served in chicken soup during Jewish Passover seder. It's probably related to German knödel.
Can You Make Gluten-Free Dumplings?
Most dumplings are made from wheat-based flour, but there are dumpling varieties that are always gluten-free, such as Indian modak (made with rice flour) and Vietnamese bánh bôt loc (made with tapioca flour). Eastern European buckwheat flour-based dumplings are also gluten free.
What Do You Eat With Dumplings?
Stuffed dumplings are a meal unto themselves—a perfect packet of savory filling enclosed in a starchy wrapper—but the unstuffed kind are typically served with a hearty soup, stew, or sauce. Eastern European dumplings are often drizzled with butter, whereas Asian dumplings usually get dunked into an acidic, umami-rich dipping sauce.
How Do You Store Dumplings?
Since most dumplings are formed into neat packages before boiling or steaming, they’re great candidates for making ahead of time and freezing on cornstarch- or flour-dusted baking sheets. Once your dumplings are fully frozen, transfer them from the baking sheet to freezer bags or plastic wrap, and then boil or steam as usual, adding a couple minutes to the cook time to account for the colder starting temperature.