When I was growing up, pot stickers were an exotic thing to me. The "Chinese" food we ate in our house was almost entirely of the Cantonese variety. There were some small exceptions, like the jars of smokey, wok-stirred chili oil that my aunt from Shanghai would make. Pot stickers - a northern Chinese or Taiwanese specialty called jiaoze, were something we only had on occasion and never at home.
There were infrequent trips to the Taiwanese dumpling place outside of Cantonese Chinatown where we lived. Bottles of vinegar and dark soy sauce sat on the tables. My mouth always started watering as I got ready to dunk the puffy, crispy dumplings into the vinegar and soy dipping sauce. So good.
When my mom comes to visit a few times a year now, we make wontons, the Cantonese cousin to the pot sticker. We put together massive quantities that require every able-bodied person in the house to help. We eat many then freeze as many to consume slowly until the next time “Po Po” (grandmother) comes to visit.
Our most recent group cooking effort included pork wontons seasoned with coriander, cumin and turmeric. We get adventurous and step outside of the usual taste parameters around here when it comes to meat wrapped in thin dough skins. These got eaten before my brother suggested we try serving them in a cream sauce.
While wontons are light and ethereal, cloud puffs that float to the top of a clear, clean-tasting broth, potstickers are made of thicker, egg-free dough. The bottoms brown to a crisp before water is added, creating billows of steam that cause the tops to puff and the meat filling to cook through. The liquid cooks off, reinforcing the bottom crust.
Good pot stickers are moist, crispy and chewy. Just a few will fill you up. They are satisfyingly of the earth while wontons are of the sky, for the dreamers among us. In some ways, potstickers are the complete opposite of wontons. The yin to the wonton’s yang.
Lately, I’ve been craving potstickers. And, I was thinking about how my mom would use garlic chives that we kids would forage from along the railroad tracks behind our house in northeast L.A. I had no idea what these greens were called as I yanked them from the sandy soil. To me, they were stinky and unruly looking weeds.
Our mom cooked with them unapologetically. Back then, we didn’t care that there was brake dust, creosote vapors, or god knows what else on our greens. They grew freely and were, well. Free!
I’ve included a liberal amount of regular chives here, since they are growing in our garden. They aren’t anywhere near as pungent as the flat-leaved garlic chive variety of my childhood. So, I've added some actual garlic to the mix.
I've also included some of the slightly bitter dandelion greens we "weeded" out from under our plum tree this morning. Nothing wrong with some free greens, right? Especially if they are nutritious and tasty.
The filling is thus slightly onion-y and definitely garlicky, with a bitter edge to round out the pork's richness. Pot stickers indubitably of the earth.
Also included are directions for making the dumpling skins. I urge you to make them instead of buying them. Homemade definitely tastes better here and this soft, pliable dough is easy - and even dreamy, I'd dare say - to work with.
Hope you enjoy these earthly dumplings as much as I did.
Sorry dreamers, there will be a recipe just for you soon!
Pork and Chive Pot Stickers with Dandelion Greens
Makes 40 to 50 pot stickers – enough for a party or to freeze
7 cups finely chopped napa cabbage
1 cup finely chopped dandelion greens
½ cup finely chopped chives
1 pound ground pork (a little fat helps make the dumpling juicier)
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoons sea salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups boiling water
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil for pan frying (sunflower, grapeseed both work)
For the filling:
Combine the cabbage, dandelion greens and 1 ½ teaspoons of the salt in a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Place the cabbage and greens in a kitchen towel, gathering it together. Wring as much water as possible out. This will help the filling come together better.
In another large bowl, combine cabbage, dandelion greens, pork, chive, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, remaining salt and egg. Mix gently but well.
For the dough:
In a large stainless-steel bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add the boiling water slowly and in small increments, stirring in between additions until a ball is formed and the dough is no longer too hot to handle. More or less water may be needed, depending on the day’s humidity. Knead dough on a floured work surface for at least 15 minutes. You may also use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment for 7 minutes instead. Form dough into a ball and place it in the same bowl covering it with a damp towel. Allow to rest for 1 hour.
To make the wrappers, add a generous coating of flour to the work surface. Divide dough in half. Shape one half into a log (I roll it between my hands forming a “snake”) until it is about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into ½-inch pieces. Stand each piece on its cut end and press down with the palm of your hand. Roll into circles 3 inches in diameter and 1/16th of an inch thick.
Fill the wrappers:
Place about ½ a teaspoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold in half to form a half-moon. Seal the top center of each dumpling by pressing between your fingers. Starting there, make 3 pleats going from the middle toward the right. Repeat, going toward the bottom left. Press your dumpling gently to flatten the bottom.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat. When oil is hot, add the pot stickers with their flattened bottoms down. It’s helpful to place them in rows going in one direction. These dumplings enjoy snugging together, so let them. Cook undisturbed on medium-high for five to six minutes. Then, add about ½ cup of water and immediately covered (or you will be getting a steam facial!). In another minute, lift the cover to check water level. You want to make sure about 1/8 of an inch of water remains. If not, add more water. All pot stickers to steam until water has evaporated, up to 10 minutes. If your water evaporates before the pot stickers are done, add water in ¼ cup increments. If the opposite occurs and the pot stickers seem done but liquid remains, drain the liquid and put the pan back on the heat to evaporate any remaining liquid.
Allow pot stickers to recrisp on the bottom, another 2 to 3 minutes. Cook the pot stickers as above in batches.
You may serve the pot stickers with a dipping sauce made by mixing together equal parts soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and a spot of toasted sesame oil. Sometimes I also like to mix in a bit of honey or sugar.
And there you have it: Jiaoze!