Monday, December 10, 2007

How do I love thee, let me count the dumplings

What is it about dumplings? It seems that every culture has their own form of filling (meat, veggie, tofu, heck, even dough) wrapped in dough. From the Italian ravioli to the Indian samosa, dumplings are a common thread in our human taste bud genes. I am surprised we don’t have specialized teeth to handle dumplings like our incisors are set up for meat.

To celebrate all that is valuable in dumplings, we hosted the first annual pot luck dumpling festival this weekend. Just 10 close friends who got together for an event to be forever known as “Dump-Fest”.

Now the origins of dump-fest came from an accusation made by a Korean-American colleague of ours that that Korean dumplings - mandoo - were "waaaay better" than Chinese jiaozi. That statement did not sit well with the Chinese-American contingent, and dump fest was born (for which all of the non-involved but hungry were thankful). Unfortunately, our Korean interlocutor was unable to prepare dumplings for the event (although she did manage to show up with beer), so our mandoo report will be postponed.

There were no restrictions on locale for the dumplings, so only a few qualified as Asian. The outliers are dealt with briefly below (also excellent, just outside the blog parameters).

The Asian fare included two kinds of Chinese jiaozi – boiled little meat packets of joy - and aushak, an Afghan leek dmpling.

Jiaozi

To put it mildly, we like pork. Our correspondents all have a preference for pork-based products, but to broaden our horizons – senior roving reporter Lily C made two kinds
the first were beef and celery jiaozi and the second were more standard pork with dried shrimp.

Both were very good. There was a strong preference for the pork overall (but not by everyone), but both were very flavorful.
BEEF DUMPLINGS

The beef lacked the same pork fat richness, but had a nice beefy flavor. In fact, I admit to sampling a few of the beef jiaozi later in the evening after they had been put away (yes, I know – there were dumplings left over!!!) and reheated. They were better the second time around, with the flavor improving. I wonder if they needed the extra time to mellow or maybe a second cooking is what was needed. Perhaps next time the beef should be boiled and then pan-fried?

PORK DUMPLINGS


These pork jiaozi were really good. Very tender, rich tasting with a nice saltiness from the dried shrimp. These were really nicely done, and served with a simple soy and vinegar dipping sauce.

Aushak - Arama

The surprise entry and my personal favorite from the afternoon were the Afghan Meat Pockets, or aushak.



I have never had aushak before, but man were these goooood. Filled with a leek-based vegetable mixture, they were served with a dry meat topping that was brimming with flavors – chili powder, mace, salt, and more. They had a wonderful flavor. The dumplings were almost translucent when served, and very delicate. The meat topping on top made for a wonderful set of flavors and the yogurt sauce they were served with had a perfect tang to cut the richness of the overall dish.

All in all, an excellent first Dump-Fest. The wonderful thing about dumplings is that they can be made ahead and frozen, so we now have a bag of frozen pork jiaozi in the freezer (thanks Lily). We are anxious for more suggestions for next year's fest, so please send 'em in if you have em (the recipes, not the dumplings that is).

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The non-Asian fare included empanadas (two kinds) from South and Central America, pierogi (with mashed potato, cheese and bacon filling) and Brazilian cheese balls, or pao de queijo. All were excellent, if I must say (I made the pierogi) and rounded out the variety very well. The pierogi were all the better for being boiled first and then panfried in butter, onions and sour cream (how can anything with that combo be bad). The empanadas were very nice, but too small and because of the size dried out a little. The fillings were very flavorful and the Brazilian cheese balls disappeared before anything else.

Brazilian Cheese Balls


Pierogi