Some days at university are long - a drawn-out day of lectures and seminars and practicals splattered about the place, during which you still need to go to the library to get that book you requested, and to the student office to drop off some silly form or other, then topped off with some club or society activity afterwards. When you finally get home, you realise that you've volunteered to create a revision handout for your study group, and you've still got that extra reading to do for tomorrow's class!
The last thing you can afford to do is to spend an hour trying to cook up something... (usually with the non-existent ingredients in your kitchen, because you've also forgotten to buy food for the week!)
My usual quick fix meals contain NO meat: pasta and pasta sauce, instant noodles, spaghetti on toast, canned soup... okay this is depressing. There are two main reasons for this: First, meat doesn't keep for long, so it's usually the first thing I run out of. Frozen meat at times like this is about as useful as a medical student without their Oxford Handbook (translation: useless!) because at these times - I want food, and I want it now! And secondly, meat isn't easy to make. You can't really eat it raw, or just chuck it into some salted boiling water for 10 minutes (well, you could... if you really wanted to...), so a lot of the time, when I want a quick meal, I go meatless.
But I'm putting an end to those days! Move over pasta and jarred pasta sauce, because I've found my new saviour: Dumplings.
These little dumplings are the perfect thing for those busy (or just lazy) nights. Just make some (i.e. as much as your freezer will hold) when you've got some free time on a weekend, and freeze them all for later.
This combination of pork, cabbage and carrot is my favourite, but you can put anything into dumplings: any meat, any veg.
I marinated the pork mince overnight, just using light soya sauce, sugar and cornstarch, to the make dumplings extra tasty, and also to improve the texture of the meat.
Now for the vegetables: peel some leaves off the cabbage. My cabbage was a decent size, so I only used about half of one. Then, cut thin strips of carrot. I use a peeler for this as you get very thin slices and its quick!
The vegetables need to be briefly cooked, because they're quite hard raw, which makes it difficult to fill into a dumpling. The cabbage needs to be boiled for 10 minutes until softened (but not mushy!) and if your carrots are super thin like this, you just need to put it in boiling water for 30 seconds or so.
Now that they are nicely softened, they need to be thinly chopped up. This doesn't have to be neat at all, just aim for smaller pieces which will easier to mix in with the mince.
Time to mix all the filling ingredients together! Put the mince, cabbage and carrots into a bowl and mix it good. Add an egg and a tablespoon of oil to help it stick together. If you're willing to get down and dirty, use your hands!
Dumpling pastry / skin / wrappers come in different shapes and sizes. In terms of shape, we want the round ones for jiaozi. While the diameter of these dumpling wrappers are roughly the same, they all have a different thickness. The ones I chose are slightly on the thicker side, as I love the chewiness that they maintain. In contrast, thinner dumpling wrappers are lighter and airier, but they can be harder to wrap as they tear more easily, and are less suitable for frying for the same reason.
With clean, dry hands, pick up a dumpling wrapper and place it in one hand. With the other hand, use a tablespoon to scoop up some filling, and put it in the middle of your dumpling wrapper.
Now, the more filling you use, the more plump and delicious your dumpling will look, but bear in mind that you need to be able to seal the edges tightly, and you don't want any spilling out, or to make any tears in the wrapper.
Dip a finger of your free hand into a bowl of water to and draw a semicircle around the edges of your dumpling wrapper. Make sure your hand is dry again and then grab the top and bottom edges of the wrapper and pinch together.
Keep on pinching all the way around. If the filling starts to ooze out, push it back in with your finger. If it doesn't seem to work, then take a bit of the filling out. (You've been too greedy!)
You should then end up with a perfectly sealed dumpling. I know that most dumplings from Chinese places have a pretty border, but this is the easy way (hehe) and they taste just as good!
Keep on filling your dumplings. I made about 60 with this recipe, but it really depends on how much you fit into each one!
These dumplings are now ready to cook! It's easiest just to boil them: simply boil a pot of water, and lower them in one by one. They're done when the pastry becomes more translucent, and the dumpling floats to the surface of the water, which should only take about 5 minutes.
For dumplings you're not planning on eating now, dust a tray / plate with some flour, and place the dumplings so they don't overlap or touch each other. Place the tray into your freezer, and when they are frozen, you can pop them into a box or ziplock bag to save some space. When you want to eat them, just take out however many you want, and put them into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes to cook from frozen.