This recipe comes courtesy of J's grandmother, who grew up in the Shandong province of China. A Northern Chinese staple, dumplings have evolved into the favorite quick meal of many a busy young Asian American. Sure, you can buy commercially made frozen dumplings or fill pre-packaged skins with your own filling, but making your own is the only way to achieve the thick toothsome skin in which Northerners take pride.
Ingredients (enough for over forty dumplings)
4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
Put the flour in a large bowl and place under the faucet. Mix the flour in a swirling motion and turn the faucet to barely a steady stream. Stir until all the flour has formed into nubs the size of peanuts. Turn off the water and work the dough into a large ball, turning constantly. The dough should be slightly tacky without any dough actually sticking to your hands. Cover the bowl with a wet towel and let sit anywhere from two to four hours. It's important to let the dough relax or you'll end up with a tough dough that keeps shrinking on itself when you try to roll it out.
Break the dough into four pieces. Work one piece at a time and keep the others covered with a wet towel. Roll or stretch out the piece of dough into a rope, then cut the rope into sections--I like to use scissors. It doesn't matter how thin or thick you roll the rope, but each finished section should be about a tablespoon of dough. Flatten each ball of dough with your palms and dust well with flour. Roll into a three inch round with a rolling pin, making the edges thinner than the center.
This is when cooking with a partner comes in handy. As one person rolls out the skins, the other fills them. Holding the skin in your left hand, draw a circle of water around the outer edge of the skin. Put a teaspoon or two of filling in the center, then fold the skin over into a half moon shape and press the wet edges together. Make sure you create a tight seal, but be careful not to get the side that was touching your palm wet or the dough will become slippery and hard to handle.
Set finished dumplings on a floured baking sheet, freeze, and remove to a plastic bag or container. They'll keep for at least three months in the freezer. To cook, boil a large pot of water, put the dumplings in while still frozen, stir to prevent sticking, bring the water back up to a boil, then simmer for seven to ten minutes depending on the size of your dumplings. The water will foam, so keep an eye on it or use a very large pot.