The Zen Art of Making Dumplings
The most delicious inner peace you'll ever find
Mindfulness practice is all the rage these days. You've probably heard of the benefits of seated meditation, yoga, and Qigong. But have you tried making dumplings? Nowhere to be, nothing to do— just delicious filling, doughy wrappers, and you.
I used to hate cooking. I was an obsessive health-nut with diet habits that border-lined on an eating disorder. I would often make the half-joking claim that if I could, I would absord all of my nutrients through a patch and never eat again.
Dumplings taught me to enjoy both the process and the taste— not just the nutritional value— of what I create in the kitchen. I like to think that I don't shape the dumpling, but that the dumpling shapes me. (If that cheesy aphorism didn't scare you off, let's get started making a calm mind and a happy tummy!)
Prep the filling (and learn to trust your intuition):
Doctors have called it "autism". Ordinary people like you and me might call it a "stick up my ass". Either way, I overplan and overthink everything. And when things don't go according to plan— I FLIP. OUT.
Learning to be less rigid and trust my intuition has been a long and uncomfortable process for me. I always tell people that veganism is a philosophy of life with the intention of reducing unnecessary suffering. That may have worked out well for all of the animals I wasn't eating, but it was several years before I saw a reduction in the amount of suffering I endured in my own kitchen while trying to turn out meals.
I've had a long-standing habit of making myself miserable while trying to live up to my own ridiculous expectations for myself, not the least of which were replicating over-involved recipes of my favorite food-bloggers— you know, the ones that expect you to start with cashews that you've pre-soaked for seven hours.
Realizing I didn't need recipes anymore turned cooking from an arduous chore to a joyful and creative affair. Dumplings were a great teacher for me— it's hard to over-spice the filling!
I toss the following ingredients in a big wok and get frisky with the seasonings until I like the way it tastes. My version is vegan, but you're welcome to make these with however many meaty ingredients you please.
— Seasame Oil
— This delicious homemade seitan recipe. (Seriously, this stuff is cheap, easy, delicious, and packed with protein. I go through at least one batch a week. Just be sure to mix the broth with the dough instead of water for extra flavor.)
— Fresh ginger
— Crushed red pepper
— Soy Sauce
— Coconut Aminos
— Apple Cider Vinegar
Assembling the dumplings:
I'm a woman who likes like efficiency— I want the most nutrients per gram of refined carbohydrate. I'm sad to admit that a tragic number of delicate dumpling wrappers were torn apart by my vicious attempts at over-stuffing them. I eventually started using wanton wrappers so I could fit more filling in them, but still encountered the same problem. I used to do the same thing to my schedule, too— my poor calendar was busting at the seems with more than could be reasonably fit in a day.
You'd be surprised how the way you go about assembling dumplings can teach you about yourself. The process is very simple and meditative. All you need is some dumpling wrappers, your filling, a spoon, and a bowl of warm water.
Start by placing a single wrapper on a cutting board and place one spoonfull of filling in its center. Dip your fingertips in the warm water and lightly wet the edges of the wrapper.
What did you find about yourself as you put the dumplings together? Did you beat yourself up if you tore a wrapper? Or think "what's the point?" when they didn't turn out looking like your favorite perfectly folded restraurant gyoza?
They won't all turn out perfect, but don't worry! You win some, you lose some. I like to make 40 or so at a time and keep them in the freezer. (Making cookies is so cliché— get to know your neighbors by giving them a baggie of frozen dumplings!)
Cooking the dumplings:
To cook the dumplings, bring a frying pan to medium heat and add a splash of oil and 1/4 cup of water. Add the dumplings and cover with a lid until the water has evaporated— voila! Perfectly crisp dumplings ready for your eating pleasure. (This method works well for 4-8 dumplings. To cook any more than that, just toss a bit more water in the frying pan.) I also love to throw some miso soup on the stove while these babies are in the frying pan!
I enjoy eating so much more when I actually enjoy the process of preparing the food. It sounds intuitive, but it was a lesson that took a while to sink in for me— and making dumplings was the first step in getting there. I hope you can find your own revelations and inner peace in this delicious journey of self-reflection.