Happy Lunar New Year! I always feel a little bit more excited about the beginning of the Lunar new year than the I do about January 1st. Maybe I just need another month to get excited about the idea of a new year…or maybe it is easier to get excited about a new year if I imagine it personified as an animal. This is the year of the horse! I am looking forward to a majestic, graceful and agile year.
I have been saving the last of my photos from our trip to Taiwan in October to post along with a gluten-free dumpling recipe. Food is a huge pleasure in Taiwan. You can snack at the night markets until the wee hours on delicacies that reflect the diversity of Taiwan. Although the country is small, it holds many unique regions and ethnic groups, including aboriginal people in Taiwan whose food, language, traditional cloths and dances remind me of Hawaii more than China. The Taiwanese people who I have met are proud of that diversity and have a very cosmopolitan outlook. It is not uncommon for Taiwanese people to be able to speak many languages…. Taiwanese, Mandarin and one or two Western languages as well!
We were in Taiwan to perform in and attend a wonderful, international puppet festival called Close to You. In addition to seeing many puppet shows, our hosts and friends made sure that we were well fed! Our friend, Vivian, led our cast to a delicious Hunan restaurant where we ate cellophane noodles in a sour sauce, braised spicy bone in chicken, soft tofu with thousand-year eggs and plates of sautéed cabbage, mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
The Festival threw a closing night banquet at an amazing vintage wooden restaurant that has been swallowed up on all sides by more modern buildings. They served an astonishing number of dishes… steamed fish with ginger and scallions, rice with pork fat, fried pig intestine stuffed with scallions (delicious by the way), silky melon soup, oysters with crispy dough balls, braised tofu, sautéed water spinach, seafood and cellophane noodle hot-pot, spicy eggplant, drunken chicken, eggs scrambled with fresh tomato, fried long beans, pork with fermented black beans and chives and thousand-year eggs. There were two giant soup pots at another table as well; one with a seafood soup and the other with a chicken, pineapple and bitter melon soup. I feared by the end that I would never be able to eat again, I was so full!
Our friend Xiaochu took us on an epic tour of three towns just outside of Taipei. Our first stop was Jinguashi, a mining town perched on cliffs above the sea. We took a little hike up to the ruin of a Shinto temple left over from the Japanese occupation, and then we ate taro and noodle soup in tiny cheerful restaurant.
Next, we went to the historic town of Juifen. It’s labyrinthian night market was the model for the magical setting of the anime film Spirited Away. Here, I sampled sweet mung bean soup with dumplings made from taro, rice and tapioca. I also ate sweet mochi made green with the addition of mugwort herb, and filled with savoury dried radish. My husband tried a crepe filled with taro and red bean ice creams and topped with shaved peanut brittle and minced fresh cilantro. All of these treats were really delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we went back another day so that I could buy more mugwort mochi filled with radish for the airplane trip home!
The last, late night, stop on Xiaochu’s tour was the Keelung Night Market. Keelung is a seaside city and bustling port. This night market was packed and full of energy, even on a late Tuesday night! I had a truly exemplary oyster pancake. I would like to learn how to make this someday. I also ate a fried tapioca dumpling filled with red pork and bamboo shoots. This is a specialty of an inland region of Taiwan that I have not visited yet. Maybe next time. The real attraction at Keelung Night Market though, is the seafood!
For the last few months, I have been trying to recreate my favourite Taiwanese dish from the city of Tainan. They are steamed shrimp and pork meatballs seasoned with lots of garlic and cilantro and encased in a tender rice dumpling. We visited Tainan on our 2012 trip to Taiwan, but on this last trip I found places to get these dumplings in and around Taipei as well. The ones pictured here are from the excellent night market in Keelung.
The dumplings picture below are from an outstanding Tainan style restaurant in the city of Taipei on Yonkang Road. They are listed on the English menu as Tainan Style Shrimp and Pork Meatballs. The owner of the restaurant proudly informed me that they used only rice flour in these dumplings. Now that I have tried to make dumplings myself, I can see why she was so proud. Dough made from pure rice flour is so tender that it is almost impossible to work with! If you look closely, you can see the hand prints of the cook in the dough!I have looked and looked, but there really are not that many Taiwanese recipes available in English, (let alone recipes for Tainan street delicacies). It was much easier to find Vietnamese and Thai dumpling recipes that rice flour, glutinous rice flour, tapioca starch (or some combination of those). I tried out a bunch of them, but in the end I was happiest with a mix of tapioca and white rice flour that was very similar in ratio to the one that I use for making Bethany’s Mom’s Homemade Rice Noodles. I found the instructions in this recipe for Hue Dumplings with Mung Bean and Shallot Filling very helpful. Also, the mung bean and shallot filling was delicious, so give it a try even if you are not a vegetarian! Making all of these South Asian dumplings has left me addicted to a Vietnamese dipping sauce. Although it bears no resemblance to the sauce traditionally served with the Tainan dumplings that I am tying to emulate, I cannot seem to stop making and eating it, so I will include the recipe here.
So, here is a recipe for some truly delicious gluten-free steamed pork and shrimp dumplings. They were inspired by a wonderful Tainan delicacy, but I make no claim whatsoever as to their authenticity. These will satisfy my craving until I develop enough skill to work with tender, pure rice flour dough or until can return to Taiwan once again to eat the real thing!
GLUTEN-FREE SHRIMP AND PORK DUMPLINGS
makes 24 dumplings
- 1/4 pound shelled raw shrimp, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves and stems
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 scant teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or minced
- 1/2 Tablespoon shaoxing cooking wine
- 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 scallion, both white and green part, minced
- 1/4 pound ground pork
- Process the shrimp, cilantro, garlic, ginger, cooking wine, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender, until it becomes a paste with some lumps left.
- Add the shrimp paste with the ground pork and scallions and combine completley with your hands or a large spoon. Store in the fridge until you are ready to fill the dumplings.
adapted from Asian Dumpling Tips
- 1 cup regular rice flour (You will need to use a Thai brand, such as Erawan from an asian grocery store or super fine ground rice flour from a gourmet store such as Kalustyan’s)
- 3/4 cup tapioca starch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- About 2/3 cup just-boiled water
- Put the rice flour, tapioca starch and salt in a bowl and stir to combine. Add the water and oil and stir to make a crumbly dough. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, knead the dough for one minute, until it is soft like play dough. Cut into 2 pieces, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 5 minutes.
- After five minutes, take one of the pieces of dough and roll it into a 12 inch rope. Cut the rope into 12 peices that resemble marshmallows.
- Carefully, press each marshmellow into a disk, about 1/4 inch thick disks. If the dough cracks, lightly wet your hands and repair the dough.
One at a time, put each disk between two pieces of wax paper, parchment paper or heavy plastic cut from a freezer bag. I found it helpful to lightly oil my wax paper so that the dough did not stick. The recipe I was using suggested that you use a tortilla press to flatten the disks into wrappers nearly 3 inches side. I do not have a tortilla press, so I used my rolling pin.
Peel the wax paper off and place a heaping teaspoon of filling just off of the center.
- Peel the wax paper back. Set the first dumpling in a steamer lined with lightly oiled parchment paper (or cabbage leaves) and make the rest of the dumpling in the same manner.
- When your steamer is full, place it in a large pot with a few inches of water in the bottom. Put the lid on and heat over a high flame. When the water is boiling (watch for a bit of steam escaping from the lid) let the dumplings steam for 8 minutes. When the dumplings are done they are translucent and tacky to the touch. My “steamer” (I use a a cake wrack) holds 8 dumplings, so I have to do it in 3 batches.
- I like to eat my dumplings with Vietnamese dipping sauce (Recipe below).
VIETNAMESE DIPPING SAUCE
- 3 Tablespoon fish sauce
- 3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 bird’s eye chili thinly sliced ( I skip this sometimes)
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
Combine the ingredients and stir until the sugar is melted. If you are in a hurry you can warm the vinegar and sugar to speed up the process before adding the other ingredients.
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