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Recipe: Tibetan Beef and Sichuan Peppercorn Dumplings ('Sha Momo')

by Andrea Nguyen
Nov 19, 2009

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Serve with 1-1/2 cups Spicy Roasted Tomato Sauce (see below)

For Basic Dumpling Dough (Makes about 1 pound, enough for 32 medium or 24 large dumplings)*:
10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup just-boiled water

For Filling:
3/4 pound ground beef (preferably chuck), coarsely chopped to loosen
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/3 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions (white and green parts)
2-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced and crushed into a paste
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, toasted in a dry skillet for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant, then crushed with a mortar and pestle
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 tablespoons water

* Note: Dumpling wrappers can be store-bought, in which case you may skip down to the Filling instructions.

BASIC DUMPLING DOUGH

1. To prepare the dough in a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl. With the machine running, add 3/4 cup of water in a steady stream through the feed tube. As soon as all the water has been added, stop the machine and check the dough. It should look rough and feel soft but firm enough to hold its shape when pinched. If necessary, add water by the teaspoon or flour by the tablespoon. When satisfied, run the machine for another 5 to 10 seconds to further knead and form a ball around the blade. Avoid overworking the dough.

2. Alternatively, make the dough by hand. Put a bowl atop a kitchen towel to prevent it from slipping while you work. Put the flour in the bowl and make a well in the center. Use a wooden spoon or bamboo rice paddle to stir the flour while you add 3/4 cup water in a steady stream. Aim to evenly moisten the flour. It is okay to pause to stir or add water — it is hard to simultaneously do both actions. When all the water has been added, you will have lots of lumpy bits. Knead the dough in the bowl (it is not terribly hot) to bring all the lumps into one mass; if the dough does not come together easily, add water by the teaspoon.

3. Regardless of the mixing method, transfer the dough and any bits to a work surface; flour your work surface only if necessary, and then sparingly. Knead the dough (it is not hot) with the heel of your hand for about 30 seconds for machine-made dough, or about 2 minutes for handmade dough. The result should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become earlobe-soft, which makes wrappers easy to work with.

4. After resting, the dough can be used right away to form the wrappers. Or, refrigerate it overnight and returned it to room temperature before using.

Forming Wrappers
Basic Dumpling Dough

Wrappers formed from basic dumpling dough are traditionally rolled out individually by hand with a skinny wooden rolling pin. I like to cut down the work by employing a Mexican tortilla press to first quickly flatten the dough into a thin disk and then finishing the job with the skinny rolling pin. You can use some other kind of heavy; flat-bottomed object, such as a 4-cup glass measuring cup, but it will require a little more energy than the press. Regardless, have on hand two 6 to 7-inch squares of medium-heavy plastic (I cut them from a zip- top freezer bag) for the pressing. Make sure to use a spacious work surface (for example, a large cutting board), lightly dusted with flour and with about 1/4 cup of additional flour in one corner for dusting. And regardless of how you initially flatten the dough, you'll definitely need a small rolling pin to finish the wrappers. Have your filling ready to go before you start rolling, as you'll want to fill the wrappers fairly promptly after they are rolled.

1. Remove the dough from the bag, turning the bag inside out if the dough is sticky. Put the dough on a lightly floured work surface and cut it in half. Put half back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing it closed to prevent drying.

2. Roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick log, and then cut it into the number of pieces required by the recipe. To cut even pieces, quarter the log first; the tapered end pieces should be cut a little longer than the rest. Weigh each piece of dough to be super precise, if you like. If your dough pieces are oval shaped, stand each one on a cut end and use your fingers to gently squeeze it into a round. The resulting squat cylinder resembles a scallop. This bit of advance work makes it easier to form a nice circle in the remaining steps.

3. To prevent the dough from sticking and to flatten it a bit, take each piece of dough and press one of the cut ends in flour, then flip it over and do the same on the other end; the dough can be sticky. You should end up with a disk roughly 1/4 inch thick. As you work, set the floured disks to one side of your work area.

4. Next, flatten each dough disk into a thin circle that is about 1/8 inch thick, either with a tortilla press or with a heavy, flat-bottomed object. If you are using the tortilla press, open the press and lay a plastic square on the bottom plate. Center a disk of floured dough and cover with the other plastic square. Close the top plate, then fold the pressure handle over the top plate and press down. Use moderate pressure and press only once, or the resulting wrapper will stick to the plastic and be hard to remove. Fold back the pressure handle, open the top plate, and peel off the top plastic square. Then gently peel the wrapper off the bottom plastic square. Should the wrapper feel tacky, lightly swipe both sides on some flour before placing on the work surface.

Without the tortilla press, put the floured disk between the plastic squares and press down with a heavy object to produce a circle about 1/8-inch thick. You may have to press more than once. Gently peel back the plastic from the wrapper.

Regardless of method, repeat with the remaining dough pieces, setting them to one side of the work area as you finish them. It is okay to overlap the wrappers slightly.

5. To finish the wrappers, take a wrapper and place it on the work surface, flouring the surface only as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center. This is what the Chinese call the "belly" of the wrapper. You want to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size but retains a thick belly. This ensures an even distribution of dough after the wrapper's edge has been gathered and closed around the filling.

To keep a thick belly, use the rolling pin to apply pressure on the outer 1/2- to 3/4-inch border of the wrapper, as follows. Try to roll the rolling pin with the flat palm of one hand while using the other hand to turn the wrapper in the opposite direction. For example, as your right palm works the rolling pin in short, downward strokes from the center toward your body, the fingers of your left hand turn the disk counterclockwise about one-quarter of a turn between each stroke. Keep the thumb of the rotating hand near the center of the wrapper to guide the rolling pin and turn the wrapper.

If the wrapper sticks to the work surface or rolling pin, pause to dust the wrapper with flour and then continue. If you cannot get a wrapper thin enough on the first try, set it aside to relax for about 1 minute, and then roll again. Should the wrapper tear or be hopelessly misshapen, roll up the dough, let it rest for a few minutes, then press it again and roll it out. Resembling a flat fried egg, the finished wrapper does not need to be a perfect circle. Frilly edges are fine. The finished diameter of the wrapper depends on the dumpling, and each recipe provides an ideal size. Wrappers made from the Basic Dumpling Dough are moderately thick and suitable for boiled, steamed, panfried, and deep-fried morsels.

As you work, line up the finished wrappers on your work surface; if you need extra space, use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and dusted with flour. A bit of overlapping is fine, but avoid stacking the wrappers. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portion of dough, or the wrappers may stick together as they wait for you. Use the instructions in the recipe to fill, shape, and cook the dumplings.

Half-Moon
This is the easiest shape and great for beginners. Half-moons are the foundation for a number of the other shapes. It's also my default whenever I mistakenly put too much filling onto the wrapper and there isn't enough dough left to neatly pleat and press. After positioning the filling on the wrapper, fold up the edge of the wrapper that's closest to you to meet the top edge and pinch together to seal well or press on the rim with your thumb and index finger (keep the index finger bent to provide a flat surface that supports from the bottom). Holding the ends, put the dumpling straight side down on your work surface and gently push down to steady the dumpling and make it sit flat.

Master Shape: Closed Satchel
This shape is used for momos, Shanghai soup dumplings, and stuffed buns.

If you are right handed, hold the wrapper in the left hand and use your right hand to center a mound of filling on the wrapper (lefties, reverse the following directions). Place the left thumb atop the filling to keep it down as you use the right thumb and index finger to make the first pleat by pulling up on the wrapper edge and folding it over itself, pressing it to seal. Keeping the right thumb and index finger in place to steady the pleat (both thumbs are now inside the dumpling), move the left index finger clockwise along the edge to fold the rim over itself to create the second pleat. With this small motion, the left index finger passes the new pleat to the right index finger, which will take it over and press it against the first pleat. As you repeat this motion along the rim, the right index finger and thumb are pinching and holding the accumulating pleats together. The dumpling will rotate and an accordionlike spiral of pleats will form to gradually close the opening. When the opening is too small to fit both thumbs, move the left thumb to the wrapper edge or remove it and let it rest on the side of the dumpling to keep the dumpling in place. Finish by twisting and pinching shut the opening. If there's excess of dough, pinch the dough edge all around to form a thin lip that better distributes the dough.

Straighten up the sides by holding the dumpling in the crook of your hand and giving it a gentle squeeze, or setting it upright on the work surface and patting the sides. A closed satchel can be cooked and served with the pleats facing up or down.

FILLING

1. To make the filling, combine the beef, onion, Chinese chives, ginger, and garlic in a bowl. Use a fork or spatula to stir and lightly mash the ingredients together.

2. Stir together the salt, Sichuan peppercorn, oil, and water in a small bowl. Pour over the meat mixture and then stir with the fork or spatula to blend well. There should not be any visible large chunks of meat. To develop the flavors, cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. Makes about 2 cups. (The filling can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before assembling the dumplings.)

3. Before assembling the dumplings, line steamer trays and/or a baking sheet with parchment paper. (If you are making the dumplings in advance, or plan to freeze them, lightly dust the paper with flour to avoid sticking.) For each dumpling, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of filling with a bamboo dumpling spatula, dinner knife, or fork and position it in the center of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a mound and keeping about 1/2- to 3/4-inch wrapper clear on all sides. Use your fingers to pleat and pinch the edge together to enclose the filling and form a closed satchel, or simply fold over to form a half-moon. If you are steaming right away, place each finished dumpling in a steamer tray, sealed side up, and 1 inch away from the edge if you are using metal steamers. Repeat with the remaining wrappers, placing them in the steamer about 1/2 inch apart. If you don't have enough space on your steamer trays to steam all the dumplings at once, or if you are not steaming them right away, place the waiting ones on the prepared baking sheet, spaced a good 1/2 inch apart.

4. Assembled dumplings can be covered with plastic wrap, refrigerated for several hours, and cooked straight from the refrigerator. Or, freeze them on the baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer them to a zip-top plastic bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and keep them frozen for up to 1 month; partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed, before steaming.

5. To cook, steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 8 minutes, or until they have puffed slightly and become somewhat translucent. Remove each tray and place it atop a serving plate.

6. Serve immediately with the sauce in a communal bowl. Eat these with fork and spoon on a dish to catch all the juices. Put a little sauce inside the dumpling after you've taken a bite and sucked out the juices.

Spicy Roasted Tomato Sauce
Makes 1-1/2 cups

3/4 pound ripe tomatoes
1 medium-hot red chile, such as cayenne, Fresno, Holland, or jalapeno
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lime or lemon juice (optional)
2-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground, toasted cumin seed or Sichuan peppercorn (optional)

1. Position an oven rack about 4 inches away from the broiler. Put the tomato and chile atop a piece of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and broil for about 6 minutes, or until the skins have pulled away and are a bit charred. Turn over and broil the other side for another 2 minutes. Continue, if necessary, to roast and char all over. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2. Remove and discard the skins from the tomatoes and chile. Cut away the stems and, if you like less heat, scrape out and discard the chile seeds. Coarsely chop and set aside.

3. Combine the garlic, ginger, and salt in a mortar and pound with the pestle into a fragrant paste. Add the chile and pound to a rough texture. Add the tomatoes and gently mix to break the tomato apart. It will remain chunky. Transfer to a bowl, then stir in the water, lime juice, cilantro, and cumin. (For a fine texture, use an electric mini-chopper and process in stages to ensure a smooth consistency. Blend the water and lime juice with the tomato. Stir in the cilantro and cumin to finish.)

4. Set the sauce aside for 30 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste and add extra salt for depth, lime juice to cut the heat, or water to thin out the sauce. Aim for a medium-hot tang. This sauce is best enjoyed the day you prepare it, but it can be refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature before serving.

Reprinted with permission from Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen, copyright 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House Inc.

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