The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook
A little over a year ago, my partner asked me on our first date—to Flushing’s Main Street. We met for afternoon tea and nervously moved on to a nondescript shopping mall, laughing about the name of a Chinese mobile phone company displayed in one shop’s window: iTalkBB.
It was just after Chinese New Year and he’d brought me to Helen You’s personal wonderland, Dumpling Galaxy, located just a few blocks from her original stall, Tianjin Dumpling House. I can’t even recall what we ordered—perhaps the shrimp, scallop and crab meat, the pork with scallion and the precious soup dumplings—but I do remember trying and failing to not puncture the liquidy parcels as I transferred them from steamer basket to spoon. They were scrumptious, doughy little pockets of You’s imagination and unexpected ingredients (scrambled egg, pumpkin and black sesame—can you even imagine?), but we were stricken with awe and first-date jitters. Sacrilegiously, we didn’t even take our leftovers home.
When I heard You had released her own cookbook, co-authored by Saveur’s Executive Digital Editor Max Falkowitz, I got my hands on it post-haste. I got to work handcrafting my very own renditions of her three-mushroom boiled dumplings and salmon and dill dumplings.
New to dumpling crafting, I was intimidated at first, but You’s candor and approachability comes through in her easy-to-follow recipes and opening guide. Titled “Chinese Dumplings 101,” it’s a list of best practices and tips such as “A dumpling is only as good as its ingredients,” “go heavy on the vegetables” (veggies add moisture in addition to flavor), “season lightly” and “don’t overcook.”
Through step-by-step instructions, one learns proper wrapper-folding techniques. In You’s native Tianjin, easy-to-shape wrappers are preferred; most of her recipes employ two simple shapes: yuan bao (a simple, flat-bottom shape with a chubby, round belly and no-flair crimped edge) for boiled and steamed dumplings, and the crescent for pan-fried dumplings. Exception: the special-occasion pork-and-mushroom shumai, which are not folded and sealed like other dumplings, rather pleated into a frilly rosebud shape and cupped around their filling.
Bits and pieces of You’s personal story are incorporated into each recipe as well, manageable bites that keep the reader engaged and hungry for more. She talks tradition, introducing those new to Chinese cuisine to terms and ingredients like the oft-misunderstood “century egg” (also known as a Chinese preserved egg). You also weaves in regional and personal preferences, using playful poetry (“Yes, that’s the correct amount of ginger: you want it to shout its way out of the dumpling”) to instruct.
It’s deeply satisfying to flip through Ed Anderson’s elegant photos showcasing pink, oily salmon; chunks of curried beef inside a pan-fried shell; and yellow corn, napa cabbage and bok choy bursting forth from a doughy, dinosaur-shaped vessel. This is not just a dumpling peepshow. For novice and advanced dumpling-makers alike, it’s a handy guide to what your final product will (or should) look like.
Though I cannot recall what Jesse and I ordered on that fateful Dumpling Galaxy date, it’s fitting that it’s where we got our start—amidst a menu’s worth of colorful dumpling-stars, an endless constellation of daring flavors and comforting pockets of home. You makes her galaxy accessible to all—no master dumpling passport required.
Being privy to her creative genius in my own kitchen felt like a new level, a next step. Maybe dumplings aren’t an intimidating force for others, but they’re outside the realm of anything I’d ever cooked. You makes it simple—I whipped up fresh dumplings from finely chopped king oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms and felt quite proud of my legion of dough-babies when dinnertime rolled around. You can too.
The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook. By Helen You (Clarkson Potter, 2017)