From Nonna's Kitchen: Nainai Tina’s Delicious Dumplings
When I started cooking with immigrant grandmothers, I knew I would meet many talented cooks. What I didn’t anticipate was how talented, successful and incredibly intelligent every one of them is. When you think of a typical grandmother, you might picture an old lady sitting in a chair, knitting you a sweater. And, while many of these women do enjoy knitting, I was pleasantly surprised to find how little ‘sitting’ any of them do or (did) while raising their children here in America.
Tina Yao is a Chinese immigrant I had the great honor of cooking with recently. We met through her daughter-in-law, Katrina, who like me, feels it’s important to preserve family traditions and culture. One morning, I headed over to learn how to make dumplings, a northern Chinese staple. Tina graciously showed me how to make thin dough with two ingredients, flour and water, and a savory pork filling that she mixes up with chopsticks and quickly stuffs into the rolled out dough. In a blink of an eye, she seals each one in perfect, identical pleats. Needless to say, I still need some practice!
While making the dumplings, we had time to chat - we made about 90! I was absolutely amazed at the life Tina has led. She came here in 1967 and settled quickly into an American life in Queens, New York. She enrolled in university and majored in secretarial education. She worked for Blue Cross in the billing department. But that is not where her story ends.
A true entrepreneur, Tina owned a number of businesses while raising her two children. She owned a commercial real estate firm and even dabbled in the restaurant industry. Her husband was an accountant for Pan America so they were also able to travel the world, exposing their children to so many different places and cultures.
Today, Tina spends her days attending art and pottery classes, writing and spending time with her grandchildren. She is a cherished Nainai to them and an amazing cook. I loved making dumplings with her and listening to her tell stories about her village and how the woman would sit for hours in preparation for the New Year, making these dumplings all day long, eating and gossiping as they worked. People coming in and out to chat and eat.
With Chinese New Year approaching, try Tina’s dumplings. They can be steamed, boiled or pan-fried. I know I’ll be practicing my pleats and eating some delicious dumplings as I go!
Nainai Tina’s Delicious Dumplings
4 c AP Flour
Warm water, approximately 8 oz
Knead until smooth for 20 to 30 minutes. Rest for 30 minutes.
1 head napa cabbage, cut lengthwise, very thin, boiled until soft
1 lb ground pork
¼ cup soft tofu, minced very fine
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons white wine
Finely chop the cabbage and place in a pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and allow to cook until stalks are softened. 5 to 10 minutes. Drain excess water.
In a large bowl, mix cabbage with all other ingredients. Mix until fully combined.
To assemble: Flour your work space and two sheet pans. Roll the dough out into a large log and cut into four equal pieces. Cover the three pieces you are not using. Roll out a fourth of the log until it is about an inch in diameter. Pinch off tablespoon sized pieces and flatten with the palm of your hand.
Roll out the edges of the dough with the end of the rolling pin (a short thin rolling pin is best). Fill and fold over. Then pinch up along the sides until fully sealed.
To serve, boil large pot of water and drop in ten to 15 dumplings in at a time. Allow to them to cook until they rise to the top and cook through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with soy sauce and hot chili oil to taste.