By Lily Thoo
Chai Kueh or vegetable dumplings are great Chinese New Year (CNY) snacks. They can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. When relatives and friends pop by, steam the dumplings for 15 minutes and serve them up! Sweeten the deal with Golden Orange Butter Cake.
Total time: 5 hours
Yields: 30 pieces
1 whole head of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
40g dried shrimps, soaked for 5 minutes, wiped dry and coarsely chopped
1 jicama/yam bean/Chinese turnip, about 1kg-1.2 kg, peeled and shredded
2 carrots, shredded
2 pieces dried wood fungus, soaked in water and cut into strips
1 stalk spring onion, cut into 3cm lengths
Oil for cooking
1½ teaspoons sea salt to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
125ml water, adding more if needed
100g wheat starch
200g tapioca starch
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
440ml hot boiling water
1. In a medium saucepan, sauté chopped garlic over medium-high heat with enough oil until golden brown. Reserve half of garlic oil for garnishing.
2. Add dried shrimps to remaining garlic oil. Fry until aromatic.
3. Add jicama, carrot and wood fungus. Mix until combined.
4. Add water and seasoning. Stir to incorporate. Cover saucepan – stir veggies from time to time. Braise until softened and sauce is thickened. Adjust seasoning to taste.
5. Toss in spring onion. Mix well to combine. Set filling aside.
6. Making dough: Combine both flours in a large mixing bowl. In another mixing bowl, use a fork to whisk sugar, salt and oil until combined. Pour in boiling water and stir. When done, immediately pour it into flour mixture, stirring well with chopsticks.
7. When dough is still hot and manageable, wear gloves to briefly knead it until smooth. Cover and set aside.
8. Cut baking paper to size to line dumplings. Set it aside.
9. Prepare steamer with water reaching steaming rack. Brush some oil onto steamer base to prevent chai kueh from sticking during steaming – line tray with baking paper.
10. Assembling dumplings: Roll dough into log shapes. Divide into 25g pieces. Shape into rounds. Cover dough with cling wrap.
11. Sprinkle some tapioca starch onto kitchen top. Pinch a piece of dough. Flour a plastic scraper and place it on top of dough. Applying even pressure, press down scraper. Flour surface again, flip dough. Repeat process for even, thin and round pieces of dough.
12. Place 1 tablespoon filling into centre of dough. Fold dough over filling – you will get half-moon shapes. Pinch to seal edges. Alternatively, pleat edges to seal filling – use your other fingers to support dumpling as you pleat. Flour kitchen surface with more tapioca flour if needed.
13. Place each dumpling onto prepared baking paper. Continue assembling rest of dumplings. If filling gets a tad moist towards the end, put it in a sieve with a plate underneath to catch excess dripping.
14. Fill steamer with water just below steaming rack level. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Wrap cover with a kitchen towel to prevent water vapour from dripping directly onto dumplings while steaming.
15. Place dumplings on steaming tray. Steam for 15 minutes. Turn heat off immediately. Do not over steam. Over steaming softens the skin – hence, its colour may not be as translucent (see photo below) as crystal dumplings ought to be after cooling down.
16. Allow dumplings to rest for 5 minutes before removing them. Open cover at a 45° angle to allow vapour to escape. While still hot, brush dumplings with reserved garlic oil.
17. Serve warm with chilli sauce and/or sweet sauce.
PHOTOS: Lily Thoo
TIP: Use a grater or mandolin to grate vegetables instead of hand-cutting to ensure uniform cooking during braising. Braise until vegetables are tender – this makes it easier to assemble dumplings.
TECHNIQUES: Dough is a bit sticky to handle initially but it is pliable during assembling and pleating. Be prepared to flour surface with more tapioca flour from time to time. Do not roll dough with a rolling pin – skin will not be as even as doing it manually where a plastic scraper is used to ensure even pressure is applied. Before sealing and pleating dumplings, use your fingers to shape filling, so the dumplings will look uniform after steaming.
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