The invention of the dumpling might be as early as the invention of dough and boiled water. Dumplings may have been around before breads or even porridge, perhaps the first, simplest way humans figured out how to cook wild grains.
Hand ground millet may not produce the most beautiful dumplings, but these boiled lumps of dough and “filling” are meant to be a more primitive style proto-dumpling, the kind of early processes that would eventually lead to the later artistry of dumpling making in Ancient all the way to modern China.
As for fermented vegetables, while we feature them for our early Chinese dumplings recipe, Ancient China was by no means the only group of peoples to ferment vegetables. The simple process of brining food in salt water for several days to induce natural preservation and robust pickly flavor (unknown at the time to be microbial life and fermentation) was practiced all over the Ancient world, on all kinds of foods.
You can ferment any vegetable and use any spices you want. Really. Anything. Be like a true ancient and never be afraid to experiment. Here is a mix of in season veggies from my garden: carrots, green and wax beans, and rhubarb, with fresh coriander seeds and a couple cloves of garlic. All of which, though maybe in more primitive forms, would have been available in Europe and Asia long ago.
To make, rough chop your veggies and add them to jar with your spices. Add water 1 quart at a time to cover. Either buy distilled water, or boil your water for a good 20 minutes if you can only get access to chlorinated stuff, which can inhibit fermentation. For every quart of water, add 3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt. Make sure you leave some room at the top of your jar for fermentation gases to bubble.
Give the jar a good shake. Then add some plastic lids or fermentatoin weights to keep all the veggies submerged. Re-seal the lid, place in a warmish area of the kitchen out of the way, and wait five days.
IMPORTANT: Every day, you should open the jar to burp the fermentation gases. Don’t want to risk an explosion at the end of the process. Just open the jar, admire your product in progress, and close again, shaking for good measure.
Now to make the dumplings.
1/2 cup Millet (and water to cover)
6 tbsp. water
1/2 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. Mustard seeds
1 cup Fermented vegetables, diced
Soak the millet in water for 5 hours, or overnight. Drain and grind in a mortar and pestle or food processor until you make a coarse flour. Add water while stirring to make a batter that’s loose but still holds some shape and form.
Get a pan on medium heat and dice your onions, garlic, and veg.
In a little vegetable oil, saute the mustard seeds about a minute until they are popping, then add the onions and garlic, cooking until tender. Add the batter to the pan and stir vigorously until its more glutenous and sticky. Turn off the heat, fold in the fermented veg, and scrape out onto a plate to cool.
To form the dumplings, it may help to chill in the fridge, but you don’t have to. Simply form them with 2 spoons and maybe a bit of help from your hands, just like when we made Falafel (only this is a much wetter dough).
Place dumplings in a steamer tray and steam covered over boiling water for 10 minutes)
Make a sauce. I’m doing a half and half soy and fish sauce. In the early days, fish and soybeans were fermented in the same vessel, producing a combination sauce before people thought to separate them. Plain old bean paste would be a tasty, authentic choice as well.
If desired, garnish the plate with bean sprouts.
And there you have it. A very early form of Chinese dumplings. Can someone teach me how to say Bon Apetit in Mandarin?