It’s eight days into January already, but the year—and everything that came along with it—is certainly still new. In the past week I’ve packed up once more and made the same heart-palpitatingly decisive transatlantic flight that I first made a year and a half ago (wait, what?).
With a new house, new flatmates, new course tutors, and a new term, it was comforting to experience that familiar rush of simultaneous excitement and deep-seated contentment upon catching sight of Big Ben’s wanton face peering out across the Thames as I took a bus from Heathrow airport through sleepy, grey, early-morning London.
I’ve encountered more unexpected obstacles in the past week than hours of sleep (I just finished rolling down my sleeves after fixing the boiler a few minutes ago), but to imply that general life chaos can overshadow the undeniable fact that I’m deliriously happy would be a grotesque misrepresentation. If 2014 brings even a fraction of the blessings in 2013, I couldn’t ask for more.
As happy as I am to be here in London now, I wouldn’t have traded anything for spending New Year’s Eve and Day with my family in Florida. What more appropriate way to celebrate than combining the new year traditions of the American South and Taiwan? Mom was skeptical when I suggested adulterating her dumplings with a dash of whole wheat and collard greens, but I think they turned out to be a rather tasty and vegetarian (albeit frankenstein) way to bring in the new year.
Collards (Brassica oleracea) are very similar to its trendy cousin, kale. Because these big leafy greens are visually evocative of cash money, they’re traditionally eaten in the Southern U.S.A. on New Year’s Day, along with black-eyed peas and cornbread for good luck and prosperity. Similarly, dumplings (jiaozi / 餃子) are a typical Chinese New Year food because the shape mimics the 元寶 ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. As we were wrapping these up, Mom chuckled to herself and mentioned that they used to hide a peanut half in one of the dumplings for the luckiest to find.
With or without the peanut half, this new year is already overflowing with the divinest of blessings. I wish you all the same! There’s certainly nothing wrong with renewing ambitions and subscribing to resolutions, but fresh starts are also the perfect time to celebrate and reflect upon what you’ve had all this time. Rather than setting out with a burdened attitude to fix the broken and right the wrongs, it may be more enlightening and encouraging to focus on appreciating, maintaining, and building upon the best of 2013. Start with these dumplings.
Jiaozi with Collard Greens (餃子)
(makes about 20)
- 1 cup unbleached white flour
- ½ cup white whole wheat flour
- [up to] ½ cup cold water
- 100g collard greens
- 30g cellophane noodles
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 egg, scrambled
- 3oz firm tofu, crumbled
- 4 cloves garlic, minced finely
- 2cm fresh ginger root, minced finely
- 1 t ground white pepper
- 2 T soy sauce
- 2 T sesame oil
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 T soy sauce
- 1 T rice vinegar
- 1 T chili oil
To make the dough, simply combine flours (using all white for more traditional jiaozi) and stream in the cold water bit by bit, kneading all the while until a dough comes together. It should be rather tacky, but not too sticky to knead. Work into a loose ball and let rest under a wet towel for at least an hour.
Wash the collards and mince very, very finely; toss with salt and set aside to let the salt draw out excess moisture.
Rehydrate the clear cellophane noodles in hot water; drain, chop finely, and set aside.
Rehydrate the dried mushrooms in hot water; drain, chop finely, and set aside.
Scramble an egg; chop into tiny pieces and set aside.
Crumble the tofu into small pieces and set aside.
After draining the collards and giving them a final squeeze, combine all these ingredients together in a large bowl.
Mix up the sauce and seasoning ingredients, adding also into the large bowl and adjusting to taste. Depending on how much salt there is left in the collards, you may want to add more soy sauce.
By now, the dough should be more workable and firm. Divide into golfball-sized pieces, rolling out thinly to form roughly circular pieces of dough (much easier with a simple Chinese-style rolling pin, if you have one handy). Place some filling into the centre (this is where you can sneak in that peanut half, if you want!), making sure to remember that overstuffing leads to risk of accidental ruptures during the cooking process! Try to contain your eagerness. The sealing and wrapping styles vary from household to household and region to region, but I tend to prefer the moon-shaped pleating on one side of the dough wrappers. You can watch this video to get a better idea, but don’t worry about using egg white or water, since fresh dough should not necessitate this step.
Once your dumplings are wrapped, they can either be boiled (水餃), steamed (蒸餃), pan-fried (鍋貼), or frozen for later use. We threw this batch into a pot of hot water, and they should be done when they float to the surface. Make sure to mix up some dipping sauce (highly variable according to personal preferences; I tend to douse mine with vinegar) to accompany them, especially as the boiled variety tend to lose some salt content during the cooking process.