August 29, 2014

Dumplings Around The World.....who knew?

So, I decided to explore the world of dumplings. I thought in all honesty, "This will be a nice, short, concise article." That statement turned out to be very uninformed and not well thought out. Why? Because after I Googled the word dumplings, I was looking at 3,440,000 results. Okay, turns out I'm a dumpling neophyte and there are literally 100's, if not 1000's of types of dumplings. In some regions of the world, much like dialects, dumplings can change from village to village and even house to house, creating myriads of different recipes and nuances. Who knew?

The following is a result of my trek through the world of dumplings, the information gleaned from hours long research on the web and of course on the plate in front of me. Hey, it's my job! How do I know if I don't prepare and eat it myself? When finished reading, while you may not be an expert, you'll be a hit the next time you and your foodie friends bring up that oh so hot party topic....gnocchi.

From simple 'chicken and dumplings' to the more exotic international varieties, I'll delve into the starchy goodness of this wonderful little comfort food. It seems that nearly every nation has some form of dumpling, and it's easy to see why. They are tasty, versatile and when feeding a family, very filling. I'll cover some of the international variations, mostly sticking to the basics. Each nation's dumpling offering gives you a great starting point for your own recipe experimentation as well. You never know, 50 years from now, it could be your family's version that makes it into some future food writer's article. Let's get started...

Chinese Cuisine
The jiaozi is a common Chinese dumpling which generally consists of minced meat and chopped vegetables wrapped into a piece of dough. Popular meat fillings include ground pork, ground beef, ground chicken, shrimp and even fish. Popular mixtures are pork with Chinese cabbage, lamb with spring onion, leeks with eggs, etc. They are usually boiled or steamed and are a traditional dish for Chinese New Year's Eve. Family members gather together to make dumplings.

The other version of the Chinese dumpling is made of rice, with meat and vegetables stuffed into it. It is then steamed or boiled. If fried in a small amount of oil, they are called guotie or potstickers. Compared to wontons (dumplings served boiled in a soup), jiaozi have a thicker skin and are bigger. Wontons are traditionally wrapped in rectangular dough, jiaozi in round. Chinese cuisine also includes sweet dumplings and the commonly called tangyuan. These are smaller dumplings made with glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet sesame, peanut or red bean paste. There are also other kinds of dumplings such as har kao, siew mai, small cage-steamed bun (xiaolongbao), pork bun and crystal dumplings. When it comes to dim sum, just type the word in your browser and numerous descriptions are at your finger tips. Variations of Chinese dumplings are also found in the Philippines, Korea and Japan.

British and Irish Cuisine

Savory dumplings made from balls of dough are part of traditional British and Irish cuisine. The simplest dumplings are dropped into a bubbling pot of stew or soup, or into a casserole. They sit partly submerged in the stew and expand as they are half-boiled, half-steamed, for ten minutes or so. The cooked dumplings are airy on the inside and moist on the outside. The dough may be simply flavored with salt, pepper and herbs, or the dough balls may have a filling such as cheese pressed into their center. Cotswold dumplings call for the addition of breadcrumbs and cheese, and the balls of dough may be rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, rather than cooked in a soup or stew. These sour-dough dumplings, when sweetened and made with dried fruit and spices can be boiled in water to make a dessert. In Scotland, this is called a Clootie dumpling, after the cloth.

Caribbean Cuisine
The Jamaicans created the first Caribbean dumplings, which were English-influenced. A simple recipe including self-rising flour, water and salt is made into a thick dough before frying on a pan until golden brown. These are usually rounded or rolled into balls and are served with Ackee and Saltfish or chicken as a side dish. Like English dumplings, they have a soft, fluffy texture. Eventually the recipe spread across the Caribbean as it reached the Lesser Antilles such as Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada and also the eastern section of the Dominican Republic, where the dish is known as dumplin. It was introduced to the island by immigrants from the British Lesser Antilles who went to work in the sugar industry. There is also a type of dumpling that is put into chicken stews. It is a mix of flour and water and boiled in the water with the meat. In Haiti there is a similar dumpling dish that is rolled into a ball or log shaped, which is then boiled in various soups, some which are known as bouillon.

Italian Cuisine
In Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition. Florence is home to strozzapreti, a gnocchi so good, rumor and legend has it that priests of an earlier period had been known to choke from eating them too fast. In true Italian fashion, their name means 'priest-stranglers.' The word gnocchi means "lump" or "knot" and is originally a Germanic word that may describe the distinctive shape of gnocchi. These delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. However, the most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine potatoes (boiled, peeled and mashed) with flour to form soft bite-size lumps of dough. Each gnocchi is then ridged along one side like a seashell; this gives the sauce a surface to cling to when eating. Gnocchi also come in different sizes, with gnocchetti being the smallest version. Other types of gnocchi are made with semolina flour, milk and cheese, also known as Gnocchi alla Romana.

When it comes to sauces for gnocchi, almost anything is acceptable from butter and sage, to a rich cheese sauce (such as Gorgonzola), tomato sauce or even pesto. Gnocchi are both delicious and very filling, making great use of just a few ingredients in near limitless ways.

Jamaican Cuisine
Dumplings or, as Jamaicans say, "dumplin," come in two forms: fried and boiled. Both are made with flour, either white or wheat, and the white-floured variety is often mixed with a bit of cornmeal. They are often served with dishes like Ackee, saltfish, kidneys, liver salt mackerel etc. and often taste better when refried. A refried dumplin is usually prepared a day after the boiled dumplin is first made. The boiled dumplin is thinly sliced and then fried, which gives it a slightly crispy outer layer and a tender middle. A purely fried white flour dumplin is golden brown and looks a lot like a roll, it is enjoyed predominantly as part of breakfast.

Peruvian Cuisine
In Peru there are a number of dishes that may be classified as dumplings. "Papas Rellenas" or stuffed potatoes consist of a handful of mashed potatoes (without the milk and butter) flattened in the palm of the hand and stuffed with a savory combination of ingredients. The stuffing usually consists of sauteed meat (could be beef, pork or chicken), onions and garlic. They are all seasoned with cumin, South American chillies, called Aji, raisins, peanuts, olives and sliced or chopped hard boiled eggs. After stuffing a ball is formed, rolled in flour and deep fried in hot oil. The stuffed potatoes are usually accompanied by onion sauce consisting of sliced onions, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and slices of fresh chilli peppers. The same dish may also be made with seafood. In some countries yucca puree is used as the starch component of these Latin American dumplings.

Central European Cuisine
In Germany, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, dumplings, both sweet and savory, have been a staple of families for generations. A dumpling is called Klöße in Northern Germany, Knöpfle or Knödel in Southern Germany and Austria. There are flour dumplings, the most common dumplings, thin or thick, made with eggs and semolina flour, boiled in water. Meat dumplings (called Klopse or Klöpse in North-Eastern Germany, Knöpfe and Nocken are in Southern Germany) contain meat or liver. Liver dumplings are frequent additions to soup. The most famous German meat dumplings are Königsberger Klopse which contain anchovy or salted herring and are eaten with caper sauce. Thüringer Klöße are made from raw or boiled potatoes, or a mixture of both, and are often filled with croutons. Bread dumplings are made with white bread and are sometimes shaped like a loaf of bread, and boiled in a napkin, in which case they are known as napkin dumplings (Serviettenknödel). In the Hungarian cuisine the dumplings are called galuska - small dumplings made from a thick flour and egg batter which is cut into small pieces, and thrown into boiling water, similar to Spätzle or Knödel. Sweet dumplings are made with flour and potato batter, by wrapping the potato dough around whole plums or apricots, boiled and rolled in hot buttered bread crumbs. Shlishkes or Krumplinudli are small boiled potato dumplings made like the sweet plum dumplings, also rolled in hot buttered bread crumbs.

Eastern European Cuisine
In Siberia dumplings are called pozi (buuz in Mongolian). They are usually made with an unleavened dough. The traditional filling is meat, but the kind of meat and how it is processed varies. In Mongolia, mutton is favored, and is chopped rather than ground; pork and beef mixes are more popular in Russia. Unlike most other European dumplings, a poza is steamed not boiled.

Norwegian Cuisine
In Norway, dumplings have a vast variety of names, as the dialects differ a lot. Names include (ready inhale): potetball, klubb, kløbb, raspeball, komle, kumle, kompe, kumpe, kodla, kudle, klot, kams, ball, baill, komperdøse, kumperdøse, kompadøs, ruter, ruta, raskekako, risk, klotremat, krumme and kromme. (Whew, say that five times fast!) Usually made from potatoes and various types of flour and boiled, occasionally containing pork, like bacon, in the middle. In some areas it is common to use syrup along with the dumplings.

Swedish Cuisine
In the north, they are usually called Palt, or Pitepalt, filled with salted pork and eaten with melted butter and lingonberry jam. In the south it is called Kroppkaka, and is usually filled with smoked pork, raw onions and coarsely ground pepper and served with cream and lingonberry jam.

Himalayan Cuisine
Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim's steamed dumplings are known as 'momos' and are a popular snack. Similar to the Chinese jiaozi, they probably arrived with the influx of Tibetan refugees into Nepal during the 1950s. Many different fillings, both meat-based and vegetarian, are common. It is also very famous in Newar Communities which has adopted the dish and is one of the mostly eaten snacks and meal in Kathmandu Valley. The people there have adopted the dish calling it MO:MOcha (mo mo) in newari.

Indian Cuisine
Karanji are fried sweet dumplings made of wheat flour and stuffed with dry coconut delicacies. They are popular with the Maharastrians and the South Indians. Also popular is the Modak, made of fresh coconut, jaggery or sugar and steamed rice dough. It is eaten hot with ghee.

Kozhukottai (Tamil) or Modagam or Kajjikayi (Telugu), also found in the south, are either sweet, salty or spicy versions. In the sweet version, a form of sweet filling made with coconut, boiled lentils and jaggery is used, whereas, the salty version, is a mixture of steamed cracked lentils, chillies and some mild spices.

Japanese Cuisine
Bocchan dango is a fried dumpling made from eggs and eaten with dashi and known as akashi no tamagoyaki. Similarly shaped dumplings, but with octopus (or sometimes konnyaku) and flavored with pickled ginger, negi (welsh onion) and other ingredients, are a Kansai dish known as takoyaki. The gyoza is the Japanese version of the Chinese jiaozi. Made from rice flour it is often served with green tea.

Korean Cuisine
Called mandu they are similar to Chinese and Japanese dumplings. Typically filled with a mixture of ingredients; ground pork, kimchi, vegetables, or cellophane noodles, there are many variations. Steamed, fried, or boiled, they can also be used to make a soup called mandu guk(soup).

Jewish Cuisine
Matzah balls are particularly popular during Passover, when matzah meal is often used in observant Ashkenazi Jewish households as flour may not be used. Some recipes may add a number of ingredients. Butter is not used as milk products are not allowed to be used in chicken (meat) soup in accordance with the rules of Kashrut. There are even recipes for fat-free Matzah balls. Handmade, the balls are shaped then placed into a pot of salted, boiling water or chicken soup. The balls swell during the boiling time and come out light or dense, depending on the recipe. Roughly spherical, they range anywhere from a couple of inches in diameter to the size of a large orange, depending on preference.

American Cuisine
Chicken and Dumplings is easily the most common preparation using dumplings in the United States. Popular varieties of southern dumplings can be made with eggs, milk, baking powder and/or yeast, or just flour and water. In Kentucky, dough is dumped into boiling chicken broth along with a variety of vegetables. In the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania, "Pot Pie" is dough made from flour and broth [usually ham], cut into squares and boiled in the same broth with potatoes.

There you have it. Well, most of it anyway. I am always fascinated by the fact that the more I explore the world of food with and, for you, the more I am convinced that many food traditions prepared by families throughout the world, expose the commonality of being human. Though raised in diverse locations, with different cultures and backgrounds, there are certain cuisine staples that cross international boundaries. Most of us, no matter who we are or where we live, can remember some form of dumpling and those things that define comfort food for us. Dumplings are universal. Though the names are different, the faces, the memories and flavors are strangely familiar. Imagine that, a dumpling version of six degrees of separation. Who knew?

Bon Appetit,


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August 26, 2014

The World of Gourmet Salts, a definitive guide...

Salt is no longer just a condiment. It has risen to nouveau culinary stardom as the next designer specialty ingredient, so I've decided to break it all down for you and help you navigate the 'seas of salt.' Yes, I did go there, but then again, by now you should all know what you're in for when you read my articles. Though salt has been around for centuries, sea and artisanal salts have become the new must have ingredient for your pantry if you consider yourself a gourmet foodie. Specialty stores and gourmet sections of your supermarket all now include arrays of this 'jewel of the seas.'

So isn't salt just salt? Well... no. For those with discriminating palates, subtle variations in climate, local vegetation, sediments, minerals in the soils, and the infusion of herbs and spices, have taken sea and artisan salts to the top of the charts. Chef's and home cooks alike are all using salts in ways our grandmothers never envisioned. That is, of course, unless your grandmother was raised in France. The French have long embraced artisanal and sea salts as mainstays in gourmet cooking. There are now many companies on the market, offering salts infused with an infinite variety of herbs, flavors and ingredients, all of which can add that special touch to your meals and desserts. Designer finishing salts are now being combined with chocolates and truffles to bring out fantastic flavors and nuances never before explored.
First we're going to break down the basics of salt, then focus in on the sea and artisanal (or custom designed) varieties.

Salt (sodium chloride) 101:
All the salt that we consume is made from either sea salt, which includes bay and ocean salt, or that which is mined from inland deposits. Himalayan salt, for instance, is mined from deep inside the Himalayan Mountains in Tibet, where it was deposited when the sea covered the area more than 250 million years ago.

There are four varieties of salt:
Iodized table salt: Not much to tell here as this is the basic shaker on the table most Americans are used to. Over 70 % of all salt sold in the US falls into this category. Table salt is refined salt, 99% sodium chloride. It usually contains substances that make it free-flowing, called anti-caking agents, such as sodium silicoaluminate or magnesium carbonate. Most refined salt is prepared from rock salt which are simply mineral deposits that are high in salt. These deposits were formed by the evaporation of ancient salt lakes, and may be mined conventionally, or through the injection of water. Injected water dissolves the salt so the brine solution can be pumped to the surface where the salt is then collected.

Kosher salt: Gets its name because of its importance in making meat kosher, not because it follows the guidelines for kosher foods as written in the Torah. The salt grains are larger than regular table salt grains, so when meats are coated in kosher salt, the salt dissolves more slowly, remaining on the surface of the meat longer and drawing out the fluids (blood) of the meat. Like common table salt, kosher salt consists of the chemical compound sodium chloride. Unlike common table salt, kosher salt typically contains no additives.

Sea salt: Created by evaporating sea water until you are left with salt. The more pristine and unique an area's salt content is, determines its value on the market. Unrefined sea salts are also commonly used as ingredients in bathing additives and cosmetic products such as bath salts, which use sea salt as its main ingredient and combined with other ingredients for its healing and therapeutic effects.

Fleur de Sel: Easily the highest rated salt by the world's leading chefs, this salt is the cream of the crop of Celtic sea salts. Harvesting only takes place in the summer months, when the sun is its strongest. Of note is how these top end salt varieties are harvested. Grey salt and Fleur de Sel are collected by hand with wooden rakes by artisan paludiers (salt harvesters, salt rakers or salt farmers ) who sweep the top of the evaporating sea water. This is the same, 1500 year old method developed by their Celtic ancestors, which earns the grey salt its alternate name of Celtic sea salt. New paludiers study for one year to learn the slow and precise movements and patient methods of the ancient craft. Most are drawn to the profession by a love of nature, working outdoors and the romance of tradition. The average age of a paludier is now under 40, thanks both to a renewed interest in the craft, and the explosion in popularity of sea salt. There are around 200 traditional paludiers in France today working the salt-marshes, producing an annual harvest of 10,000 tons of quality sea salt each year.

Sea & Artisanal Salts

Sea salt that has a soft, flaky texture and is from the water off of the west coast of Wales, where it is freshly harvested from the Atlantic waters that surround the Isle of Anglesey. The salt is also smoked over 800 year old Welsh oak chips, producing a champagne-colored flake with a delicate smokiness. Salt sold under the Halen Môn brand is Anglesey. Crunchy in texture, it is also available in a spiced form with peppercorns, cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, chili and cloves.

A variety of unrefined mineral salts that range from dark grey to black in color, including Hawaiian volcanic sea salt (black lava salt) and Cyprus black sea salt. Indian black salt, or kala namak, is actually a pearly pinkish gray rather than black, and has a strong, sulfuric flavor. Available in very fine or coarse grain.

A Korean salt made by roasting sea salt in bamboo cylinders plugged with yellow mud. The salt absorbs minerals from the bamboo and mud, which in turn leach the salt of impurities. A powerful ingredient in Taoist medicine, believed to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, cure fevers, relieve edema, and serve in remedies of dozens of other conditions.

A grey French sea salt, hand harvested using the Celtic method of wooden rakes allowing no metal to touch the salt. Celtic salts are available ground in different levels of coarseness. Celtic salt refers to naturally moist salts harvested from the pristine Atlantic seawater off the coast of Brittany, France. These salts, which are rich in trace mineral content, are available in coarse, stone ground, fine and extra fine grain.

A salt substance derived from acidic citrus fruits, such as lemon and limes, that is dried and formed into a powder or crystal. When used as an ingredient to flavor foods, it provides a distinctively sour or tart taste. It is a common substance used in canning, to keep the color of fruits from darkening, and is commonly used as a substitute for lemon juice.

Coarse salt is a larger-grained sea salt crystal. Most recipes calling for salt imply finely ground salt, however, many professional chefs prefer cooking with coarse salt because they can easily measure it with their fingers. It is less moisture sensitive, so it resists caking and is easily stored. Coarse salt is useful for making beds for oysters and salt crusts on meat or fish, for lining baking dishes and the rims of margarita glasses. Kosher salt and sea salt come coarsely ground.

Like fleur de sel, this “flower of salt” is so-named because the delicate salt “flowers,” or crystals, comprise the top layer of the salt pans that rest on the surface of the sea. Fior di Sale comes from the Trapani area of Sicily and is harvested by master salt makers. It can only be harvested on windless mornings, when the surface waters of the Mediterranean are unruffled. It is a very white crystal with a much lower percentage of sodium chloride than regular table salt. It is rich in fluorine, magnesium, potassium and all the trace elements contained in sea water. It has a delicate, sweet flavor with good taste, not too strong or salty. A finishing salt, it should be sprinkled on salads, tomatoes, fish, to finish roasts and sauces, on buttered bread and bruschetta. It is extremely soluble and will dissolve even on cool foods.

A light crystal salt with a snowflake like texture. Sea-waters are evaporated by the sun and wind producing salt brine that is slowly heated to the point where delicate pyramid shaped crystals of salt appear. The finished product is light, flaky sea salt. Flake salts are harvested all over the world: the Maldon River in England, Anglesey off the island of Wales, New Zealand and Australia. The pink flake salt shown here comes from Australia’s Murray-Darling River Basin, where a red pigment, carotene, is secreted by algae.

Salts can be smoked or otherwise flavored by mixing them with spices (saffron), herbs (bay leaf, fennel, thyme), berries or other seasonings like truffles. Complex blends can be found, including those that mix sea salts with regionally-themed spices and herbs to create “Mediterranean” or “Southwestern” blends. The salts usually have a lot of visual appeal on top of foods and as plate garnishes because they are crafted for beauty, they make a better presentation than a home cook would achieve by combining sea salt with the same ingredients from the spice cabinet.

French for “flower of the salt.” Like sel gris, it is also raked by hand from the salt ponds (fields) of the village of Guèrande, Brittany, on the coast of France. It is harvested from May to September; artisan paludiers patiently wait as the shallow pools of water evaporate, creating the precious salt crystals. The slightest movement will cause the “flower” to sink to the bottom, so salt can only be collected when the weather is warm and the sea is calm. For every 80 pounds of sel gris produced, only three pounds of fleur de sel is harvested. The salt rises to the top of the water, forming delicate flakes that, upon drying, are white and can acquire a pinkish hue. Long prized by chefs and gourmets for its high quality, fleur de sel provides a very delicate and somewhat earthy flavor. Like sel gris, it is an excellent cooking and finishing salt, smooth with a light crunch.

Artisan salt is hand-harvested in small batches all over the world. It can be evaporated in ponds or salt pans from any body of water. Based on the body of water, the salt will vary in texture and moisture content. The popularity of artisan salt has created cottage industries in artisan salt. Cayman Sea Salt is an example, located in the popular Cayman Islands tourist destination, between Cuba and Mexico.

There are two distinct varieties of salt from the Aloha state. Black Lava Salt: This salt is created with purified sea water that is evaporated in pools with purified black lava rock to add minerals. It is then dried in a greenhouse.

The second is called Alaea: On the island of Kauai, sediment of iron oxide-rich red volcanic clay seeped into the ocean from its rivers. Alaea takes its name from the area’s red volcanic clay. The clay imparts a subtle flavor that is more mellow than regular salt. This natural additive is what gives the salt its distinctive pink color. It is the traditional and authentic seasoning for native Hawaiian dishes such as Kalua Pig, Poke and Hawaiian Jerky. Also good on prime rib and pork loin. Hawaiian Sea Salt comes in fine and coarse grain.

Also known as black salt or sanchal, an unrefined volcanic table salt with a strong sulfuric flavor. Despite its name, kala namak, which is mined in Central India, is actually light pink in color. It is mineral-rich and most often used to flavor Indian dishes like chaats, vegetable and fruit salads.

Certifying organizations include Bio-Gro in New Zealand, Nature & Progres in France and Soil Association Certified in Wales.While the standards are not the same as botanicals, agriculture or livestock, these various organizations are setting up rigorous guidelines for the production of organic salt. They ensure the purity of the water, cleanliness of the salt beds and strict procedures on how the salt is harvested and packaged etc.

This salt is harvested from an ancient ocean now underground, which feeds a spring located 10,000 feet high in the Andes. The salt has a mineral quality. Sprinkle a few grains on sliced ripe tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and potatoes.

Mined from deep inside the Himalayan Mountains in Tibet, Pink Himalayan salt was deposited when the sea covered the area more than 250 million years ago. Often the salt is brought down from the mountains on the backs of yaks. It is available in a variety of grinds, as well as in block form where a grater is used.. The unrefined and unpolluted pink translucent crystals have a subtle, crunchy texture.
A relatively new category of gourmet salts, which can be naturally smoked over wood fires to infuse the salt crystals with natural smoke flavor, or be artificially infused. Smoked salts add a smoke house flavor to a wide range of dishes including roasts, chicken and grilled meats, salmon, soups, salads and sandwiches, steamed vegetables, on corn, egg dishes, on baked potatoes, or as a dry rub. Interesting in color, sprinkle as a decorating garnish—or use as a glass rimmer on a Bloody Mary. Examples include alder smoked salt and tropical sea salts that have been smoked over coconut shells and kaffir lime leaves.

These salts can raise the level of your presentations, adding subtle and wonderful flavors to any traditional dishes you may create, while at the same time, fostering a creativity and propensity to have you think outside the norm of what is your comfort zone. Adding a few jars of these exotic tastes to your pantry will cause you to explore more of the the world with your palate. As I sit here looking at a jar of lavender infused salt and another infused with truffle, I am inspired to go search through my cabinets for some other bought, but long forgotten ingredients that I can take on the culinary journey with me. Today's gourmet trends can be the perfect vehicle when searching out new cultures, flavors, experiences and ideas.

Bon Appetit!

Credits: Some of the photo's in this feature have been provided by Mark Bitterman,, &