This week’s Farmer’s Market Challenge made for a marked departure from the last few thorny vegetable problems we’ve faced. Rather than having to work out what to do with some esoteric and impossible bit of produce, we had to decide what to do with one of the kitchen’s unsung workhorse heros: leeks. In this case, the difficulty stemmed from the embarrasment of choices the leeks presented. Braised them gently? Vichyssoise, potage Parmentier (aka HOT vichyssoise), cock-a-leekie soup? Leek and potato fritters? A gratin? Something Welsh?

In retrospect, I really should have gone with my initial instinct and developed a cream-free braised leek recipe that would’ve brought their sweet, subtle flavor to the fore. That, or rise to Maria’s challenge to make a savory leek muffin. But, dammit, I wanted dumplings and dumplings are what I made.

Regrettably, this dish ended up being not so much about the leeks, which is kind of the point of these challenges. It does, however, prove that you can make almost anything pretty darn tasty by cooking it with ginger, garlic, and stuffing it into a wrapper. These came out just fine, but frankly, if I’m going to be putting in the heroic effort to make dumpling skins, the filling, and pan fry the freakin’ things, they need to be transcendent. SO, while I’m giving you the recipe below, I’d suggest you use a combo of real Chinese leeks (which are kind of like giant flat chives) and Napa cabbage rather than regular European leeks that I’ve specified below. In any event, this is certainly not the last time we’ll discuss dumplings here on the PF.

Pan-Fried Leek Dumplings
Yield: ~24 small dumplings

150g flour
1/2 c boiling water

3 medium leeks
2 tsp neutral cooking oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs minced fresh ginger
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp dark (toasted) sesame oil 
salt & freshly ground pepper

1 tbs neutral oil

Make the dough: Sift the flour into a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flour and stir with a spoon to combine. When you can safetly handle the mixture, abandon your spoon and start kneading the dough together in the bowl with your hand. Smoosh it up against the side of the bowl until it comes together in a ball. Transfer to a clean, lightly floured surface and knead till even and elastic, about 2-3 minutes depending upon how much force you’re applying. Wrap in plastic and set aside.

Make the filling:

Assemble & cook: Keeping the dough ball covered, pull off a marble-sized piece of dough, roll it into a ball, compress it into a disc, and roll gently on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 2″ in diameter. (Bonus points are awarded for thinning the edges a little more than the center, as this will make the sealed dumpling’s shell even in thickness all the way around.)

Place 1 tsp filling in the center of the rolled skin, wet half of the outer edge of the skin, and fold over the filling. Crimp skin together over the filling. (I have no words to adequately describe this process and I’m not very good at it anyway…) Set on a lightly floured surface and repeat until you run out of dough, filling, or patience. (Having friends to help makes this much less arduous.)

Heat the 1 tbs neutral oil in a (sigh, perferrably non-stick) frying pan and when shimmery-hot, place the dumplings in the pan and cook till browned on the bottoms. Give them a shake to make sure the dumplings aren’t sticking and pour in about 3/4 c water and set a lid ajar on the pan so it’s mostly covered. Cook 3-4 minutes, watching carefully. Towards the end of this period, the water will evaporate, at which point remove the lid of the pan and fry a bit longer to recrisp the skins.

Serve immediately with a dumpling sauce of your desiring. (I like soy, vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and a bit of chili sauce.)