Growing up, I knew only about two kinds of dumplings. There were the matzoh balls my mother put in our soup and the little Chinese filled pockets of dough that were either soft or fried and crispy. When I first heard about the southern dish of chicken and dumplings, I wondered why people were putting matzoh balls in their chicken stew (yes, my culinary knowledge growing up was extremely limited). Then while having dinner at a friend’s house, I learned of and got to eat the dumplings native to the Czech Republic.
Now that I know that dumplings are, by loose definition, filled pockets of dough, I realize I have eaten many different types of dumplings including ravioli, gnocchi, Jamaican patties, gyoza, empanadas and samosas. In fact, every country or region has their own version of dumplings, each with their unique ethnic flavor profile. Made from flour, bread or potatoes, they are inexpensive and easy to make. They can be filled with sweet or savory food or the other ingredients can be mixed into the “dough” itself. They can be boiled, fried, steamed or baked. Some people put them in soups or stews while others dip them in sauce. No matter how different the various types of dumplings may be, one thing they have in common is that they are a delicious type of comfort food.
Let’s take a culinary tour and go around the world in 7 vegan dumplings.
1. Eastern European Jewish Cuisine
I will start the dumpling tour where I started it in life – with Eastern European Jewish food. There are 3 types of Jewish dumplings, each with its own personality. Kreplach are an Ashkenazi specialty that is similar to ravioli or Chinese won tons. They are small dumplings filled with mashed potatoes or other fillings, and are usually boiled and served in soup. Matzoh balls are another Ashkenazi dumpling. They are soup dumplings made from a mixture of matzah meal, eggs, water, and a fat. However, you don’t need eggs to make delicious matzoh balls. Try this Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup or this Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup with a Gluten-Free Option.
A third type of Jewish dumpling is the knish which is dough filled with a mashed potato filling. Some knishes are soft but I like to make them the way my mother did which is more crisp and biscuit-like. To make my Potato Knishes: In a large bowl, combine 2 ½ cups flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. sugar. Mix well and make a well by pushing the dry ingredients to the periphery of the bowl. In a small bowl, mix 3 tsp. egg replacer with ½ cup warm water and stir well. Add 3 Tbs. vegetable oil and 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar and whisk. Add ¼ cup seltzer and gently mix it in. The liquids should be nice and bubbly. Pour the wet ingredients into the well of the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet, incorporating more and more with each turn of the bowl. Mix until it starts to form a dough and then use your hands to knead it into a firmer dough. The dough should be smooth. If it feels too dry, add seltzer, one Tbs. at a time. If the dough feels sticky, add a drop more flour. When the dough is smooth, divide into 3 balls and cover them with a damp towel. Let them sit for 45 minutes to relax the dough. While the dough is resting, make the filling.
To make the potato filling: Cut 1 ½ lbs. potatoes into even chunks. Put them in a medium-sized saucepan and fill with water until it just covers the potatoes. Add a pinch of salt, cover the pot and cook over medium-high heat. When the water comes to a boil, remove the lid, lower the heat and let the potatoes cook until they are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, heat 1 Tbs. oil in a skillet (that has a lid) over medium heat. Add 1 diced onion to the skillet and, cover the pan and let cook for about 25 minutes. Stir the onions a few times during the cooking process to make sure they are not browning too much. You want them soft and a bit caramelized. When they are soft, sprinkle a bit of salt over them. Set aside. When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them and mash them until they are soft and smooth. Fold the onions with any remaining oil into the potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Set the potato filling aside until you are ready to make the knishes.
To make the knishes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a work surface with parchment paper for rolling out the dough. Pour some oil in a bowl and have it ready with a pastry brush. Take one of the dough balls out from under the damp towel. Pound it with a rolling pin until it’s flattened out. Hit it, get all your aggression out, think of someone who bugs you and flatten that dough! Then stretch it and roll it until you have a thin rectangle, about 10 x 12 inches. You can use a paring knife to trim the dough and have a real rectangle shape. Put any trimmed dough back under the towel. Lay the rectangle of dough near the edge of the parchment paper. Spoon 1/3 of the potato filling onto the bottom edge of the rectangle, leaving about ¾ of an inch along the bottom edge and each side. Pick up the two bottom corners of the parchment paper and roll the dough up and over the potato filling. Peel back the parchment paper and brush oil over the rolled side of the dough. Roll the dough again until you have come to the edge of the rectangle. The seam should be on the bottom. Pinch the ends of the dough to seal them shut. Now you will separate the knishes using an old-fashioned method. With your finger, mark the spots in the dough where you will “cut” each knish. You will get 5 knishes out of each roll so the marks are about 2 inches apart. Use the side of your hand to cut the knishes. Saw back and forth until you have gone through the entire knish and it pulls apart. This sawing method seals the knish on the cut side. Put the knish on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Continue with the other 4 knishes. Brush them with oil. Repeat with the other 2 balls of dough. All the trimmed dough from the balls will probably make another smaller ball of dough or 4-5 more knishes. Continue until you have used all the dough and all the filling. Put the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 40 minutes until the knishes are golden brown. Rotate and turn the baking sheets around midway through to ensure even baking. Serve hot or cold with mustard, if desired.
2. Jamaican Cuisine
In Jamaica, dumplings can be fried, boiled or roasted and they can be sweet or savory. One of my all-time favorite foods are Jamaican patties. I used to eat them with beef and cheese but now I make my own vegan version of them. Whenever I went to an Ital restaurant, I would have trouble choosing from the different types of patties. The fillings were choices of tofu, soy chunks, ackee and my favorite, callalloo. Like the authentic patties, mine have a spicy filling of “beef” and vegan cheese surrounded by flaky and flavorful dough. This filling is texturized vegetable protein, but you can use greens, veggies, tofu, seitan, lentils or whatever you love. See How to Make Your Own Jamaican (Ital) Food at Home for my Jamaica “Beefy” Patty recipe.
3. Indian Cuisine
There are many types of dumplings throughout India. They can be made with flour or rice dough. Some are savory with lentil fillings while others are sweet. Samosas are a popular Indian food. They are fried or baked dumplings that are stuffed with potatoes, vegetables such as onions and peas, and fragrant spices. They are amazing when dipped into tamarind or chutneys like this Clementine and Cranberry Chutney or this Indian Mint and Cilantro Chutney with Ginger. Try these Potato Samosas with Coconut Mint Chutney for an incredible treat.
Another type of Indian dumpling is Malai Kofta which traditionally are made up of potatoes, meat and cheese. The dumplings are then cooked in a creamy spiced tomato sauce. You’ll want to try this Vegan Malai Kofta which is also gluten-free.
4. Italian Cuisine
You may not think of Italian food when you think of dumplings but it fits perfectly into our categorization of filled dough dishes. Gnocchi are small dumplings rolled and shaped from a mixture of potato (usually) and flour. They are boiled and then can be served with sauce or pan-fried for a different texture. Gnocchi are easier than you think to make. Try these recipes yourself: Gnocchi (Dumplings By Any Other Name) and Wild Garlic Gnocchi in Almond Cream Sauce. Change it up and bit and use sweet instead of white potatoes as in these Sweet Potato Gnocchi. I like to use pumpkin to make my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Gnocchi in Spiced Butter Sauce with Lemon Cashew Cream. Once you have made the gnocchi, use it recipes like Vegan Gnocchi alla Genovese or Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Kale and Vegan Mozzarella.
Tortellini and ravioli are also types of Italian dumplings. They are both flat pockets of dough filled with veggies and cheese and then boiled and served with sauce. Try these Succulent Tortellini with Nut Cream and Wild Mushroom Sauce, Turnip Ravioli, Golden Beet Ravioli with Sundried Tomato and Italian Herb Filling and Potatoes and Porcini Mushroom Ravioli in Broccoli Cream Sauce.
5. Chinese Cuisine
The most commonly known dumplings are Chinese dumplings. There are many kinds of Chinese dumplings with different shapes and fillings. They can be round or crescent-shaped, sweet or savory, boiled, steamed or pan-fried. Crescent-shaped dumplings, also called jiaozi, have a simple flour and water dough and can be boiled, pan-fried or steamed. Pot stickers are pan-fried on the bottom and then steamed. Siu Mai are steamed dumplings in a cup or basket shape with filling coming out the top. It’s fun to make your own dumplings. Try these Perfect Fried or Steamed Veggie Dumplings, Vegetable Dumplings, and Homemade Butternut Squash Pot Stickers. Bao are bread-like filled buns with sweet or savory fillings that are usually steamed. For one of each, try these Steamed Chinese Bao with Peanut Butter and these BBQ Lentil Baozi.
6. Japanese Cuisine
The Japanese make sweet dumplings out of rice flour called dango. Gyoza are the Japanese version of Chinese dumplings. They are made with extremely thin wrappers and can be filled with any filling you like. Try these Tempeh and Kale Steamed Gyoza for a delicious, healthy treat.
7. Ukrainian, Polish and Russian Cuisine
In Eastern Europe and Russia there are similar types of dumplings. Pelmeni are Russian stuffed boiled dumplings similar to Chinese won tons that are filled with raw, savory ingredients. Vareniki which are Ukrainian and Pierogi which have Polish roots can have either sweet or savory fillings which are cooked prior to stuffing them. The dough is usually made of wheat. For a vegan version with a “beef” filling, try these Russian “Meat” Pierog and Beet Salad.
There are so many kinds of dumplings around the world and this is just a sample. We didn’t even get to empanadas, pasteles, pasties or good ol’ American “chicken” and dumplings. We’ll have to meet again and take another culinary tour so we can get our fill of even more types of dumplings.
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Lead Image Source: Perfect Steamed or Fried Veggie Dumplings