Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the author for review consideration.
Enjoy this guest post from my husband, Peter! He’s the chef in the family, so when I was sent this cookbook, I knew he would love to review it. Let him know your favorite cookbooks in the comments–he (and I) would appreciate it.
When my wife asked me if I wanted to help her review a cookbook dedicated to jiaozi, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Over the years, I have tried making dumplings a number of different ways by means of recipes from sources ranging from the authentic (demonstrated by a Chinese professor friend of mine) to the improvised (working without a recipe at all and only a vague idea of what the end goal should be). The results of these attempts ranged in terms of success, but I never really mastered the process. Making dumplings still seemed like something that would elude the moniker of effortless. While this book has its imperfections, it certainly goes a long way to making the process of preparing dumplings less daunting.
The greatest strength of this book is how accessible it makes the entire process. Most of what you would need to make the majority of these recipes can be found in any Walmart. While my cupboard has accumulated exotic sauces and spices from various ethnic stores, most novices to Eastern cuisine aren’t aware of the existence of more than one kind of soy sauce, and this book does a fantastic job of introducing some more traditional Chinese flavors without calling for anything that more under equipped regions couldn’t readily find. Simplicity is the goal as the book guides the reader through the form of making dumplings, as it impresses upon the reader the art of dumpling making is one that can be adapted easily as one needs to make adjustments.
A few flaws did stand out, though, as I worked my way through eleven different recipes that were outlined in the book (we have eaten our way through a *lot* of dumplings the last week or so). The instructions for making the dough that serve as the wrapper of the dumplings are simple, clear, and easy to navigate, but the recipe does not seem to make the amount of dough that the book stipulates, nor did I seem to be able to make the dough the same consistency each time. Some outside research of mine revealed that there are many different opinions on the best way to make dumpling dough, and I was able to find someone else’s recipe that I had greater success with. Perhaps I didn’t find the right trick or perhaps I simply haven’t practiced enough, but it was certainly an area that I struggled with somewhat.
Another issue I had with the book was the lack of notes from the author about how the recipes are suppose to appear at the various stages of preparation. For example, I tried the tuna salad dumpling recipe which called for an exceptionally large amount of mayonnaise resulting in a very soupy filling. A word from the author that this was to be an expected consistency would have saved some second guessing and mild frustration. The most disappointing experience was my attempt at the cheesecake dumpling that resulted in a thin batter for the filling with no instructions for how to wrap the liquid with the dough.
The last problem that I experienced was this: many of the recipes resulted in under-seasoned dumplings. One or two were highly seasoned, such as the Spicy Moroccan Salmon dumplings (slap in the face level of heat in these) or the Timey-Wimey dumplings (a Dr. Who inspired recipe that turned out to be much tastier than I thought it would be) [note from Monica: these are fish fingers and custard dumplings for you Doctor Who fans!], but several just turned out to be rather bland. I made the Burrito dumplings, but the scant amount of chili powder and cumin weren’t enough to keep from simply tasting like a small, prepackaged frozen burrito. The Broccoli Rice and Cheese dumplings, traditional pork dumpling, and the Omelet dumpling were similarly underwhelming in the flavor department. Granted, this issue is an easy one to fix with a more liberal hand and well stocked spice rack.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is unfamiliar with more Eastern styles of cooking and wants to branch out, or for anyone simply looking for new, creative ways to expound upon a quite versatile food. Experienced cooks or those who have a background in preparing more traditional Eastern cuisine may find this book a bit unimpressive or perhaps a bit limiting, but this book never claimed to be for that demographic. I myself am glad to have it on hand for inspiration and ideas, though I may look elsewhere for some of the particulars.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good