Napa cabbage is a popular Winter vegetable in the cooler regions of Asia, but is now commonly found throughout the world.
It is a leafier version of cabbage, with longer, thicker, and juicier stalks and pale, wrinkly leaves. Because of its high water content, this subtle vegetable is commonly found in stews, hot pot or sukiyaki, and sometimes stir-frys.
Vancouver is receiving international attention for hosting the upcoming Winter Olympics in February. The Games aside, all eyes are on us to prove our status as a hot culinary destination. Apart from our fresh seafood and abundance of locally farmed produce, we are best recognized for our kaleidoscope of ethnic cuisine.
Whenever a visitor asks me for restaurant recommendations, the request always: where’s the best place for dim sum?
Dim sum (點心), literally “to touch the heart”, are dainty, bite-size yums to accompany freshly brewed teas. Dim sum culture is uniquely Cantonese. Since I’m originally from Hong Kong, it is imprinted in my genes. The act of going for dim sum is called yum cha (飲茶), which means “to drink tea”, as this tradition evolved from tea-houses.
Generally, dim sum can be broken down into 7 categories, identified by the cooking method: steamed, baked, pan-fried, deep-fried, cold dishes, kitchen items/ specials, and desserts. As dim sum chefs become increasingly innovative, the categories are also expanding. Some of my favourites include: pan-fried taro cakes (芋頭糕), thousand-layers cake with sweet and savoury egg custard (千層糕), braised duck web (鴨掌), baked barbecue-pork bun with crumbling “pineapple” topping (叉燒菠蘿包), seafood soup dumpling (灌湯餃)… I can go on forever.
In Hong Kong, dim sum is typically enjoyed in the morning. At 8 am, restaurants are filled with retired and elderly citizens with newspapers in hand, mingling over pots of hot tea and a few baskets of dim sum. On the weekends, expect long line-ups as generations gather for a morning of delicious food, and quality time.
My fondest childhood memories were when my large family congregated on Saturday mornings to yum cha so I created this dim sum in homage of better days. I utilized napa cabbage as the wrapper of a steamed shrimp dumpling and garnished it with a sliver of black garlic.
Here, the sweet and oceany shrimp flavours are accentuated by the black garlic’s complex and savory aroma. Black garlic are fresh bulbs that have been fermented for a month in high heat to produce a dense, smoky, and caramelized quality. This sticky garnish has countless applications and will certainly add that je ne sais quoi element to dishes and desserts. It is available at MarxFoods, which also stocks an array of gourmet ingredients.
Shrimp Dumpling in Napa Wrapping
- 6 large tiger prawns
- 3 napa cabbage leaves, sliced in half, bottom-end trimmed
- 3 green onion stalks
- 100 g fish or shrimp paste (available in most Asian supermarkets)
- 1/4 cup frozen peas
- 1 carrot, julinenne (keep strings as long as possible)
- 2 black garlic cloves, sliced into thirds
- 1 egg white
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- Prepare an ice-bath. Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the napa leaves and the green onions for 10 seconds. Remove the vegetables and immediately plunge them into the ice bath. Reserve the boiling water. Pat the napa leaves dry. Reserve the green onion ends and chop the white ends finely.
- Remove the shell from the prawns, leaving the tail intact. Split the prawns down the middle, de-vein, and remove one half of the meat. The half with the tail attached will top the dumplings. Chop the removed meat into 1/2″ pieces.
- Combine the fish or shrimp paste, egg white, seasoning, chopped onion, and chopped prawn meat and stir vigorously for 5 minutes in one direction with a small spatula. This creates a springy, yet moist texture. After 5 minutes, gently fold in the peas.
- Lay out a piece of napa and line the thick stem end with some carrot strings. Scoop 2 tsp of the shrimp mixture onto one end and roll the napa tightly.
Wrap a piece of green onion around the roll and secure with a toothpick. Repeat until all 6 dumplings are complete.
- Line a steamer basket with leftover carrot slices or remaining napa leaves and place it over the pot of water, ensuring that the water does not reach the bottom of the basket. Alternately, invert a large bowl into the pot, making sure that the water remains several inches from the top of the bowl. Balance a plate over the bowl in place of a steamer basket.
- Carefully transfer the dumplings into the steamer, top with the halved prawns, cover, and steam on medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes, or until the center is springy.
- Place the dumplings onto a serving platter, remove the toothpicks, and garnish each with a slice of black garlic.
Serve the dumplings with some chili oil, alongside your favourite Chinese tea.
Remember to check back for Monday’s announcement of the battle results and next month’s featured vegetable (hint: prizes…).
Out of curiosity: What is your favourite dim sum?