Black Garlic Shrimp Dumplings in Napa Cabbage Recipe

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.

It is also the featured vegetable in Leela (SheSimmers) and my monthly veggie challenge: Beet ‘n Squash YOU!

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.

Shrimp Dumpling with Napa Wrapping

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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  5. 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.
  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  1. January 09, 2010 by Peggy

    these look absolutely decadent!

  2. January 09, 2010 by Nastassia

    Great post! I really enjoyed the dim sum 101, my bf is a fan but I am not too familiar, now I have a little dim sum knowledge. I just discovered black garlic at a spice store in Denver, can’t wait to use it in a recipe.

  3. January 09, 2010 by Christine @ Fresh Local and Best

    This is perfect for Chinese New Year! Photos are stunning!

  4. January 10, 2010 by cathy/ShowFoodChef

    Fab photos and these look both chic and delicious!

  5. January 10, 2010 by Ju (The Little Teochew)

    Oh WOW. How exquisite! These will definitely touch the heart of anyone. You’ll give any dim sum chef a run for his money, that’s for sure!

  6. Dear Mel!
    Gorgeous pics and posting as usual!
    These rolls are a great idea. Look like sushi!
    You’ve changed your url?

  7. January 10, 2010 by TasteHongKong

    Nice, very nice and great presentation.

  8. January 10, 2010 by zenchef

    Your blog looks new, smell new and taste just as delicious. :) Congrats Mel on the new blog! Quite an impressive design. You did it all by yourself? Good luck to you!

    Not time to enter the veggie battle this month, unfortunately. Wish this shrimp dumpling would land in my tummy. :)

  9. January 10, 2010 by Ellie

    I absolutely love the presentation of this dish. Love the recipe too! What a great blog :)

  10. January 10, 2010 by redkathy

    What talent! You photos are fabulous and the food, so fresh and… the photos say it all!

  11. January 11, 2010 by Joy

    Mel everything looks absolutely beautiful — the pictures are breathtaking and I am enjoying the new layout!!

  12. January 11, 2010 by raquel of Cafe Nilson

    awesome photos!!! great post!

  13. January 11, 2010 by Núria

    Wow Mel, a precious presentation and a wonderful idea to do my own… I love these! Thank you so :D

    The new design is the perfect lace for this♥

  14. January 11, 2010 by Cookin' Canuck

    Gorgeous presentation! The flavors sound fantastic and you gave really great info on dim sum.

  15. January 11, 2010 by Maria

    Stunning presentation! Everything is so fresh. Love it!

  16. January 11, 2010 by Roti n Rice

    I am sure it tastes as good as it looks!

  17. January 12, 2010 by Nic (Wheeling Gourmet)

    This looks awesome! Thank you. Love the idea of using napa cabbage this way. I’ll have to have a play as I’m allergic to crustaceans, but I’m sure I can figure out interesting alternatives :)

  18. January 16, 2010 by Morgan

    Hey Mel! Love all your photos! What kind of camera do you have?

  19. January 18, 2010 by Debi(TableTalk)

    I lost track out you–happy to have found you on your new blog. Congrats! Very well done.

    Beautiful plate here!

  20. January 22, 2010 by justcooknyc

    wow, that’s some seriously stylish home cooking

  21. January 24, 2010 by deana@lostpastremembered

    Amazing photos… the colors just pop out at you and the dish is wonderful!

  22. February 05, 2010 by Rose

    Gorgeous! I love these little dumplings!

  23. February 08, 2010 by Dhale

    I’ve been wanting to try black garlic for several months now but sadly the garlic vendor at our local farmers market is hibernating for the winter!

    I’m amazed at your patience in taking so many wonderful prep shots. Beautiful photos, Mel!

  24. March 03, 2010 by jiorji

    it looks so easy!! and tasty!! :D

  25. March 12, 2010 by Spicy Green Mango

    The loveliest little shrimp dumpling I have every seen :) Gorgeous!

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