For Richard Fu, Chief Strategy Officer at Blue KC, the Lunar New Year is a time to prepare one of his all-time favorite dishes: sheng jian bao.
The miniature, bite-sized dumplings take him back to the streets of Taipei, walking with his grandmother.
“My family is from Taiwan, and when I used to visit my grandmother in Taipei, there would be food stalls in certain streets, and they would be selling these buns on the street. It would be like five for a dollar,” Richard said. “You can put hot oil on it, or soy sauce on it, or different types of sauces. It’s a great snack… and you can eat it on the go.”
As a kid, Richard said it was always something he looked forward to as a special treat.
Many foods eaten around Lunar New Year across Asian cultures have a specific meaning, Richard said.
Different types of bao, for example, make an appearance on many families’ New Year dinner tables because the word “bao” is a homonym for many auspicious words, including money pouch.
“I think the greater Chinese culture puts a lot of emphasis on prosperity and riches and money,” Richard said. “You’ll see that connection a lot, and on the tables of various New Year’s dinners.”
Richard’s grandmother had a different take on the bao’s meaning, though.
Traditional dumplings can look a bit like a brain, Richard said, so when he was a child “my grandmother would say you have to eat dumplings on New Year’s to get smarter.”
The secret to a great sheng jian bao (literally translated to “raw-fried bun”) is the crispy bottom.
At the stalls Richard visited with his grandmother in Taiwan, they’d perfected the char and the dish was made even more delicious with some of the frying oil poured directly over top.
Richard and his wife now make a slightly healthier version using lighter meat and less oil – still just as delicious.
As with many family recipes, it’s more about taste and feel for Richard’s sheng jian bao. You just know when it’s right, without really following a recipe and using strict amounts of each ingredient.
With Richard’s help, we sourced some online recipes to formulate one closest to his family’s, which you can find below.
Gong xi, fa cai!
How to make sheng jian bao
- ½ lb. ground pork, chicken or turkey
- ¼ head diced cabbage or other leafy green
- 2-3 green onions, chopped
- Dash of soy sauce
- Egg, to bind ingredients together
- 1 ⅔ to 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon yeast (Richard uses instant yeast)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup lukewarm water
- Black sesame seeds
- Green onions
- Condiments for serving, such as soy sauce, sriracha or sesame oil
Mix the dough ingredients, adding water a little at a time. Work by hand until dough is elastic and let rise for around an hour. It should double in size.
In the meantime, mix the ingredients for the filling and set aside. You can get creative with the flavors and season to taste with ingredients such as ginger, Sichuan pepper, Chinese five-spice powder, ground white pepper or sesame oil.
Roll out the dough and cut into small squares, around an inch to two inches in size. Keep in mind the final product should be bite sized.
Roll the squares into balls and mold into flat circles. Make sure the middle is slightly thicker than the edges, so the folds don’t become too bulky as you form your dumpling.
Fill each circle with about a tablespoon of the filling. Be careful not to overstuff.
Form the dumpling by folding one end up and continue pinching the remaining edge in a circle to create the signature folds. Make sure the dumplings are completely sealed.
Heat a flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat with canola oil. Set the dumplings flat side down in the pan.
Cover for a few minutes to steam and help the dumplings cook through.
Monitor to make sure the bottoms are golden brown and crispy, not burnt, and not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Sprinkle a garnish over the top (Richard uses black sesame seeds and green onions) and serve with your condiment of choice, such as sesame oil, sriracha or another sauce.