Monday, 13 October 2014

Chai Kuih aka Steamed Vegetable Dumpling

Okay, let me start of by saying that these dumplings are the sort of dumplings I could inhale on a regular basis.  I am head over heels in love with these bite-sized morsels just bursting with delicious, garlicky juices.  As much as I could wax lyrical as to how ah-mazing these delicate little dumplings are, I urge you to give these a whirl at some point, and then come back to me and profess your love for them as I have from that very first bite!

Chai kuih translates to vegatable dumpling. These little dumplings are similar to the type you get when you go to your local Chinese restaurant for yumcha.  The difference between the standard dumplings you have at yum cha, and these wee beauties, is that the skin needs to be quite thin. There are two types of chai kuih - the original bangkuang or yam beans (sometimes referred to as sengkuang or jicama) and the ku chai (chives). 

Although these ingredients sound a little exotic, it actually isn't. Here in Brisbane there is a little suburb called Inala where I can often pick up fresh ingredients for my recipes. It is very similar to the wet markets that we get in Penang. Inala is primarily a Vietnamese community and not only provide fresh meat, fruits and vegetables (in particular ingredients that are a little harder to find or more Asian focused) but they also have little cafes and carts selling traditional fare, reminiscent of the kopi-tiam back home.  Most cities have their own little pockets of ethnicity which can provide unique and new ingredients to experiment with, so it might be worth your while to explore and discover where these places are hidden.

Like with most Asian foods, there are many variations to the chai kuih - Malaysian, Singaporean, even Thai. Many of the Teochew people migrated to these countries to find a better life and with that, they bought their foods and adjusted to their new homelands.

Whenever I am back in Penang, I never give up the opportunity to  indulge in these delightful mouthfuls.  My favourite way to eat it is to cut it open in the middle and squeeze HEAPS of chilli sauce in so that the whole kuih is covered in sauce and then stuff it in my mouth. Mmmm... I'm just drooling thinking about it. Jacob thinks that it's pointless making such yummy food and then drowning it in chilli sauce. But the palate wants what the palate wants right?  I love my food spicy with a side for chilli's thanks!

These little kuihs hold so many memories for me (as with most of the food on this blog!) with kuihs featuring heavily while growing up, right through to the last night of the wake of my late grandma.  During her wake, there were two types served to friends and family who attended.  After every night at the wake, there would be plenty of left over food. Unfortunately, these tasty bites had all but gone, and come the standard midnight snacking ritual I had developed whilst there, there would be none for me to help placate my sorrows with.  Nevertheless, it's not to say there weren't alternative to fill that late night void...

I have included recipes for the original dumpling as well as the chives and vegetarian options as well.

Ingredients :
(Makes approx 30 dumplings)

200g wheat starch
100g tapioca starch
500ml boiling water
1/2 cup cooking oil

Original Bangkuang filling
1 bangkuang, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
50g dried shrimps, soaked and chopped
4 good size shallots, chopped (if you cannot find shallots, just replace with 1 onion)
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons oil

Ku Chai filling
1 bunch of chives, finely chopped
3 or 4 shitake mushrooms, soaked and chopped
4 good size shallots, chopped (if you cannot find shallots, just replace with 1 onion)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Oil

Vegetarian filling
1 bangkuang, shredded
1/2 cup vegetarian ham, diced (optional)
2 carrots, shredded
4 or 5 shitake mushrooms, soaked and finely chopped
1 tablespoon of dried radish
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons Oil

Banana leaf to steam on (or you can replace with baking paper/aluminium foil if you cannot source banana leaf)
Garlic oil for brushing - recipe found here

Steps :

Firstly, make the filling as they need to be cooled completely before you can wrap them up. You can make the dough while they filling is cooling down.  The garlic oil should also be pre-made ready to brush on before steaming.

Bangkuang filling:

First heat wok with oil and add in shallots. Cook until fragrant and golden. Add in the dried shrimps and continue to saute them for a further minute or two. Add in the shredded bangkuang and carrots. Mix well and let it simmer till the vegetables are soft. Add seasoning, taste and adjust if required. Dish up and set aside.

Ku chai filling:

First heat wok with oil and add in mushrooms. Cook until they are fragrant and golden. Add in the chives. Mix well. Be careful not to over cook the chives. They can cook very fast. You just want to give it a good stir, then add seasoning, taste and adjust if required. Dish up and set aside.

Vegetarian filling:

First heat wok with oil, add in dried radish and shitake mushrooms and saute until the are brown and a little crisp. Add the chopped ham if you are using, otherwise add in the bangkuang and carrots. Stir well and let it simmer till vegetables are soft. Add seasoning, taste and adjust if required. Dish up and set aside.

To make the dough: 

Sift together the wheat starch and tapioca starch into a medium bowl and add in the boiling water (it is imperative the water is freshly boiled hot). Mix together with a wooden spoon until it forming a dough, then cover with cling film and rest for 10 minutes.

Pour the oil in and knead the dough until smooth (the dough will still be very warm while kneading). Cover and rest for another 10 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll the dough to a log about 2 inches thick and cut into approximately 1 inch portions.

Take one small ball, press down with your palm and then roll it out to about 3mm thick. The dough needs to only thick enough to hold the filling.  The thinner you can get the dough, the better it will be.  

Add a teaspoon of choice of filling in the middle and wrap them up the same way as the normal dumplings.  Prior to steaming, dip base of dumpling in oil.  

Lay banana leaves on the steamer tray and brush it with oil. Put the folded dumplings on the leaves, brush generously with garlic oil and steam over high heat for 10 minutes. Turn heat off and brush the dumplings with garlic oil again. In my Chap Chai Tn'g recipe, I shared how to make garlic oil at the end.

Let it cool and then eat with choice of condiments (in my case, lashings of spicy
chilli sauce!)

I cannot stress enough the importance of that garlic oil.  It elevates the dumpling to a whole different level altogether.  And when you make this and taste just what I mean, you'll understand why I am so unashamedly in love with these delicious dumplings. Be still my beating heart! I hope you all can enjoy these as much as I do. Happy eating, my friends!

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