The Long and Winding Dumpling Road

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 54 comments
Arepa Dumplings with Spicy Roasted Tomato Sauce & Powdered Pork

It is generally accepted that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line - unless that straight line gets Tangled.

I began last weekend with two very distinct points: start by making a dumpling dish and finish by submitting it to this month's International Incident Party, hosted by Penny of Jeroxie. But the journey between them proved more than a little bit loopy.

The first detour came with the definition of dumplings: at its most basic, it is simply a piece of cooked dough. From there, the dough is left wide open - dumplings can be made with a variety of flours, be plain or filled, sweet or savory, as large as a tennis ball or as small as a pebble, and come in shapes more numerous than I care to list here. They can be steamed, boiled, fried, baked and simmered, and are found in virtually every regional cuisine of the world.

As it was, I had been mooning over Andrea Nguyen's awesome cookbook Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas and More, so thoughts of delicious steamed dumplings filled my head. What would it be - bao? siu mai? sticky rice in lotus leaf? But soon after starting down this road, an unexpected obstacle led me to beat a new path . . .

The Tangled Route to Dumplings . . . 

Mr. Noodle once remarked that hearing me think out loud was like finding himself in my head - and he didn't sound particularly pleased to be there. As excruciating as my thought process may be to others, it eventually - if imperfectly - gets the job done. In this case, I set out to make a dumpling dish for Jeroxie's International Incident Dumpling Party and though the route was circuitous, at least I ended up where I was supposed to be.

The Journey Begins . . . 

If only my advance planning and organizational skills were equal to my unchecked imagination . . . As you can see from the convoluted diagram above, I had settled on making chochoyotes, an Oaxacan specialty of dumplings made from masa harina (used for making tortillas) and stewed in a simple soup. Surprise! What I actually had on hand was masarepa - an entirely different ingredient. Unwilling to make a trip to the grocery for a single item, I adjusted: chochoyotes - out, arepas - in! 

Arepas are a popular, traditional bread in Venezuela and Colombia; thicker than tortillas, they are often split open and stuffed with fillings, or served with a simple topping of butter or melted cheese. Since true arepas are more of a flatbread rather than a dumpling, I drew inspiration from gnocchi, an Italian dumpling traditionally made with potato. Instead of small rounded pieces, however, I returned to chochoyotes and shaped them flat with a small thumb indentation (similar to orecchiette). Next, my plan to boil the dumplings like pasta was nixed after a few test pieces resulted in an unpleasant gumminess, so I resorted to pan-frying, the usual preparation for arepas.

With the Italian inspiration still fresh in my mind, I decided to serve my dumplings with a tomato sauce and found the perfect one in Ms. Nguyen's Asian Dumplings! Though her Spicy Roasted Tomato Sauce was paired with Tibetan momos, the author's own words revealed a fitting symmetry to my South American version:
"When you present dumplings with this sauce, the combination may recall an Italian dish, but the sauce's zesty qualities resemble the Latin flavors of Mexico more than of Europe. But on closer analysis, the combination of chile, ginger, herbs, and spices is definitely Asian . . ." 
(Andrea Nguyen in Asian Dumplings)
This sauce neatly bridges the distance between the Asian steamed dumpling that I first considered and the Italian-inspired, South American-based fried one that I did make. To finish the dish, I came across a topping that can be found on both sides of the globe. Whether 'powdered' (en polvo) in Colombia or made into 'floss' (rousong) in Asia, marinated meat such as beef and pork are chopped or shredded into smaller pieces resembling - what else? - coarse powder or delicate floss, which is then sprinkled over other foods such as rice and soups. To make Asian floss, the meat is additionally cooked in a dry pan or low-heat oven until it achieves a dried, light texture. Lucky for me, I had plenty of leftover Tequila-Lime Pork Loin Roast from our Cinco de Mayo meal - perfect for a powdered pork topping! My around-the-world dumpling dish was complete . . .

Arepa Dumplings with Spicy Roasted Tomato Sauce & Powdered Pork

Arepa Dumplings
(recipe adapted from package of Goya Masarepa)

1 cup masarepa
1 tsp salt**
1 tsp baking powder**
1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil

**CORRECTION 5/16/10: Yikes! I need an editor . . . it should be 1/2 tsp of salt and BP. So terribly sorry if you've tried the recipe and thought you were eating a salt-lick. 

1. Whisk masarepa, salt and baking powder until blended. Add water and olive oil, then mix until a soft dough forms. Cover with a towel and let rest for about 5 minutes, then gently knead until dough is a bit firmer;
2. Pinch off a small piece of dough (a bit less than a tablespoon) and roll briskly between your palms until it forms a smooth ball. Gently flatten by pressing with your thumb, making an indentation. Place on a pan lined with wax or parchment paper, and continue with remaining dough;
3. In a skillet or sauté pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Add dumplings in batches and fry until golden on one side, then turn over and cook through. Repeat with the rest of the dumplings, adding more oil to the pan if necessary. (Alternatively, place the dumplings on a cookie sheet and bake in a pre-heated 350°F oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until dumplings are golden and crisp on the outside.)

Spicy Roasted Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen)

The moment I read this recipe, I knew it would be perfect for the arepa dumplings; however, because I try to use what is already in my pantry before buying more, I made a few substitutions. For complete instructions and specific measurements, the original recipe can be found at Project Foodie: Asian Dumplings.

Yields 1-1/2 cups

(My substitutions italicized; see original recipe for precise amounts of other ingredients.)

Ripe tomatoes
2 Tbsps aji panca paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
Fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Ground cumin
Fresh cilantro or mint (I used both)

To make:

Roast tomatoes under the broiler; when done, remove from oven and let cool. Remove skins, chop coarsely and place in small bowl. Add aji panca, garlic and ginger pastes, and all remaining ingredients, except fresh herbs. Using a hand blender (or transfer to a food processor), blend the mixture until smooth. Add herbs and mix well, then set aside to allow flavors to blend. Sauce is best served at room temperature.

Powdered Pork

This recipe was inspired by Powdered Beef (Carne en Polvo), shared by Erica of My Colombian Recipes, who also offers a variety of authentic arepa recipes that I've been meaning to try (hence, the masarepa in my pantry). To make this powdered pork, I added a step gleaned from instructions for floss (rousang) by cooking it again. I used Tequila-Lime Roasted Pork Loin left over from our Cinco de Mayo taco dinner, but any cooked meat such as beef, chicken or fish, may be used. Although only one ingredient is required, it does take a bit of time to complete.

1 cup cooked pork (preferably marinated or seasoned), cut into small pieces

To make:

Place pork pieces into a food processor and pulse/grind until meat is very finely chopped. Don't worry if it is moist from any residual juices or sauce. Heat up a skillet or wok, but do not add any oil. Add meat to dry pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until texture of meat is light, like breadcrumbs. This may take 20-30 minutes or longer but do not be tempted to increase the heat - the pork might burn or turn into sawdust. When done, remove from heat and let cool.

Place dumplings on a plate or shallow pasta bowl, spoon sauce over them and sprinkle with powdered pork. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve!

For more delicious dumplings, check out The International Incident Dumpling Party at Jeroxie!


  • Conor @ HoldtheBeef said...

    I loved reading this, and am so glad your hilariously convoluted thought process ended you up here. Brilliant.

    I haven't heard of these dumplings before, but man they look good. LOVE that pork on top.

  • Manggy said...

    You just can't go wrong with "spicy tomato sauce" in the title :) I've only had arepas once and they were fabulous - but they weren't dumplings, they were pan-toasted containers :)

  • Anonymous said...

    Love, love, love the powdered pork. And dumplings are always okay in my book!

    I think we get our flow charts from the same place! Ha! :)

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I love your chart - I am a very visual person so the chart and pictures are helpful! Powdered pork lookin' fabulous in this amazing little dumpling. I've never seen anything like this. My husband and I had a miscommunication this evening and he ate the entire dinner I made (he thought I had already eaten). So rather than make something I ate pretzels and bananas for dinner. Anyway, long story short, I'm catching up on blogging and I thought I could excuse my poor dinner until I came across this. I so desperately want to eat this right now!

    ps thanks for the masarepa introduction!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Hope everyone had a happy dumpling day!

    Penny - [LOL] You might be the only one who's ever said that! Thanks so much for inviting me to such a great party. 8-)

    Pam - Thank you!!

    Conor - I'm happy that I wasn't completely derailed! The powdered pork may be the destiny of future leftover pork chops in our household. 8-)

    Shirley - Thank you very much!

    Emma - The texture of these arepa dumplings did remind me of polenta but I'm not sure that they are interchangeable. I have read that the color generally depends on whether the arepa is Venezuelan (yellow) or Colombian (white), though this isn't a hard and fast rule. I'll take either, too!

    Manggy - I had been meaning to make 'proper' arepas from Erica at My Colombian Recipes (which is why I had masarepa) and now that I've made these 'mini' versions, I know I'll love them, too! As well as this sauce turned out, I do plan to make it as originally given. 8-)

    Lisa - My husband is going to be buried in arepas; they are so easy to make! This does seem like a culturally confused dish but everything came together so well. 8-)

    OPC - I am going to try and perfect my powdering/flossing technique! That will be another flow chart . . . 8-P

    5 Star - Thank you! I didn't start off with fusion in mind - well, everyone can see that I didn't start off with anything in mind! 8-D

    Erica - You are the reason I even had masarepa in my pantry! Now that the bag has been opened, I'll finally try all the wonderful recipes you've shared! Thank you, too, for the powdered beef recipe!

    Pearlyn - Thank you! I had a lot of fun making it. 8-)

    Doggybloggy - I really appreciate your saying so!

    Pigpigscorner - They turned out well but the sauce is really quite good (thanks to Andrea Nguyen's recipe)

    Evelyne - My first instinct was to make an Asian dumpling but I'm drawn to Latin American cuisine, too. So glad I found something that would work!

    Trix - Well, then, I'm so happy to provide you with some arepa love! Glad you enjoyed these. 8-)

    Chef E - Thank you E!!

    Jenn - They put a smile on my face and a warmth in mah belly! 8-D

    Sarah - Thank you! I had fun cooking and writing this. 8-)

    Gastroanthropologist - The chart was the only way I could describe the process without dragging everyone into the crazy maze that is my mind! 8-P

    I'm happy you enjoyed these dumplings (at least virtually) but I do apologize that it made you reconsider your satisfaction with pretzels and bananas for dinner. Your husband owes you a VERY nice dinner now!

    Mardi - Thank you and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! 8-D

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Cherrie - Thank you! My train of thought is something that my husband is afraid to ride, but I'm glad that others find it enjoyable! 8-D

    Anh - Thanks! The texture of arepa is much different than the smoothness of Asian dumplings, but just as satisfying. Hope you'll give them a try! 8-)

  • Trissa said...

    I like the tangled route to dumplings! That's hilarious - but at the end of the day, whats important is that you can create such lovely dumplings!

  • Anonymous said...

    I am so impressed that you have a dumpling mind map... Awesome! The peak into you though process is a very interesting aspect for a food blog! Great job with the dumplings!

  • Sippity Sup said...

    Really creative. Everyone loves dumplings and "arepas" style with corn in genius. Of course your handy train of though chart makes it so easy to understand too. GREG

  • Unknown said...

    Before I even got to the chart and the 5th paragraph I was seriously thinking - I'd love to be in your kitchen and in your head when you go through this process! Ha, ha!

    That cookbook is on my to-get list. It sounds so great. I learned about arepas on a Food Network show just before my husband took a work trip to Venezuela and Columbia. I said he had to try them and I think he managed to get some at the office or the hotel breakfast. So he is one up on me with this tasty little cultural dish. Looks like I'm just going to have to try and make my own version with your help. ;)

  • Forager said...

    Amazing! Your mind works in mysterious ways... Never heard of these dumplings before & I love that your blog opens me up to so many American, Mexican and Latin American treats

  • Liren said...

    A tangled line of genius! I am in awe of how your mind works and the tastiness that comes out of it! And powdered pork - never heard of it before, but I am just dying to incorporate that into my diet!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thanks for all the new comments!

    Tigerfish - I feel the same way about the tasty dishes I see on your blog and others'!

    Trissa - Thank you! Sometimes, I'm so scattered that any task seems to take forever, but in the end, it manages to work itself out!

    A Cupcake or Two - I love all kinds of pancakes and flatbreads, so arepas really fit the bill, even when I'm supposed to be making dumplings! As for the sauce, it is an amazing recipe - I hope you'll try it. I plan to make it again as given by the original recipe.

    Jeanne - Thank you! The process was convoluted but the end result was quite satisfying. 8-)

    The Duo Dishes - Thanks! I must admit that once I decided on something other than Asian-style dumplings, I had gnocchi in mind.

    Gera - Glad you liked them! The a.d.'s were tasty and the sauce is a keeper. Hope you eventually got your dinner! 8-D

    Casey - Thank you! It can be scary to see you loopy my thought process can be, though. 8-D

    Brian - Thanks! This was the edited and simplified route. The real journey was a mind-bender . . . ! 8-)

    Greg - I really appreciate it! I'm not sure that anyone necessarily wanted to know how I got to the idea, but it was fun!

    Kat - Happy that you enjoyed it! Now, if only my husband were as enthused to be drawn into it . . .

    Lori - My husband would probably tell you to run for your life if you're ever trapped either in my kitchen or my head! 8-P

    As for arepas, they are truly delicious - I've had them a couple of times before at a local Colombian restaurant in Mpls but this was my first attempt making them (even thought they weren't 'real' arepas). The person/blog to go to for guidance is Erica at My Colombian Recipes (link above) - she is Arepa Queen and her versions will make you want to eat these flat breads every day of the week!

    LetMeEatCake - Thank you! I predict I will be on an arepas kick for a while - wonder if it can be turned into a dessert . . .? 8-)

    Forager - Thanks! As much as I love Asian cuisine, I am becoming more and more fascinated by Latin & South American cuisine, especially if it can be fused with others. Fusion is fun!

    Liren - You are WAY too kind! 8-D

    I had delicious baked buns in Manila that were topped with spicy pork 'floss'; then I saw Erica's carne en polvo. They popped into mind when I was thinking of something crispy or crunchy to top these dumplings. Definitely give them a try - a great way to use up left over marinated meat. 8-)

  • Unknown said...

    Ooh - yum. Those dumplings look delicious. I think I might have to try this out tonight in place of the boring ol' spaghetti I had planned. (BTW - love your flow chart!! It sounds very familiar to my thought processes when it comes cooking...)

  • Jo - SecondHelping said...

    My head must be tangled too, because reading your post (and your thought processes) seemed entirely normal to me.

    I really like the idea of the powdered pork to accompany the arepa. Great interpretation of this month's incident!

  • Daily Spud said...

    Love your Tangled Dumplings path - there is something very familiar about it, probably because I follow some very tangled paths of my own at times! The end result looks like it was well worth the long and winding path needed to get there, though :)

  • zerrin said...

    Never eaten that kind of dumplings, but they look absolutely appealing. We have a kind of dumpling that we call 'manti' in Turkish. We stuff the dough with minced beef.
    I loved the tomato sauce you made here, ginger is a new ingredient for our regular tomato sauces. Will try it soon on manti or a kind of pasta.

  • Sara said...

    wow, powdered pork? never heard of it, but i'm game to try. But that pasta(dumpling) and sauce look so amazing! I can't wait to have a free night to try this out.

  • RoseBelle said...

    This is such a terrific dish! I had to read about the aji panca paste, never heard of it before. It's so pretty to look at and it tastes as good as it looks.


Clean Template ©Copyright 2011 Tangled Noodle | TNB