Every cuisine in the world has some version of dumpling. They are in essence so simple: just small pieces of dough, wrapped around or incorporating other ingredients. But that basic formula allows for infinite variation. They can be sweet or savoury; served as breakfast snacks or supper platters; steamed, boiled or fried; eaten on their own or nestled in soups and stews.
This period after New Year can be rather dreary – with little to do and chill winds outside, one could, as the New Zealand writer Lola Hartingale put it, “go mad of bordism” – so what better than to cheer things up with this perfect, warming comfort food.
Herb soup with parmesan dumplings
You may still have some green herbs left in your garden, although probably past their best. Rather than compost them, a soup is a perfect way to use them up. And what a soup this is – flavoursome, nourishing and supremely satisfying on the bleakest of midwinter days.
For the dumplings
125g self-raising flour
60g freshly grated parmesan
Water to mix
For the soup
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
A couple good knobs of butter
1.5 litres vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 large handfuls of green herbs (such as basil, chives, parsley, parcel, tarragon) with stalks and leaves separated
First make the dumplings. Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Mix in the suet and parmesan, then add enough water to form a sticky dough. Flour your hands to minimise sticking, and roll the dough into 12 little balls.
Gently cook the leeks and herb stalks for a minute or so in the butter. Add the flour and stir well, then gradually add the vegetable stock. Season and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add the herb leaves and simmer for a further couple more minutes, then remove from the heat.
Blend the soup in a liquidiser until smooth, then strain through a medium strainer, as a fine-meshed sieve will not allow some of the lovely bits of herb to go through. To keep its green colour, you need to cool the soup down as quickly as possible if you aren't going to serve it immediately. So put the bowl of strained soup over another bowl of iced water.
Cook the dumplings in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, then drain. Reheat the soup, season if necessary then pour into warmed soup bowls and place the hot dumplings in.
For ease, this soup can be made one or two days before as can the cooked dumplings and stored in the fridge. Then just heat it up when you fancy.
'Heaven and earth' dumplings with ginger
Makes about 20
I was asked to come up with a dumpling for Geoff Leong's Dumplings' Legend restaurant in London's Chinatown. Not something I get asked often, but I had a thought, why not use the black pudding from my restaurant's "heaven and earth" dish? Black pudding is after all a popular ingredient in Chinese cooking. In the end it went on the menu there in the form of xiao long bao soup dumplings, and now gets rave reviews.
You can pick up wonton or dumpling wrappers from Asian supermarkets.
20 wonton or dumpling wrappers
150g or so of soft French- or Spanish-style black pudding
100ml chicken stock (optional)
1 small egg, beaten
30-40g root ginger, scraped, thinly sliced and shredded
4-5tbsp black rice vinegar or soy sauce
If you can't find French- or Spanish-style black pudding, mix it with the chicken stock to soften it. Lay the wonton or dumpling wrappers out on a work surface, place 1tsp of the black pudding in the centre of each, and brush the edges with egg. Bring the edges up to form a semicircle, or you can make them in the shape of a three-cornered hat. Place them in a steamer and steam for 4-5 minutes . Alternatively you can carefully drop them into boiling salted water for a couple minutes then remove with a slotted spoon. Serve with the ginger scattered on top and the vinegar spooned over.
Try to buy venison from a single cut – such as the shank or neck, for example – as many shops and butchers sell it all diced up together, which means you have lots of different muscles in there with lots of different cooking times.
You'll need to prepare this dish at least a couple of days in advance, to allow it to marinate properly. I can assure you that it's absolutely worth it though.
1.5kg trimmed venison, from a single muscle, cut into 3-4 cm chunks
750ml good red wine
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp thyme, leaves removed from the stalks and chopped
3 juniper berries, crushed
1 bay leaf
Vegetable oil for frying
1tbsp plain flour, plus extra for dusting
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
½tbsp tomato purée
1½ litres dark meat stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the cobbler
75g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar
170g self-raising flour
A couple good pinches of salt
Put the venison into a stainless steel or ceramic bowl with the red wine, garlic, thyme, juniper and bay leaf. Cover and marinate in the fridge for two days.
Drain the meat in a colander, reserving the marinade, and dry the pieces on some kitchen paper. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, lightly dust the meat with the flour, season with salt and pepper, and fry on a high heat a few pieces at a time until nicely browned.
Heat the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and gently fry the onions for a few minutes until soft. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir over a low heat for a minute. Slowly add the marinade, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced by half.
Add the meat stock and the pieces of venison, bring back to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 1.5 hours until the meat is tender. It's difficult to put an exact time on cooking braised meats: sometimes an extra half an hour may be required. Test the meat from time to time to check.
Once the meat is cooked, the sauce should have thickened sufficiently. If not, dilute a little cornflour in some water and stir into the sauce, then simmer for a few minutes. Transfer the meat into a large pie dish or similar.
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. While the meat is cooking, make the cobbler dough. In a food mixer or by hand, cream the butter for a couple minutes until it begins to turn almost white. Carefully fold in the flour and salt until well mixed. Gradually add the milk until the mix resembles a sticky dough. Lightly flour your hands, and mould the dough into four round scone shapes and place on top of the stew. Brush them with a little milk and bake the whole dish for about 30 minutes, until the dumplings are lightly coloured.
Once cooked, this dish can be stored in the fridge, lightly covered, for several days, then reheated. This makes it great to prepare in advance when you know you're going to be entertaining.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies