Publisher’s Note: This article is the first in a series to guide thoughtful, interactive cooking experiences with young children. The recipe comes from the pages of Kenji’s children’s book, Every night is pizza night, illustrated by his friend and co-worker Gianna Ruggiero. It’s a book about a young girl named Pipo who learns about open-mindedness, multiculturalism, community and family as she goes on a quest to prove that pizza is the best food in the world. These are the dumplings that their friends Ronnie and Donnie share with the neighborhood from their dumpling cart.
If there wasn’t pizza, dumplings would be my favorite food. Dumplings are a perfect meal to share with your kids, friends, and other loved ones. The best part about them is that sharing doesn’t have to start at the dining table – a dumpling filled party is a great way to get everyone involved in the kitchen.
When I was growing up, my mother would park me and my sisters at the low table in our living room several times a year, put a pile of purchased dumpling wrappers, a bowl of filling and a couple of small bowls of water in the middle, then let’s fill and fold dumplings, which she would then place on a tray and freeze. We did the work happy and knew we would enjoy it about once a week for the next few months.
Plus, it was fun. As every parent knows, kids are naturally comfortable cramming things into other things – especially squishy things that can get a little messy. There’s a satisfying learning curve with dumplings too, and luckily, even a misshapen or overcrowded dumpling will still taste delicious after cooking.
There are plenty of learning opportunities too – one of the joys of Make your toddler love food and cooking.
Salting the cabbage, letting it rest, and then squeezing the moisture out through a kitchen towel is an early lesson in the concept of osmosis that even a toddler can understand when so vividly portrayed. Salt on the outside of vegetable cells draws water from those cells, which in turn causes the structure of the cabbage to break down. (I’d show them the chopped cabbage first and then ask them how much water they think it’s in. You will be shocked at how much water the salt pulls out!)
Folding dumplings is great for fine motor skills and learning patience and practice. Start them * with simple crescent moons * and show them how to squeeze excess air out of the dumpling as you fold them. When they get the hang of it, you can add creases and try the classic wallet shape. (See Our Japanese Gyoza post for a more detailed look at different folding techniques).
* And yourself, if you’ve never folded dumplings!
There are also plenty of ways to explore tastes and aromas. The basic recipe tastes good on its own, but adding optional flavors like garlic, ginger, spring onions, herbs, sesame oil, or soy sauce allows you to customize the mix. Arrange the flavors you choose in small bowls and let the kids smell and taste them before deciding if and how much to add to the mix. Similarly, mixing the lightly dipped sauce can be a lesson in basic flavors like sweet sugar, salty and umami soy sauce, and sour vinegar.
My daughter Alicia has her own little marble mortar and pestle that she’s been using since she was second birthday to smash garlic and ginger with a pinch of kosher salt whenever we need some ground beef for a recipe. Anything in the cup and a half capacity range is fine for little hands, and you’ll be surprised how much a toddler can actually help when armed with one! Read our guide too Kids Cooking Tools We love more ways to set up small children in the kitchen.
Making dumplings with kids is inherently messy, and some ingredients like soy sauce and dark vinegar can become discolored. So after the process is complete, schedule a good cleaning session (and don’t work over a rug or your fancy table linen). . Treating it like an art project by placing a newspaper under your plates and cutting boards is not a bad idea. Make sure your children wash their hands well and teach them something Handle raw meat and seafood properly.
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