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Asian cookery, with an emphasis on the traditional, underappreciated, or misunderstood elements thereof.

Seriously Asian: Dumplings with Sichuan Peppercorns

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[Photograph: Chichi Wang]

The message of this week's column is simple but worthwhile. It is this: if you put Sichuan peppercorns in your dumplings, they will be extraordinary. We lovers of the spicy, tingly peppercorn lament the dearth of good Sichuanese cuisine here in the States and by extension, the troubling absence of Sichuan peppercorns in our regular diets. Here, then, is a nice way to get your dumpling fix and satisfy your craving for Sichuan peppercorns in one fell swoop.

Though Chinese dumplings are sometimes served dressed in chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns, adding the peppercorns to the coating does not fundamentally change what it inside. Mixing toasted, ground-up Sichuan peppercorns into the meat filling itself, however, takes care of this problem. The result is a juicy dumpling so complex in flavor, it's become a regular filling in my dumpling line-up. It's the kind of dumpling that you'll find in Tibetan or Himalayan cookery, where momos are frequently served alongside a spicy, garlicky tomato sauce spiked with cumin.

Given the pungency of the peppercorns and cumin, it's best to use a meat filling that's hearty and solid, rather than vegetal and delicate. Think, then, of a Korean (mandu) or Tibetan (momo) dumpling rather than the typical Chinese jiaozi, which contains a fair amount of cabbage or some other kind of leafy green. The denseness of the meat filling is complemented only by a few aromatics: onions, garlic, and leeks or chives. Adding stock and wine completes the line-up.

And as far as your choice of meat? Stick to an aggressively flavored one that will hold up to the taste of the peppercorns, like beef or lamb rather than pork or chicken. (Leftovers of this dumpling filling are handy to save for a rainy day. Because the meat is already well-spiced, a quick stir-fry of the filling with eggs or as a topping for noodles makes for a quick meal.)

Finally, to achieve optimal enjoyment, remember to take an initial bite of the dumpling, suck out the meat juices, then spoon the tomato sauce into the remainder.

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.

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