As part of our Lunar New Year festivities, artist Jameson Hsu chatted with us about how home cooking is a creative and meditative practice for them, how staying rooted in the food of their culture helps them reframe their perspective on what nourishing food can be, and the special meaning behind the dumplings they make for Lunar New Year…
How does your heritage/culture influence your home cooking?
When I was younger, my family owned a restaurant. That experience exposed me to a variety of traditional Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, along with a few Korean dishes from my mom’s childhood in Jeju. While I ate many of these dishes at home, there came a point when I felt the need to assimilate more and wanted to eat less and less food from my culture. This worsened when I began to lean into the mainstream rhetoric around “healthy” food which excluded many ingredients used in the dishes I grew up with.
Now, in a conscious effort to combat this idea of “healthy” food excluding my culture, I actively refer back to my roots to reframe my own and others’ perspectives of what nourishing food looks like at home. I am so grateful for this realization, and I continue to make sure to connect with my parents for their home cooking techniques for the dishes I ate as a child.
Does the dish you’re sharing today have a story behind it?
The recipe I’m sharing today is for yuan bao jiaozi (which most closely translates to “money dumplings”). Boiled dumplings are traditionally eaten on Lunar New Year to bring about wealth in the new year, as their unique shape resembles ancient Chinese ingots.
My dumpling recipe is a plant-based rendition of the traditional pork-filled dumplings my mom makes on Lunar New Year. Either way, the beauty of this dish is the symbolism behind the hidden coin (or the jujube date) that passes wealth and prosperity to the person who bites into that dumpling.
My mom taught me her method of making the dough from scratch, as well as her technique of hiding the date skillfully so that no one can cheat during the dumpling game! I added my own personal twist with the yuan bao shape so that each dumpling felt special, regardless of whether it was a lucky one or not.
How would you describe your relationship to home cooking?
Home cooking is a creative and meditative process for me. Everything from visualizing my craving, seeing what I have in my pantry, to chopping, dicing, mixing, tasting, and breathing in the aromatics, I always find myself in a flow state.
I spent a lot of time watching my parents cook amazing dishes in our kitchen growing up but never had much of a chance to take ownership of creating a dish from start to finish because my parents could always do it quicker and better than me! I was fascinated by how skillful they were in the kitchen and hoped that someday I would be able to do the same.
Fast forward to now, I finally have my own kitchen and am just beginning to create my own intimate connection with home cooking that pays homage to my parent’s recipes.
What’s a Lunar New Year ritual that’s very important to you?
Enjoying my favorite traditional Chinese dishes and being with family! Food and family are at the center of Lunar New Year for me, and I always look forward to enjoying a whole table spread of food sitting next to the people I care about most.
In what ways are your current Lunar New Year traditions different from when you were growing up? In what ways are they the same?
When I was growing up, there were quite a lot of people in the household, including my grandma. Living in a full house was a lot more hectic but it gave me the opportunity to pay respect to my elders. Now that I live away from home, I revisit that time primarily through food and cooking. I also have a quick FaceTime call so, in a way, it’s the same (without the chaos!).
My favorite memory of receiving red envelopes was when I got one from my grandma and I had to practice my Mandarin with her. Speaking only Mandarin was always a scarce opportunity since I chose to speak mostly “Chinglish” at home, a mix of English and Chinese, so I am grateful I got to connect with her in our native tongue.
What makes a place ours?
A place is truly ours when we take back what has always belonged to us. When we fight the false narratives that we don’t belong, that we shouldn’t speak in our native tongue, and that our food is strange or unhealthy. When we reclaim our heritage and actively engage in the great traditions that connect us with our ancestors, then the place is ours once again.
Jameson’s Yuan Bao Jiaozi (Money Dumplings)
2 cups of unbleached wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup of room temperature water
1/2 head of green cabbage, core removed and chopped
1 cup grated carrot
5-7 shiitake mushrooms, stem removed and diced
6-8 wood ear mushrooms, chopped
1 bundle vermicelli (mung bean thread), boiled and drained
1/2 block extra firm tofu, pressed and crumbled
Jujube date, cut into 4 pieces (on piece per “winning” dumpling)
2 tbsp. mushroom bouillon powder
1/2 tbsp. white pepper powder
1 tbsp. vegetarian mushroom sauce (optional)
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp. neutral oil
(Sauce and garnish, per serving)
1 tbsp. sichuan chili crisp
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. black vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 cloves minced garlic
Handful of chopped green onion
Pinch of toasted white sesame seeds
Handful of chopped cilantro leaves
Finely chopped fresh ginger (optional)
- In a large bowl, slowly stream water into flour as you mix with chopsticks in a circular motion. Once shreds of dough form throughout, add salt, and use your hands to knead all the pieces together. Add water if necessary to combine all dry flour. Continue kneading until a slightly stiff dough forms. Knead into a ball. Cover and set aside.
- Prepare filling in the meantime. Boil vermicelli according to package instructions. While that boils, remove the core of the cabbage and chop into shreds and then square pieces. Next, grate your carrot on the largest setting. Then, dice your shiitake and wood ear mushroom into small pieces. Remove as much moisture as you can from the tofu and crumble. Drain vermicelli and cut 2-3 times. Combine all in a large bowl.
- In your Always Pan, add oil and saute filling for about 5-10 minutes to remove excess moisture. Add mushroom bouillon powder, white pepper powder, and salt along with vegetarian mushroom sauce (optional). Once the filling has reduced and all excess moisture has evaporated, let it cool in a bowl.
- Prepare your dumpling wrappers. Uncover dough and knead a few more times before pushing your thumb into the center of the ball to make a ring. Pull on all sides of the ring to make sure it becomes longer and thinner evenly. Cut the ring and roll until it is about 1 inch in diameter throughout. Divide into 18-24 pieces depending on how large you want the dumplings to be. Once divided, flip each piece with the flat side facing up. Use your palm to press down on each and then roll them out into a thin, circular wrapper.
- Wrap your dumplings. Add a tablespoon of filling to each wrapper and add a date piece in the middle of the filling. (Note: only make as many date-filled dumplings as you want there to be winners!). Close the wrapper from the middle and then work your way to the outer left and right. Then, flip upside down with your middle finger in the center and wrap the arms to meet one another to create the yuan bao.
- Boil water in your Perfect Pot. Carefully add dumplings to the boiling water with a pinch of salt. Do not overcrowd. Once the dumplings float to the top, let them sit for another minute and then remove them with a mesh strainer. Place on a plate or in a bowl.
- Add sauce ingredients, sichuan chili crisp, and garnish with cilantro, green onion, minced garlic, toasted white sesame seeds, and ginger. Enjoy!