Chinese New Year festivities kick off tomorrow evening and run through Feb. 15 as celebrants usher in a Year of the Pig. The pig symbolizes wealth, overall, and its chubby face and big ears are signs of good fortune.

Due to my mix of Irish, Italian and what my great-grandmother Mabel referred to as “swamp Yankee” roots, I can make no cultural claims to this holiday other than I dearly love one of its festive foods: dumplings. While dumplings are eaten year-round, I’ve read in many Chinese cookbooks that when they are wrapped in preparation for and eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve they hold special meaning. Scholars argue over the origins of the word, but according to one theory, the Chinese word for dumpling, jiao zi, means both “exchange” and “midnight hour,” so dumplings consumed on this special occasion symbolize the exchange between the old and new year.

I will certainly make a visit to chef Cara Stadler’s Bao Boa Dumpling House in Portland at least once before Chinese New Year celebrations wrap up. Stadler and her team are the professionals and her filling combinations – Kung Pao Chicken and Peanut, Seasonal Vegetarian, Bulgogi Beef Habanero Shrimp, and Shiitake, to name just a few that are in the rotation – are as varied as they are delicious.

The author covers the pan after adding water to the seared dumplings.

Still, I want to have my own varied dumpling stash in the freezer because the plain pork ones I buy regularly at Trader Joe’s are getting monotonous. Since making dumplings is one of those repetitive culinary tasks where many hands make light work, I hosted a dumpling-making party.

I’ve held Stone Soup soirees in past winters, when I’ve drawn neighbors out of their midwinter hibernation with the promise of warm conviviality fueled by soups and breads made strictly from leftovers or stray ingredients attendees happen to have on hand. I employed the same inviting tactics to assemble a dozen of my female friends around the table to make dumplings.

Don’t worry if you haven’t made dumplings before, the email invitation read, as others who have can easily teach you the technique. I’d supply the wrappers, which can be handmade or found in the freezer section of most Asian grocery stores. I asked each guest to bring 2 cups of dumpling filling. “Bring on the pork fillings, the seafood fillings, the vegetarian fillings! Extra bonus points for using locally sourced ingredients. Extra, extra bonus points if you take this as a challenge to use up leftover bits and bobs of food sitting in your refrigerator.”

Dumplings for Chinese New Year.

I pulled some chicken from my own fridge, some local black fermented garlic I’d bought to try and added in white hakurei turnips left over from last week’s root vegetable haul to make my first filling. I thawed a pound of shrimp and half a bag of shelled edamame and combined them with some preserved maitake mushrooms a fellow dumpling maker had plucked from the bottom of her oak tree last fall. They formed my backup filling.

The first friend to show up brought a second chicken filling, but hers was flavored with Thai ingredients like lemongrass and fish sauce. Another friend followed with a pan-Asian rice bowl recipe she liked to eat for lunch and contributed 2 cups of it to the party. A third simply sautéed winter squash, onions and garlic she had sitting around. And a fourth contributed a bag full of spicy braised beef left over from a New York Times recipe she’s tried earlier in the week. Two made vegetarian fillings with ingredients bought that morning at the farmers market. We had cooked pork filling, a raw pork filling, and a pork and prawn filling. Together we drank three bottles of bubbly (bringing in the western New Year’s tradition, you see) and made over 450 dumplings from our collective leftovers.

I may not be Chinese, but I am fortunate to usher in the 2019 Year of the Pig with a wealth of female friends and a freezer full of waste-not sustainable dumplings.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns.
She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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