Dumplings, in their many forms, have helped feed communities around the world affordably for almost as long as people have been eating. Created as a filling, economical means of using up all kinds of leftover scraps of meat and vegetables, often bound and stretched with inexpensive starches like wheat, rice and potatoes, they also happen to be ultimate comfort food – soft pillows that have been poached, steamed or fried, simmered in broth or even baked in the oven, depending on your definition of a dumpling.
Imagining a dumpling may bring to mind the image of a little package, filled and pinched shut, like a gyoza, potsticker or perogy. But then there are solidly doughy dumplings, like gnocchi and gnudi, and those that are dropped by the spoonful and steamed atop bubbling stew or fruit. If filling isn’t a defining characteristic, perhaps it’s texture – though I love to fry boiled perogies in butter or bacon drippings until they’re golden and crisp, I envision a dumpling as something that has been boiled, steamed or simmered; when water is used as the heat conduit, they stay soft.
Here are two classics: Turkish manti are a lesser-known dumpling, but in essence very similar to Eastern European perogies, filled with lamb or beef instead of potatoes. Blueberry grunt is a classic eastern Canadian dessert, named for the sound the dumplings make as they cook on top of a pot of simmering berries. To make the dumplings golden and crunchy, you could bake it in the oven instead.
Manti with Garlicky Yogurt and Tomatoes
These lamb manti fit the bill as a perfect example of a dumpling: they’re small and soft, made with a flour-egg-water dough, simmered in water perogy- style. Adapted from several sources, including Feast: Food of the Islamic World, by Anissa Helou, Saveur magazine, and advice from the family at Anatolia Turkish Cuisine in downtown Calgary and the Crossroads Market. I love to ‘melt’ tomatoes that are becoming overripe, or which I’ve tossed directly into the freezer before they do — they go perfectly with the dumplings and garlicky yogurt.