Photo credit: Malte Jager
Editor's note: Join us for our event with Liz Crain on Tuesday, October 13, at 6 p.m. She will be joined in conversation by home preserving expert Marisa McClellan.
When COVID-19 shelter-in-place spread across the country this spring, I started doing semi-regular Zoom cooking sessions with my nieces,10-year-old Marielle and 8-year-old Hannah, who live in Cincinnati. I've lived in Portland, Oregon, since 2002. It was a way we could all be together, in a sense, and do two of our favorite family things — cooking and eating. My sister-in-law, Laura, and brother, Andy, joined in sometimes too.
These were long cooking sessions — usually three to four hours — and we treated our cooking time together like jazz, improvising, riffing, and working with what we had. That's the way that we generally like to cook together, but it was also crucial, since we were all drastically reducing trips to the grocery store due to the pandemic.
Hannah, Marielle, and Laura on the left, me on the right, and some of our cooking creations in the foreground.
Courtesy of the author.
Some foods and drinks that we made together included fried rice (I taught Marielle my basic fried rice techniques), fermented vanilla cream soda (we all love making ferments together), a bunch of recipes from the newest Joy of Cooking
, including their Masala Chai and Thai Iced Tea (both are now in our repertoire), Marielle's signature veggie stir-fry with a chili-ginger sauce (she taught me!), and, yes, of course, dumplings.
One of my primary goals in writing my cookbook, Dumplings Equal Love
, was to make dumpling making fun and stress-free for the home cook of any age — especially kids. I really enjoy cooking with kids and it turns out that kids love cooking dumplings. From scratch! It really isn't hard. You just need a few basic kitchen tools and a small handful of easy-peasy techniques. I have an essay all about cooking dumplings with kids in my book, but the gist is this: it's a super fun edible art project that kids need little to no advising with. No micromanaging!
If you don't have time to make dumpling dough from scratch (I have three very easy basic recipes for it in my book, including gluten-free), simply buy a pack of dumpling skins at the store. They are usually pretty dang good, and there should be no shame in using them.
If you do, however, make your own dumpling dough, which is definitely better, you can make all sorts of colorful and fun art skins, detailed in my book, by simply adding anywhere from 2 teaspoons to a ¼ cup of powdered veggies, fruits (bright pink dragon fruit!), herbs, spices (golden yellow turmeric or curry powder), or small seeds (black sesame is my favorite) to the flour. You can even add cocoa! I recommend the latter for my Bananas Foster dessert dumplings.
During one cooking session, Marielle and I made work-with-what-you-have dumplings. After she opened up their fridge and pantry and rooted around for a bit, we ended up making a dumpling filling of finely diced sauteed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sticky rice, lemon zest, and juice. I wasn't teaching her as much as acting as her guide, asking her questions, listening, offering suggestions. She used her hunger, senses, and cooking instincts. They built a family feast around those dumplings with additional scratch pork and shrimp dumplings. They were a hit.
Marielle, Hannah, and I also made crackers from the book's dumpling dough. They spritzed theirs with olive oil and seasoned them with dried basil, salt, and pepper, and they were so tasty. And we made noodles from the dumpling dough. They tossed theirs in butter and topped them with finely grated cheddar. Those were definitely favorites. Marielle loved the crackers so much she immediately taught her neighbor friend how to make them.
Most recipes in Dumplings Equal Love
yield 50 to 60 dumplings from 4 1/2 to 5 cups of filling. And, from start to finish, the vast majority take less than an hour to prepare and cost $10 to $15 to make. There are also loads of variations and substitutions throughout. In other words, my dumplings are no stress, kid-friendly, low cost, and they're also as beautiful as they are delicious.
Marielle with her Dumplings Equal Love dumpling dough scrap noodles.
Courtesy of the author.
There are two Crain family recipes in Dumplings Equal Love
— Garlic-Cheese Grits Casserole, which goes into the Shrimp & Grits dumplings, and our Cincinnati Chili, which is the base of those namesake dumplings. I've been asked for both of these recipes from friends countless times over the years.
The book's Cincinnati chili gets mixed with agar-agar (algae-derived gelatin alternative) water cubes in order to make it into xiao long bao, aka XLB or soup dumplings. Pretty dreamy. You can also enjoy this chili as it's served in Cincinnati chili parlors — over spaghetti or on a hot dog topped with very generous mounds of finely grated sharp cheddar. It easily scales up and you can also make it vegan with black beans instead of beef, as I often do. See the note following the recipe for instructions on how to do both. Added bonus: Barack Obama loves Cincinnati chili!
Photo courtesy of Dina Avila
Crain Family Chili
Makes about 1 quart
I developed these dumplings with my then-six- and eight-year-old nieces, Hannah and Marielle, when I was home in Cincinnati for the holidays. Since the 1920s, Cincinnati chili has been a regional American specialty with Greek and Macedonian roots.
It is my family’s tradition to cook and serve it buffet-style for Christmas Eve dinner. I decided to come up with a dumpling version since I always make dumplings over the holidays as well. It was a revelation. Noodle on the outside, chili and cheese on the inside! Everyone loved them and a new tradition was born.
I’ve made my brother’s Cincinnati chili recipe my own over the years — this is my slightly more spiced take on it. You’ll find versions of this chocolate-and-cinnamon-laced ground beef chili in hundreds of chili parlors all over Cincinnati.
Cincinnati chili goes well with oyster crackers — it’s always served with them in parlors, so consider grabbing a bag for when you make this at home. And former president Barack Obama and I both like the Cincinnati chili tradition of buying a York Peppermint Pattie at the parlor register to enjoy after the meal. Just so you know.
1 pound ground beef (10 to15 percent fat, grass-fed if possible)
1 large yellow onion, pureed (about 1½ cups)
3 to 3½ cups water
2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon garlic powder, or 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 bay leaves
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (or whatever flavorful vinegar you want)
1½ teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 to 4 shakes red Tabasco sauce
1. In a medium pot over high heat, add the ground beef, pureed onion, and 3 cups of the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, while breaking up the beef as much as possible and stirring occasionally.
2. In a small bowl, add the chili powder and salt to taste, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, garlic powder, cloves, and cayenne, and whisk to break up any clumps.
3. Add the spice mixture, chocolate, bay leaves, tomato sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco to the pot and stir to incorporate. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 80 to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ½ cup water if necessary. You want the consistency of a moderately thick meat sauce or Bolognese. Set aside to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or up to 3 days). It freezes for up to 1 month.
To make vegetarian black bean chili:
Soak ½ pound dried black beans overnight (12 or more hours). Drain and transfer to a medium pot, then add 4 to 4½ cups water and roughly half the amounts of all remaining ingredients (omitting the beef entirely, of course). Simmer, uncovered, for about 1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are fully cooked. Blend with an immersion blender to the consistency of a moderately thick soup.
If you want to scale up the beef chili:
Increase all of the spices and ingredients accordingly, add more simmer time and reduce the ratio of water to beef, since there will be less direct heat. For 4 pounds of beef, I use about 2 quarts of water.