This year I made dumplings all month leading up to Lunar New Year. I wanted to experiment with a spectrum of fillings and also work on my wonton broth. After numerous experiments, the hands-down favorite recipe was a Kung Pao filling using Beyond-Meat. It’s so delicious.
When coming up with a veg filling for dumplings, my best piece of advice comes from my memory of an ancient Splendid Table episode. A caller asked former host Lynn Rosetto-Casper for advice on vegetarian dumpling fillings. She advised them to think of a delicious vegetarian Chinese stir-fried dish, but transform it into a minced texture workable for a filling (for instance stir-fried cabbage with ginger, scallions, and Shaoxing wine). This advice has worked well for me. Don’t just combine 2 raw ingredients in a filling and assume it will be delicious. Consider all of the components that make other Chinese dishes complex and addictive.
At my countless dumpling parties in China with my students, I learned from the students who were better cooks that they were adding aromatics to their egg or cabbage fillings to make them more tasty: ginger, 5-spice powder, Shaoxing wine and garlic all punched up the flavor and gave them dimension.
A good veg dumpling needs to have thoughtful aromatics like garlic, ginger, scallions. Maybe a splash of soy, sesame oil, or fragrant Shaoxing wine. This new Kung Pao dumpling recipe has a dollop of spicy Chinese fermented bean paste. Also consider something crunchy like water chestnuts or chopped peanuts.
I’ve often used scrambled eggs (as in this previous recipe) or crumbled tofu to create a soft binding for the filling, but now plant-based meats are a new option. In the last year, Beyond burgers have arrived as a new plant-based meat that doesn’t taste weird, and you don’t have have to limit it to burgers. Beyond Meat and similar brands make a ground hamburger style option to use for all sorts of non-sandwich dishes like meatballs, lasagna, chili, or dumplings.
The inspiration for this Kung Pao (Gong Bao) filling materialized when Carl and I were making wontons for dinner a few weeks before the Lunar New Year. I made a filling with Beyond Meat replacing the tofu in a wonton filling I’ve made for years. That filling had tofu with lots of ginger, scallion, garlic, minced spinach, and loads of chopped wok-fried peanuts. I’ve always loved how this filling marries ginger with roasted peanuts. Carl thought it was okay but too gingery for him. He got to work to invent something more exciting. As a former Olympic hopeful, he’s extremely competitive. He used the rest of the Beyond Meat package, then a pile of minced aromatics: onion, scallions, garlic, and ginger (but less ginger than mine). I had never put minced onions in a dumpling filling, but he’s more bold with onions and it worked this time. He also claimed the rest of the pile of peanuts that I had freshly fried in the wok and chopped. He then grabbed a jar of Lao Gan Ma spicy Chinese fermented bean paste. I had used chili oil or paste in dipping sauces but had never added it to the filling itself. He threw everything in a hot wok (chili paste last). It tasted incredible. We immediately said it tasted just like Kung Pao dishes because of the peanuts and chili.
I proceeded to make this Beyond Kung Pao filling at two subsequent dumpling parties, both as filling for wontons in soup and for panfried potstickers. It was the crowd favorite at both parties. I’m happy to share my method with you today. Feel free to be flexible about the measurements. That’s something I learned in China. Good homestyle recipes usually have eye-balled amounts. In a future post, I’ll share the simple but addictive broth I use for wonton soup!
Kung Pao Dumpling Filling Recipe
2-3 Tablespoons oil
2/3 cup peanuts
1 package Beyond Meat
2-3 tablespoons onion, minced
2-3 scallions, minced
2-3 teaspoons ginger, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons Lao Gan Ma or another spicy fermented black bean paste
dash of soy sauce, optional
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a hot wok. Add the peanuts and stir constantly until they start to brown. Do not leave them unattended or they will burn. Remove from the wok once they have just started to toast and smell fragrant, keeping as much of the oil in the wok as possible.
Let the peanuts cool slightly, then chop them roughly with a knife of food processor.
If the pan looks dry, add a tiny bit more oil to the pan. The chili paste at the end will add oil, so try to keep the amount low on this end.
Add the onion, scallions, garlic, ginger, and Beyond Meat. Stir gently and lightly break up the Beyond Meat into little chunks. Don’t overly mash it down or it will turn into a paste. When the little clumps are starting to lightly brown, add the fermented chili paste and chopped peanuts. Taste for balance. You may need to add a pinch of salt, dash of soy sauce, additional dollop of chili paste or additional scattering of fresh ginger.
Use this filling to make dumplings in the shape of your choice. This filling works equally well for wontons or potstickers.