Dim Sum Recipe #3: Ha Gao Dumplings

The great thing about being Chinese American is that you can celebrate New Year’s, twice, every year.

It’s also ironic though, because just after creating all the these January New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier and make better choices, by February the Lunar New Year is a time where stuffing yourself silly is definitely encouraged if not mandatory.

Dumplings, noodles, rice cakes…go for it!

You see, Chinese New Year’s is like Christmas for the Chinese.  It’s the no holds barred holiday of the year where even if you aren’t skinny you’ll be told that you are just to encourage more eating.  “Please, eat!!!” your Chinese aunties will say.  And to make the holiday that much more calorific, Chinese New Year festivities last for two whole weeks!

As you already know, I love my tea foods and dim sum and because this a fact, I find that making dim sum at home can be just the right time to lighten things up a little.One of the quintessential food items to feast on during Chinese New Year celebrations are dumplings.  My favorite are the steamed ones, and Ha Gao are at the top of that list (right behind Siu Mai).  These white, translucent little pouches might seem light and healthful when they arrive at your table delicate and steaming, but Ha Gao dumplings actually contain a fair amount of pork fat or lard.

Not all dim sum recipes are easy to make healthier.  Luckily, with the use of a special ingredient in this Ha Gao recipe, it can be done.  The secret ingredient?  Vegetable oil spread, which brings some richness to the shrimp filling by serving as a replacement for pork fat.

I know the dim sum masters out there are probably quite displeased with me right now, but the way I see it–balance is key, especially when it comes to food choices.  Oh yes, and there are no pleats on my Ha Gao.  I’ll leave the fancier tricks for those same dim sum masters to execute!

The slightly chewy texture of the homemade wrapper is what makes this recipe especially delicious.  The dough easily comes together in not more than 5 minutes.  It’s common to use a Mexican tortilla press to flatten the dough balls into flat wrappers, but it’s really not necessary.  Just use any flat bottom pot or bowl and press down evenly and deliberately.

The more pressure you exert the flatter (and thinner) the wrapper will be.  Especially if you are new to the process, don’t press the skins too thin otherwise they will be really hard to work with.  Slightly thicker than a nickel coin thickness is about right. The process is very similar to making homemade tortillas.

I’ve made two versions of Ha Gao here.  One type is the more traditional filling with a white wrapper.  The other kind has spinach in the filling and some emerald green matcha in the wrapper for taste and color.  At the end of 2013 I went matcha-crazy, and apparently I am still suffering its effects.  At least this time, I’ve ventured into the savory realm!

Celebrate Chinese New Year and your New Year’s resolutions with light and steamy Ha Gao shrimp dumplings.  There is nothing like opening a bamboo steamer lid to find these delicate pouches staring up at you.  This is one time where making a dish homemade is worth the extra effort.  Eat these elegant dumplings fresh out of the steamer without hesitation or guilt…hey, you can only celebrate New Year’s twice every year!

Ha Gao (Steamed Shrimp Dumplings)

Makes 24 dumplings.



12 oz. peeled, deveined shrimp

2 tsp less-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp sherry

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp grated ginger

3 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegetable oil spread (I used Natural Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks) @ room temperature

2 tsp white sugar

1/8 tsp white pepper

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 of 8 oz. can of sliced bamboo shoots, drained and diced

2-3 stalks green onion, sliced thinly

****Green Wrapper Variation:  2 cup spinach, microwaved for 1 minute (uncovered), then chopped finely

{Ha Gao Wrappers- makes 24 dough balls}

Note:  You can easily make both the white and green wrappers for one batch of filling by cutting the wrapper recipe in half and placing one portion of the ingredients in one mixing bowl, and the second portion (with matcha added) into another separate mixing bowl.  You’ll end up with 2 doughs, one dough ball making 12 white wrappers and another dough ball making 12 green wrappers. 

2 cup wheat starch

1 1/3 cup tapioca flour

1/2 tsp fine salt

2 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegetable oil spread (I used Natural Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)

1 cup water just before boiling (175 degrees F)

*** Green Wrapper Variation:  mix 1/2 tsp matcha green tea powder into hot water


bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

1 Tbsp measure

parchment paper, cut in circle to size of bamboo steamer and perforated with 1″ cuts throughout

food processor

one large ziplock bag


large flat-bottom pan or mixing bowl


1.)  In a food processor, process 6 oz. of the shrimp with the 3 Tbsp of vegetable oil spread.  Cut the other 6 oz. into a 1/4″ dice.  Mix all filling ingredients together with shrimp, gently mixing in green onion last (and spinach if using).  Set aside in fridge to chill.

2.)  Place dry dough ingredients into a large mixing bowl.  Add the hot water and oil and mix the dough with chopsticks (or a spoon) until you get a shaggy dough, then knead the dough for about 2 minutes until you get a smooth dough that is very slightly tacky without actually sticking to your hand.

ha gao wrapper dough

3.)  Divide dough in half and roll each dough ball into a log, about 12 inches.  Cut the log in half, then cut each half into half again.  Cut each of the 4 shorter logs into 3 pieces.  You will get 24 dough pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, then place in airtight container and set aside.

*** Green Wrapper Variation:  If you have decided to make both the white and green wrappers, you should execute steps 2 and 3 once for the white dough and again for the green.  As a result you will have 12 dough pieces from the white dough and another 12 pieces from the green dough.  

4.)  Cut all 4 edges off of the ziplock bag to create 2 squares of plastic.  You will use the two plastic sheet pieces to make wrappers.

5.)  Place a dough ball on top of one square of the ziplock bag, then place the other plastic sheet on top.  Using both hands on opposite sides of the flat-bottom pan,  press down directly onto the dough ball with a deliberate and even pressure.

Press dough ball until you get a 3 3/4″circle (or just under 4″) that is about 1/8″, slightly thicker than a nickel.

After the dough ball is flattened, peel off top plastic sheet carefully.  Flip the wrapper onto one hand, then peel off the second (bottom) plastic sheet to free the wrapper carefully and completely.  If your wrapper doesn’t detach from the ziplock sheet easily your dough has too much moisture and you should knead in some more tapioca starch into it to create a less-tacky/sticky dough.

6.)  Fill the wrapper with 1 Tbsp of the shrimp filling (regular filling for the white dough, and spinach filling for the green dough).  Fold half of the circle over the other half and press lightly to seal and create a half-moon dumpling.  Pinch the edges of the half-moon to seal.  Sit the dumpling up on its base and bring both edges in on one side.  Press edges of dumpling just off the vertical center of the dumpling, creating a propped up pouch-looking dumpling.  Repeat this process to make all 24 dumplings, then place the dumplings in a bamboo steamer lined with perforated parchment.

***  Make Ahead Tip:  Dumplings can be made up to 2 hours ahead of time and placed in fridge until steaming time.  Dust bottoms of uncooked dumplings with tapioca or wheat starch to prevent sticking.

Fill a large wok or stockpot half full with water and bring to a full boil.  Place bamboo steamer on top of wok or pot, then steam for 12 minutes while water is on full boil the entire time.  Eat Ha Gao fresh, right out of the steamer with soy sauce or chilli sauce for dipping.

Love Dim Sum?  Please check out my other recipes!  And as Chinese New Year comes closer there will be more to come!

Dim Sum Recipe #1:  Siu Mai Dumplings

Dim Sum Recipe #2:  Honeyed Pork Buns (Baked Char Siu Bao)

Dim Sum Recipe #4:  Egg Custard Tarts (Dan Tat)

Dim Sum Recipe #5:  Pork & Chive Potstickers

Dim Sum Recipe #2: Honeyed Pork Buns (Baked Char Siu Bao)

Char siu bao are to the Chinese tea lunch what egg and watercress sandwiches are to an English afternoon tea.  These barbecued pork buns are the quintessential Cantonese tea snack, and no excursion to yum cha is complete without them.  The most traditional char siu bao are steamed, but for my second blog post on dim sum I’m going to share with you the slightly westernized, baked version of this delicious treat.

Rising to the occasion…

Making these buns is a two-step process.  First, you make the filling and then you make the bun dough.  To make things simpler, you might want to prepare the meat filling a day before you plan on baking the buns.  The second part of the recipe is making the bun dough, where a water roux (also called a tangzhong) is used to add extra moisture and softness to the lightly sweetened dough.  Soft and supple is considered to be the ideal texture for Asian breads, very different from the ideal for French breads like baguettes, and the tangzhong is how we achieve this.  This dough recipe works equally well in both a stand mixer with a dough hook or a bread machine.  If you are using a stand mixer, be careful not to over mix, which would result in a lumpy, non-elastic dough that won’t allow you to get those smooth, shiny bun tops!

Honey-shellacked for extra softness.

With the use of some brown cupcake liners (that remind me of Sprinkles Cupcakes) and a tart/cupcake pan, I was able to make a rounder, taller bun, almost brioche-like in appearance.  You can certainly use a standard cookie sheet or pan, but you will get slightly shorter bun that is a bit more spread out.  For special parties, try using different patterned or colored cupcake liners for a modern and fresh look for your char siu baos.  The buns I’ve made here are topped off with some black sesame seeds and chopped chives, which are also mixed into the filling for a fresh pop of green color and fanciness.

Honey BBQ Char Siu Pork Buns

Makes 16- 3″ buns.


{Bun Dough}

3 cups bread flour

3 Tbsp Bird’s Custard Powder

1 Tbsp nonfat dry milk

1 Tbsp instant yeast (I use SAF instant)

1/4 cup white sugar

2 Tbsp butter at room temp

3 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup water

bench flour and oil for proofing bowl

{Water Roux}

1/2 cup water

2 Tbsp bread flour


2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

1 small yellow or brown onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp rice wine or sherry

3/4 pound roasted Chinese barbecued pork, diced into 1/4″ cubes

6 Tbsp water

4 tsp oyster sauce

4 tsp low sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp sugar

5 tsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1- 3/4 oz. package of fresh chives, chopped


1 egg, mixed with 1 tsp water

1 Tbsp honey, mixed with 1 tsp hot water

2 Tbsp black sesame seeds

2 Tbsp chopped chives (reserved)


Stand mixer with dough hook attachment or bread machine

rolling pin or scale

2- 12 hole muffin or tart pans, or 1 muffin/tart pan and 1 regular baking sheet

cupcake cases/liners

pastry brush


1.)  Make the Pork Filling.  Put a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the oil to the pan and then add chopped white onions.  Cook onions until softened and lightly carmelized, about 5-7 minutes.  Pour in the sherry or rice wine and let it cook out.  Lower the heat to medium and add in the diced pork.  Cook this mixture for an extra 2 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix all the rest of the ingredients (except chives) in a small bowl to create a slurry.  Add the slurry to the pork and onion mixture, wait for it to come to a boil, and cook the filling until it becomes dark brown and translucent.  Turn off the heat and transfer the filling to a medium bowl.  Cover the filling and set it aside to cool to room temperature.  When filling has completely cooled, mix in all but 2 Tbsp of the chopped chives.  The remaining 2 Tbsp of chives are used later to garnish the buns.

2.)  Make the Water Roux.  Place a 1/2 cup of cold water into a small saucepan and add the 2 Tbsp of bread flour.  Mix well until the mixture resembles homogenized milk, then turn on stove top to medium heat.  Cook the roux until it thickens up and has the consistency of a thick yogurt, making sure to keep the mixture a pure white color by not overcooking.  The mixture should not exceed 150 degrees F.  Place the mixture into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making contact with the top surface of the roux (to prevent a skin from forming).  You should end up with about 1/3 cup of roux, ready to use when it has cooled back down to room temperature.

3.)  Make the Dough.  Using the bowl of a stand mixer, place all the wet dough ingredients (including the roux) into the mixing bowl.  Place the bowl in the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and start to mix on low speed.  Add the yeast, sugar, milk powder, and custard powder first.  Then add the bread flour gradually, a cup at a time, scraping down the insides of the mixing bowl periodically.  Increase the speed to low-medium and continue to mix until the shaggy mass becomes a soft and supple ball of dough.  If necessary, gradually add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dough comes together.  Knead the dough for 10 minutes.  Transfer the ball of dough to an oiled bowl to proof, lightly coating all sides of the dough with some of the same oil.  Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap.  Let the dough proof in a warm, draft free place for 30-40 minutes or until the mass has doubled in volume.

4.)  Portion Out the Dough.  After the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down and transfer it to a work surface lightly dusted with bench flour.  Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion dough out into 16 equal pieces (see below).

5.)  Make the Buns.  Roll out each of the 16 dough pieces into a roughly 4″ round or square, making sure to keep the thickness of the dough even throughout in each piece.  Fill each flattened piece with 1 1/2 Tbsp of meat filling.  Gather the edges to pinch and seal, then flip the bun over so that the smooth side faces up.  Place buns into cupcake cases and transfer to a 12 hole muffin or tart pan, then cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let the buns rise for 30-40 minutes, or long enough for them to have doubled in puffiness.  Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

6.)  Finish and Bake.  After the second rising, brush the tops of the buns with egg wash, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake in oven for about 15 minutes, or until buns turn a light golden brown.  Remove from oven, transfer to a cooling rack to sit for a few minutes, then give the buns a generous brushing of thinned honey.  Sprinkle with fresh chives and serve!

*** Tip:  Store leftover buns in fridge for up to 5 days.  When you are ready to eat them, reheat the buns in microwave for 15-20 seconds or until warm and soft again.


Key ingredients for soft, sweet buns: water roux (a.k.a. tangzhong) and Bird’s Custard Powder

Chop, chop, chop.  Chives, char siu pork, and onion.

For my char siu, I took the healthier and easier way out by using a store-bought brand of char siu sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand) to marinade a very lean pork tenderloin and then baked it off.  The char siu you find in a Chinese restaurant will most certainly be a fattier cut of pork.

First proofing: wait for dough to double in bulk.  It was cold on this day so I put another bowl of warm water underneath the bowl with the dough…worked like a charm!

After the 1st proof, section the dough into 16 equal pieces.

I sectioned out my dough by rolling it out into a 16″ x 6″ rectangle and then cut it into 16 equal pieces with a knife. Another option is to roll the dough into a long log and cut.  You can also use a kitchen scale to weigh, which would be the most exact way to get equal peices.

Mix in chopped chives after the filling has cooled

Start at bottom of this picture and work up.  Flip “pinched” & sealed” bottoms over to reveal a smooth bun top and place finished bun in a cupcake liner.

Egg wash and sesame seeds after 2nd proofing.

Warm out of the oven, with some Chinese jasmine tea for sipping.

Warm out of the oven, with some Chinese jasmine tea for sipping.

Dim Sum Recipe #1:  Siu Mai Dumplings

Dim Sum Recipe #3:  Ha Gao Dumplings

Dim Sum Recipe #4:  Egg Custard Tarts (Dan Tat)

Dim Sum Recipe #5:  Pork & Chive Potstickers

Dim Sum Recipe #1: Siu Mai Dumplings

It doesn’t get more Cantonese or more delicious than this:  steamed siu mai dumplings, the “must-have” of any dim sum meal.  My parents live in Rowland Heights, an outer-suburb of Los Angeles, also known as one of the best places to get Chinese food in all of California. This city has become an Asian American ethnic enclave over the last 15 years, with many choices of Cantonese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese restaurants to choose from.  My parents often remark that they are “tired of eating” as a result of living there.  If you are ever in LA and stop by Rowland Heights, you will most certainly realize what they mean.

If you are going out for dim sum (aka to “yum cha” or literally, to “drink tea”) you will see bamboo steamers filled with piping hot siu mai at pretty much every table in the restaurant, with of course, a teapot of hot tea to share.

Getting dim sum is one of the times where “tea etiquette” takes on an entirely different meaning.  When ordering, it’s important to focus, know what you want, and be clear with the Chinese cart ladies.  If all else fails, point to what you want.  There is no time for dawdling or shyness here–for goodness sake, people are eager to get their siu mai fix on!  Above all, just don’t piss off the Chinese cart ladies, otherwise they won’t come back.

If you are wanting to forgo the weekend Chinese restaurant madness but are still craving some delicious siu mai, here is the recipe for you.  Of course it’s always fun going out to dim sum, but once in a while it’s really satisfying making your own set of steamy dumplings, especially since you can make them healthier and have lots of leftovers too!  These siu mai are simple to make, classic, and delicious…perfect with a cup of pu-erh or oolong tea.

Topping options for siu mai:  mini cubed carrots, thinly sliced green onions, a tiny blob of chili sauce, or my untraditional favorite…a single salmon caviar egg!

Siu Mai Dumplings (Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumplings)

Makes about 30 dumplings.


6 oz fresh deveined shrimp

1 lb ground pork

1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms (I used sliced but you can also use whole)

3 green onions, thinly sliced, white portions removed

2 egg whites

1 1/2 tsp low sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 Tbsp cooking sherry

1/2 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp chicken bouillon

1/4 tsp white pepper

wonton or siu mai wrappers

non-stick spray

mini cubed carrots, thinly sliced green onions, chili sauce, or salmon caviar eggs to garnish (optional)


large bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

cookie scoop with 1 3/4″ diameter (2 Tbsp)


1.)  Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 20-30 minutes depending on size.  When completely softened, drain off liquid, remove stems (if using whole mushrooms), give mushrooms a light squeeze to remove excess moisture, and cut into small pea sized pieces. Alternatively, place hydrated, drained, and squeezed mushrooms in a food processor and pulse until you get small pea sized pieces.  Set aside into a large mixing bowl.

2.)  Chop (or process) shrimp into small pea sized pieces.  Add to mixing bowl.

3.)  Add ground pork, green onions, egg whites, soy, sherry, sesame oil, cornstarch, sugar, bouillon, and pepper to the mixing bowl and gently mix until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.

4.)  Prepare a large, clean workstation for assembling the dumplings.  This station should include a small bowl for water and the bowl of mixed meat filling.  Place a damp paper towel over the wrappers to prevent them from drying out.  Prepare the bamboo steamer by lightly spraying it with non-stick spray or by placing a round piece of parchment in the base of the steamer.  If using parchment, pierce or cut several small holes all over the parchment round so that the steam will circulate and cook the dumplings evenly.

5.)  To fill wrappers, place an even scoop of the meat filling in the center of each wrapper, then use fingers to wet all 4 exposed edges of wrapper.  Bring up edges of wrapper and stick them to the sides of center “meatball.”  Tighten the dumpling wrapper around the filling with your fingers, forming a cylinder-like shape with a flat bottom.

6.)  Place open-faced dumplings into prepared steamer, about 1″ apart from one another and away from the sides of the steamer.  When the steamer is full of dumplings, fill the wok or stockpot 1/2 full with water and place on stove top on high heat.  When water has reached a full boil, place the bamboo steamer (with top on) atop the wok/stockpot.  Steam siu mai for 10-12 minutes or until completely cooked through.

7.)  Garnish siu mai tops with carrots, green onion, chili sauce, or caviar.


Simple ingredients for a traditional dumpling

My secret to professional looking siu mai…a cookie scoop!  Works for cookies so why not for dumplings?

Use generous dabs of water to stick skins to side of “meatball” centers

This completes my first post on dim sum…stay tuned, many more to come!

Dim Sum Recipe #2:  Honeyed Pork Buns (Baked Char Siu Bao)

Dim Sum Recipe #3:  Ha Gao Dumplings

Dim Sum Recipe #4:  Egg Custard Tarts (Dan Tat)

Dim Sum Recipe #5:  Pork & Chive Potstickers