It was my daughter, Sam, who first came up with the idea back in the summer of 2015. We were at the grocery and, at the vegetable section, Sam asked if we could buy spinach. How would we cook it, I asked. She said we’d mix the spinach with cream cheese and use the mixture as filling for fried dumplings.
Genius, I thought. The cream cheese would soften and turn gooey during frying, the wrappers would be crispy… We made the spinach and cream cheese dumplings per Sam’s suggestion. They were as good as I imagined. Better, even. I took photos and published the recipe.
We’ve made spinach and cream cheese dumplings countless times since 2015. Sam even came up with a variation with fresh mushrooms added. But it was only in November of 2021 that we decided to take new photos to go with the recipe. My younger daughter, Alex, made the dumplings and took some of the step-by-step photos.
Start by rinsing the spinach under the tap. If there are large stalks, pinch them off and discard them. You only want the leaves and the tenderest stalks for the dumpling filling.
Now, blanch the rinsed spinach to wilt the leaves and tenderize the stalks. You’re blancing the leafy vegetable for two reasons.
The first is that so you can squeeze out excess water. As ironic as it may sound, you can’t squeeze out water from spinach without blanching the vegetable first. So, blanch and squeeze. Water is not desirable in a fried dish so get rid as much of it as you can.
The second reason for blanching is to make cutting easier. After the squeezing the blanched spinach, you can form it into a tight ball and slice the leaves and stalks together. Give the sliced spinach a rough chop.
The spinach is now ready to be mixed with the cream cheese. And although the title suggests that the dumplings have nothing but spinach and cream cheese, salt, dried garlic and dried onion go into the filling to give it a proper balance.
Why dried garlic and onion? To minimize moisture. What’s the point of painstakingly squeezing out the water from the spinach if you’re going to add ingredients that contain plenty of moisture anyway?
Once the filling is mixed, the dumplings are ready to be formed. Place a teaspoonful of the filling at the center of a wonton skin, dab the edges with water then bring the corners together and seal. Press the edges as well to make sure that the filling is not exposed from any angle.
Repeat the process until you run out of filling or wonton skins. From experience, it rarely happens that your filling is exactly enough for the number of wrappers you have.
Then, you fry. Deep fry? We tried. The thing is, the dumplings float when deep fried. When they do that, only the undersides get brown and crispy leaving the tops pale and still a bit chewy. The better technique is to shallow fry. Drop the dumplings seams side up, leave the bottoms to brown and turn crisp, then flip the dumplings over and fry until the seams are nicely browned and the wonton skins are puffy all over.
Crispy spinach and cream cheese dumplings
- 250 grams fresh spinach
- 125 grams cream cheese softened
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons dried onion
- 1 teaspoon dried garlic
- 18 four-inch square wonton skins (you'll need more if they are smaller)
- cooking oil
- Rinse the spinach well and drain.
- Blanch the drained spinach in boiling water just until wilted.
- Scoop out the spinach and dump into a bowl of cold water.
- Squeeze the spinach to remove as much water as you can.
- Chop the spinach.
- Place the cream cheese in a mixing bowl and add the salt, dried onion and dried garlic.
- Add the chopped spinach and mix until blended and the mixture has a homogenous appearance.
- Lay a wonton skin flat and drop a teaspoonful of the spinach-cheese filling at the center.
- Wet the edges of the wonton skin with water.
- Gather the corners of the wonton skin together, pressing the wet edges to seal the filling.
- Repeat until all the skins have been filled and sealed, or until you run out of filling.
- Heat enough oil in a wok or frying pan to reach a depth of at least two inches.
- When the oil temperature reaches 350F, fry the dumplings in batches.
- Drop in a few of the dumplings, flat side down, fry until the bottoms are lightly browned them flip them over to brown the tops.
- Scoop out and move to a rack.
- Repeat until all the dumplings have to fried to golden brown perfection.