How to Make Dumplings

Dumplings are an old-fashioned starch that have fallen out of favour somewhat, but they’re a great alternative to potatoes in casseroles and stews. This is a slightly more advanced recipe than a lot of those here on How to Chop a Carrot, but once you’ve got the hang of them dumplings are a great addition to your repertoire!

Although I’ve given the weights in the ingredients, you don’t need any scales for this recipe! I’ll explain how to measure everything using just a couple of spoons!

You will need:

  • a mixing bowl
  • a tablespoon
  • a teaspoon

and the ingredients (for four servings):

  • 4oz/100g self-raising flour (or plain flour and baking powder)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1tsp dried herbs
  • 2oz/50g suet
  • water

Suet is a very important ingredient for dumplings. Suet is basically small lumps of hard fat, coated in flour. So, if you don’t have any, you can make a suet substitute by grating a hard, white fat (like lard) into flour. Make sure that the fat is well chilled before and after grating – it needs to melt as the dumplings cook, not before.

To make your dumplings, start by measuring your flour. Heap as much flour as you can on a tablespoon. This is approximately one ounce (oz) of flour, and you need four of these. If you’re using baking powder, add a heaped teaspoon to the flour.

Photograph of a heaped tablespoon of flour, and a heaped teaspoon of baking powder

Next, add your seasonings to your flour. A quarter teaspoon of salt, and a generous sprinkling of herbs. Stir the dry ingredients together, making sure there are no lumps.

Photograph of a mixing bowl filled with flour, with small amounts of dried herbs visible

Now measure your suet. A rounded tablespoon (where the mound above the spoon is roughly the same as the bowl underneath) is roughly an ounce of suet. Add two to your flour mix.

Photograph of a rounded tablespoon of suet

Gently stir your suet into the flour. Don’t stir too hard or fast, or you’ll squish the suet.

Photograph of a mixing bowl full of dry ingredients

Now we’re going to add the water. To get the right consistency, I recommend mixing with your hands. The exact amount of water you need can vary depending on a lot of different factors, so it’s best to add it a little at a time. You want just enough water to make your ingredients stick together. In fact, when you get it right, the dough should form a neat ball, leaving your mixing bowl and hands pretty clean. If your dough is too crumbly, it needs more water; and if it’s too sticky it needs more flour.

Photograph of a round, pale ball of dough in a mixing bowl

To shape the dumplings, start by cutting your dough into eight pieces. (I find the easiest way to do this is by halving three times.) As quickly and gently as you can, roll each one into a ball, and flatten it slightly. Unless your dumplings are going in the oven straight away, pop them in the fridge to chill.

Photograph of eight round dumplings on an aluminium tray

Dumplings are steamed, so to cook your dumplings gently float them on top of your casserole or stew. They take about half an hour to cook at Gas Mark 3 or 4 (150-180°C). To make sure they rise properly, don’t open the oven door or take the lid off your stew for 20 minutes after you’ve put them in. After this, you can take the lid off to brown the tops of the dumplings.

Photograph of eight pale, round dumplings floating on a red casserole

When dumplings cook, they should roughly double in size. And once they’re cooked, they will sound hollow if you tap them gently.

Photograph of eight larger, golden, round dumplings floating on a red casserole

Dumplings are wonderfully warming on chilly days!

Photograph of a brown bowl filled with beef casserole and dumplings

The trick to fluffy dumplings is to make them as quickly as you can, and give them time to chill before they go in the oven. (It also helps if your hands are cold!) And to make them perfectly match every casserole you make, simply change which herb you use. Some of my favourites are sage dumplings for beef casserole, and parsley dumplings for chicken.

If you make dumplings with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Leek

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Like onions, leeks are a type of allium. In fact, they taste rather like a soft, mild, onion. And they look like a giant, tough, spring onion! So if you’re already familiar with chopping spring onions (tutorial here), chopping leeks is quite easy.

Now it’s a step I’ve been known to skip with a lot of veggies, but it is important to wash your leeks. The reason is that the structure of leeks is exceptionally good at trapping small amounts of dirt. Because of this, you may find it easier to rinse leeks after chopping them.

Hand drawing of a green and white leek

To start chopping your leek, first remove about 1cm off the root end. Also remove the dried out ends of the leaves, and any dried out whole leaves. (Some people recommend removing all the dark green parts – while these are slightly tougher they soften when cooked, especially when slow-cooked.)

Hand drawing of a green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For slow-cooking, I recommend chunks of leek. Starting from the green end of the leek, simply cut off chunks about 2cm (a little under an inch) long. These chunks are perfect for roasts and casseroles, and they take about an hour to cook at Gas Mark 4 (180°, or 160° fan).

Hand drawing of a trimmed green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For faster cooking, slice your leek instead. Just like with chunks of leek, start from the green end of the leek. (This helps the leek stay together while you cut.) For most uses, I recommend slices about ½ cm thick, which you can pan-fry in 10-15 minutes. Thinner slices will cook faster.

Hand drawing of a trimmed green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

When cooked, leeks become soft and translucent, just like onions do.

Leeks are great for giving a milder, sweeter, onion-y taste to dishes. They’re especially good with potatoes – why not try frying some sliced leeks in butter, and mixing them in with mashed potatoes? They’re also great in casseroles!

How to Make Gravy

As the weather cools, I’ve started thinking about more autumnal dishes like casseroles, soups, and pot roasts. And what goes better with a roast than a steaming boat of gravy?

Just like stock, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago (link), gravy is easy to make from a powder. But, just like stock, it’s surprisingly easy to make your own too!

Like stock, gravy is essentially flavourful water. However, gravy tends to be thicker and richer than stock.

To thicken your gravy, you can use flour – either wheat flour (in a roux), or cornflour. I wrote about both these techniques in my post on How to Make a White Sauce (link), but for convenience I’ve copied it below.

The classic technique to thicken gravy is called a roux. A roux starts by frying a spoonful of wheat flour in a little butter or oil. You have to be careful at this stage that the flour is cooked, or the resulting sauce will taste floury. You also have to be careful to avoid lumps – one way to do this is to add the flour to chopped onions, rather than directly into the pan. After a few minutes of frying, you can add some stock. To avoid lumps (again), you need to add it very slowly at first, and keep stirring!

It can be quite easy to get a roux wrong, so the thickening method I prefer is cornflour. Simply mix together one spoonful of cornflour with one spoonful of cold water. Then, add the cornflour mix to your sauce. The great thing about this method is that it can be done last-minute, there’s no floury aftertaste, it’s a lot easier to avoid lumps, and it’s even gluten-free!

To make your gravy rich and flavourful, start with some stock. This can be from a stock cube, or just the water you used to boil the vegetables. In fact, using ingredients like vegetable water is a great way to make sure your gravy really suits the meal you’re serving. You can also add any meat juices that are released during cooking, or even leftover oil from roasting vegetables!

Of course, you can also use herbs and spices to add flavour to a gravy. Rosemary, sage, parsley, and thyme are great classics to start with, but you could also try making a mint gravy to go with lamb, or basil for a slight Mediterranean twist.

You can even use other sauces in your gravy – if you’re serving turkey why not melt a little cranberry jelly into the gravy? Or you could add a spoon of honey and a dash of mustard to go with pork or chicken.

Gravy is a great part of a meal to experiment with, especially since it’s often made using ingredients that might otherwise simply be thrown away. Why not give it a go next time you make a roast?

How to Make Vegetable Soup

As the weather cools down, I’m looking forward to cooking some more warming dishes. And what’s better on a cold day than a hot bowl of soup?

There are so many different kinds of soup, that I thought it would be good to start with the general technique. If you’d like some more specific recipes, let me know!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a large saucepan
  • a measuring jug
  • a kettle

and the ingredients:

  • A little oil
  • onions
  • herbs and spices
  • vegetables
  • stock (link) or stock cube

 

Start by placing your saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and chop your onion. (For soup that cooks quickly, dice your onion (like this), but if you’ve got a bit more time slices (link) or even chunks of onion (link) are fine.)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any dried herbs or spices you want to use. I like to use garlic and ginger in most dishes, and the other spices I use depend on what vegetables I’m using. For example tomato and basil is a classic combination, as is carrot and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices

Gently fry your onions until they’re slightly golden and see-through. Then add your stock. You need about as much stock as you want soup – I recommend about 250ml or half a pint per person. Put the lid on, and bring it to a gentle boil.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices, and stock

Chop your vegetables and add them to the soup. So that everything cooks evenly, start with the vegetables that take longest (like carrots), and end with the vegetables that need the least cooking (like green vegetables). If you’re not sure how long something takes to cook, check out the Techniques tab here on How to Chop a Carrot.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced vegetables and stock

Once all the vegetables are soft all the way through, your soup is cooked. But if you want to make it thicker or stronger, you can leave it cooking for a bit longer. Before serving, make sure to taste your soup and add any salt or fresh herbs you want to add.

Photograph of a white bowl full of soup

A hearty bowl of vegetable soup is great with melted cheese and a slice of toast, or why not spice it up and serve with egg and noodles?

Soup is such a versatile dish; it’s great for using up leftovers. (Even those half-used jars of sauce lurking in your fridge.) You can even blend everything together after cooking to make a really thick, smooth soup.

If you make soup with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

 

 

How to Make Stock

It’s back to basics this week with a common ingredient for adding flavour to dishes – stock. You probably already know how to make stock from a stock cube, but did you know it’s surprisingly easy to make from scratch?

Stock is, quite simply, water with added flavour. Whenever you boil ingredients in water, some of the flavours (and nutrients) mix with the water. In fact, when you boil vegetables you’re pretty much making vegetable stock at the same time!

Most stocks, however, have more flavour than vegetable water. You can make stock more concentrated, in other words stronger, either by putting in more ingredients or by boiling off more water.

Let’s start with what kind of ingredients you can use for stock. As I said above, you can boil vegetables in water to make a vegetable stock. You can use any combination, but a classic is onion, carrot, and celery (known as a mirepoix).

You can make fish, chicken, or meat stocks by using the parts you might otherwise just throw away – the skin and bones. In fact, making stock is a great way to get the most out of your food.

Now for the method.

Start by chopping your vegetables. The smaller you chop them, the faster the flavour will mix with the water. However, if you’ve got plenty of time for your stock to cook, chunks of vegetables (about an inch on each side) are fine. Bones and skin usually don’t need chopping.

Cover your ingredients with water, and a lid, in a large saucepan or slow cooker. At this stage, it’s better to have too much water than too little. Too little water and your stock can burn, but you can always boil off excess water later.

Boil your ingredients for at least half an hour. As long as there’s enough water left, there isn’t really an upper time limit for making stock. It will just keep getting stronger the longer you boil it for.

Drain your ingredients. Remember to save the water – that’s now your stock! If you don’t think your stock has enough flavour yet, you can put it back in the saucepan and boil it very gently without a lid. (The fancy name for this step is reducing down.)

You can use your stock as soon as it’s cooked, but if you won’t be using it for a while, pop it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

And that’s it! Why not try it the next time you have some ingredients going spare? And come back later this month to find out how to turn stock into soup, or gravy!

How to Chop a Cabbage

Like a lot of green vegetables, cabbage is a terrible thing when overcooked. However, raw or lightly steamed it has a lovely flavour and crunch.

Hand drawing of two green cabbages - a savoy and a sweetheart

Just like lettuces, which I wrote about in an earlier tutorial (here), there are many different varieties of cabbage. And just like lettuces, cabbages share the same kind of leafy structure!

To chop a whole cabbage, you can just start chopping slices off the top! (For rounder cabbages like savoy, it’s easier to start by chopping them in half, then placing them on the cut side to chop.)

Hand drawing of a sweetheart cabbage with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Because the cabbage is made of layers of leaves, it falls apart into thin strips once sliced. For cooking, I’d recommend slices about 1cm thick, but for salads I’d try to chop slightly thinner slices.

 

However, although they keep better than lettuces, cut cabbages don’t last for very long. So if you only want a little cabbage, peel a few leaves off the outside of the cabbage by hand. You can then stack them to make your job easier, and cut slices just as above.

Hand drawing of a pile of cabbage leaves with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

These slices of cabbage take no longer than 5 minutes to cook, whether boiled, steamed, or stir-fried. It should become a slightly brighter green and soft (but not soggy!) when cooked.

(To make sure the whole cabbage is cooked at the same time, you may want to pull the leaves off the thickest, toughest part of the stem before cutting, but this is of course optional. )

How to Chop a Spring Onion

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Spring onions (also called green onions) have a much milder flavour than mature onions. They’re less likely to make your eyes water, and they’re perfect for salads and sandwiches.

To prepare spring onions, start by chopping ½cm or so off the root end. Also, remove the dried out ends of the leaves.

Hand drawing of a spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

If you have a whole leaf that’s dried out (like the top one in the picture above),  simply peel it off the onion.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion

Now depending on what you want to use your spring onion for, you may want to cut strips or slices.

 

Strips of spring onion are my first choice for sandwiches, and they’re good for stir-fries too.

Start by chopping your spring onion into sections, the same length you want your strips to be.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Then simply halve each section twice lengthwise. Because of the layers inside the onion, you’ll get lovely thin strips.

Hand drawing of two chunks of spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

Slices of spring onion are great for mixing in with salads, and I like them in soups too. Simply cut off slices about ½ cm thick. I recommend working from both ends into the middle, to help the onion stay together while you cut it.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

There are so many cold dishes that benefit from a little spring onion, including mixed salads that I wrote about here. They’re also great in potato salad and coleslaw! For hot dishes like stir fry (recipe here), I’d recommend no more than 5 minutes on the heat.

One last thing about spring onions – they don’t tend to keep as well as mature onions, so make sure to use them up!