Pickles and Tea Adventures in Asian American Cooking

A Dumpling for Every Friend: #4–Ms. or Mr. Gluten-Free (White Chicken Curry and Sticky Rice Dumplings)

A decade ago, hardly anyone understood what the term “gluten-free” meant, celiac disease was very under-the-radar, and finding gluten-free products at the grocery store was challenging. 

Today, just about everything sold at the grocery store is gluten-free, even water and face cream! (Yes, I’m being facetious.) It’s clear that gluten-free is more than a passing trend.

I have quite a few friends who are gluten-free and I feel their pain when they go to a party and there’s nothing they can eat. I’m an all-inclusive kinda gal so when it’s my turn to host, I’m always very conscious of providing my gluten-free guests with at least one or two options.

Dumplings (especially Chinese ones) are usually wrapped in a wheat dough. If you are gluten-free, be cautious; the dough used for making crystal shrimp dumplings (har gow) contains wheat starch in addition to tapioca flour. The batter used to make rice noodle rolls (cheong fun) sometimes contain wheat starch too.

To continue in the spirit of my “A Dumpling for Every Friend” series, I came up with an offbeat gluten-free dumpling recipe.

My White Chicken Curry and Sticky Rice Dumpling is based on one of my favorite Indonesian snacks, lemper ayam, literally chicken lemper. It might not be what you expect in a “dumpling,” so if you’re expecting a gluten-free wrapper to make fried spring rolls or pot stickers, go here and here.

When you take a bite of this delicious dumpling, you'll be biting into a savory, spiced chicken filling wrapped with slightly sweet purple sticky rice imbued with the tealike flavor of banana leaves.

Take a bite of this delicious dumpling (as I did above), and you’ll be biting into a savory, spiced chicken filling wrapped with slightly sweet purple sticky rice imbued with the tealike flavor of banana leaves.

Let me clarify one thing. Sticky rice is also called glutinous rice. But don’t be mistaken, it doesn’t contain any gluten at all. White sticky rice is normally used to make lemper and most other snacks and sweets in Asia, save sweet purple sticky rice porridge. I decided to use purple sticky rice instead because it’s more accessible for the average American cook. Whole Foods Market carries the Alter Eco brand and sometimes sells it in the bulk foods section. But if you have white sticky rice, go ahead and use it.

And instead of shaping them into logs and wrapping them entirely in banana leaf, I’ve rolled them into bite-sized balls and nestled them in banana leaf cones. They’re perfect finger food for your dumpling party–just pop the whole thing in your mouth!


Indonesian White Chicken Curry and Sticky Rice Dumplings (Lemper Bites)

lemperI’m always thrilled when I come up with a dish that does double duty, like my White Chicken Curry. Have the chicken for dinner and save some meat to make these dumplings the upcoming weekend . You’ll have dinner and a snack/party food made at the same time! You could also use any intensely-flavored chicken meat (preferably curried) for the filling.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes (depending on the number of batches)
Makes: 14 to 16 dumplings

1 cup raw purple sticky rice, soaked for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut milk
¾ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
Scant 1/2 cup chopped White Chicken Curry meat soaked in the sauce

Banana leaves
Toothpicks or a stapler

Cook the sticky rice according to package directions. Or cook in the microwave, my preferred method. Combine the rice with the water and coconut milk in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir and cook another 3 to 4 minutes, cooking for 1 minute at a time to prevent the rice from drying out, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Cooking time will depend on the wattage of your microwave. Mine is 1100 watts. If the rice seems dry, sprinkle with 1 to 2 tablespoons water and cover with a damp cloth. Set aside.

While the rice is cooling, make the banana leaf cones. Run the banana leaf under warn running water to make pliable. Measure out about 20-inches of banana leaf and wipe with a kitchen towel. Cut the banana leaf into 20 (4-x 4-inch) squares (you’ll want extras just in case some tear). In your left (or non-dominant) hand, hold a piece of banana leaf with the smooth surface facing you (the ridged, shiny side away from you) and the lines horizontal. Press your left thumb into the middle of the leaf to make a depression and use your right hand to make a fold in the leaf until it overlaps to form a cone. Secure with toothpicks or a stapler. Repeat until all the cones are made.

Spray a small rectangular Pyrex dish or brownie pan with cooking spray. When cool enough to handle, wet your hands and spread 2/3 of the rice into a 6-x 5-inch rectangle. Pack down the rice, then spread the chicken filling evenly on top. Spread the remainder of the rice over the chicken, making sure to cover the entire surface. Pack it down and smooth the surface to form a “cake.”

Divide the “cake” into 14 to 16 portions. Take one portion at a time and roll into a ping-pong ball, patching any holes. You want to have as little of the chicken showing. Place the ball in a banana leaf cone and place on your steamer rack about half-inch apart. Repeat until done. When your steamer rack fills up, place the waiting dumplings on a plate.

Pour about 2 inches of water into your steamer and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and insert the rack with the dumplings and steam for 6 to 8 minutes. (Click here for steaming tips). Turn off the heat and remove the dumplings carefully.

Replenish the water if necessary and bring to a boil again if steaming another batch.

Right after steaming, the dumplings will be soft and quite fragile. Once they cool down, they will firm up so wait at least 15 minute before serving.

Notes: Steam the dumplings when your guests arrive as they will dry out if they sit out for too long. If you must, cover with plastic wrap.


Be sure to check out all the different dumplings in my Lunar New Year “A Dumpling for Every Friend” series:

#1 The Vegan (Tofu, Spinach, and Fennel Wontons)

#2 The Fried Food Fiend (Fried Pork Wontons)

#3 The Meat Lover (Spiced Beef Momos)

#4 Ms. or Mr. Gluten-Free (White Chicken Curry and Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Plus, more dumpling recipes:

Pork and Cabbage Panfried Potstickers

Fried Egg Rolls

Sweet Potato Chinese Dumplings