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always learning

Recipe: chinese chive turnovers (he zi)

Ahhhhh, finally finally finally, the much awaited cool down arrived. It was no longer sheer misery to run or hike or even stand outside. To celebrate, I put my trail runners on and headed out early Monday morning. I never take a cool weather day for granted! The wildflowers are still going strong, but they are different flowers from a month ago. Asters, fireweed, harebells, and columbine are all out in force now. I spotted another moose too, this time a female (cow), but she was but a speck in the distance by the time I got my iphone out. On my non-run days, I hike the trails to stretch my legs and check on my huckleberries. I say “my” huckleberries because I feel like we’re all good friends by now. And I’m still naming the porcini I find because there are so very few… well, thus far there have been all of two.

me in a field of noxious weeds (ox-eye daisies?)

the single ripe huckleberry, which i ate

a lone, handsome porcini named claudio

A large storm system has been sitting over us for a couple of days, delivering a lot of rain and much cooler temperatures. That’s both good (we need it) and bad (we don’t need it all at once, please!). So far there hasn’t been any major flooding – whew! I rather love the dreary, rainy days. It takes the edge off of summer for me and makes me feel like cooking again. Last week, I had asked my parents about a Chinese snack my Grandma used to make and they immediately rattled off how to make them. I translated their instructions into recipe form. It’s one thing to know how to make something, it’s something else entirely to communicate how to make it to someone who may or may not know how to cook. They called me the next day and excitedly informed me that when I came to see them later, they would demo how to make the snacks. It was really cute.

team effort

“daddy will show you how to do this right”

These are known as Chinese chive turnovers or jiu cai he zi. Chinese chives (or Chinese leeks) have a wonderfully garlicky flavor to them. They are some of my favorite Chinese greens. You can find them in Asian grocery stores that have well-stocked produce sections. Since my parents didn’t have any on hand, they used Napa cabbage and pork for the filling, but I got the gist of it. The pastry is made from a hot water dough similar to the kind you use for Chinese dumplings. Traditionally, the turnovers are made with Chinese chives, egg, and sometimes pork and sometimes glass noodles (mung bean thread noodles). They don’t have to be turnovers either. My parents demoed the pancake style, which is equally delicious. I’ll show you how to make both.

chinese chives, full of garlicky goodness

chinese chives, salt, ground pork, flour, sesame oil, soy sauce, vegetable oil (for frying)

First, you should make the hot water dough. It’s quite simple. Bring some water to a boil and pour it over all-purpose flour. Stir until it is incorporated. It will be dry. That’s because the next step is to add cold water. When that is mixed in, knead the dough for a few minutes until it is soft and smooth. Cover the ball of dough with a damp kitchen towel or damp paper towels and let it rest for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

add hot water to the flour

stir in the cold water

knead it into a smooth ball of dough

I love Chinese chives, but I really don’t enjoy preparing them because they can be quite sandy. I go through them one by one (tedious), composting rotted chives and trimming the bases of the rest. Then I plunge them in water and drain the greens several times. Chop the chives into 1/2-inch pieces and set them in a bowl. My parents told me to salt the chives to draw out excess moisture. This is to avoid a soggy filling. You don’t have to do it, but I think it’s better this way. Squeeze as much liquid out of the chives as possible and add them to the filling.

chopping chinese chives

salting the chives

adding sesame oil to the chives and pork and soy sauce

the filling is ready

Now back to the dough. The first attempt at this recipe gave me leftover filling (I made potstickers with it – yum!). So I increased the dough amount by half in the recipe. It should be a close match now. Flatten the dough on a floured surface and cut it in half. Always put any dough that isn’t in use under the damp cloth. This is more of an issue for those of you in dry climates. Roll one half of the dough into a log about 1.5 inches in diameter. It’s not important to be precise, just a ballpark. Cut the log into 12 equal-sized pieces. Place all but one under the damp cloth and use a rolling pin to roll out a circle about 1/16-inch thick and 6-inches in diameter.

slice the dough ball in half

roll each half into a log and slice

squash the slices flat with the palm of your hand

roll it out into a thin pancake

To make the turnovers, put about 3 tablespoons of filling on one half of the dough circle and fold the dough over to form a half moon. Gently press any excess air out from the turnover before pressing the edges together to seal the filling inside the dough. The purpose for sealing the dough is to prevent leakage of juices when you fry the turnovers which in turn results in splattering on your stove top or in your face. Crimp or pinch the edges in whatever fashion you like. I do rope pinch because it’s pretty, but if I were making a lot of these, I would just use fork tines to make a decorative edge.

place the filling on the disk

fold in half and seal the edges together

decorate the edges as you like

pan fry until golden

The other method that my parents typically make is a big round pancake or pizza. I have always grown up calling it Chinese pizza and apparently there isn’t such a thing (that I am aware of). Regardless, this way is faster than the turnovers and more suited to sharing at a table rather than eating one on the go. For the pancakes, you want to cut each half of the dough into 6 equal-sized pieces. Roll these out to about 6-7 inches, two at a time. Technically they can be made larger, but handling them becomes unwieldy and the risk of disaster increases exponentially with increase in diameter. I generally keep the filling to about 1/4 to 1/2 inches in thickness. You don’t want it too thick or it will take longer to cook. The filling is sandwiched between two pancakes. After sealing the edges, you can trim them to within 1/4 inch of the filling. Some people place a plate over the pancake and use a knife to trim the rough edges. My dad said this is a stupid way and demonstrated his technique of rolling the plate edge around the pancake, which I really kinda like.

spread the filling to within 1/2-inch of the edge

top with a second pancake and seal the edges together

dad’s method for trimming the edges

nice and neat

pan fried and ready to eat

If you dig on Chinese potstickers, you will love these turnovers or pancakes. What’s not to love about delicious fillings in a pastry dough? For a vegetarian version, you can substitute minced baked or pressed tofu (fresh tofu is just too watery) for the pork and add chopped, rehydrated glass noodles (mung bean thread noodles) and minced Chinese doughnut (you tiao) to the Chinese chives. It found it endearing to watch my parents cook these pastries just for my education. I learned to make a treat that both of my Chinese grandmas had made for me many (so many!) years ago. How lucky am I? It seemed only fitting to pass it along to you all.

slice the pancakes into quarters

it’s not hard to turn these into a meal

i’m a huge fan of the savory pastries

Chinese Chive Turnovers (He Zi)
[print recipe]
from my parents

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water
6 tbsps cold water

1 lb. Chinese chives, trimmed of woody bases and washed
1 tbsp salt
1 lb. ground pork
2 tbsps soy sauce
2 tbsps sesame oil

vegetable oil for pan-frying

Make the dough: Place the flour in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flour and stir to mix it in (I used chopsticks, but a silicone spoonula works well too). Add the cold water and stir together. Press the dough together into a ball and knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Prepare the filling: Chop the Chinese chives into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the chives and mix to evenly distribute. Let sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze the liquid out of the chives. Discard the liquid and place the chives in a bowl with the ground pork, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix together.

Assemble the turnovers: Cut the dough in half and set one half under the damp towel. Roll the dough out into a 1.5-inch diameter log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Place all but one of the disks under the damp towel. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the disk out to about a 6-inch diameter and 1/16-inch thickness. Place 2-3 tablespoons of filling on half of the dough disk, flattening the filling to leave at least 1/2-inch margin at the rounded edges. Fold the dough over the filling to create a half-moon shape and push out any air pockets. Press the edges together to form a good seal (to avoid leaking during cooking) and then crimp, pinch, or fold the edges however you like. Repeat for the remaining dough.

Alternative assembly: Instead of turnovers, my parents make these into a kind of filled pancake. It’s faster to make and better suited to serving at the table than taking on the go. Cut the dough in half and set one half under the damp towel. Roll the dough out into a 1.5-inch diameter log and cut it into 6 equal pieces. Place all but two of the disks under the damp towel. On a lightly floured work surface, roll both disks (one at a time) out to about a 7-inch diameter and 1/16-inch thickness. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling on one of the dough disks and spread to within 1/2-inch of the edge. Set the second disk on top of filling and match up the edges of the dough as best you can. Press out any air bubbles and then press the edges together with your fingers, making sure to seal the filling in. Take a medium-sized round plate and hold it so the base is facing you and the service side is facing the pancake. Set the edge of the plate 1/4-inch from the edge of the filling (somewhere squarely on the sealed edge) and firmly press down to cut the dough. Slowly roll the plate around the pancake to trim the edge of the dough off while making a nice clean circular cut around the pancake. Repeat for the remaining dough.

Cook the pastries: Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a shallow frying pan (stick or non-stick, it’s up to you) over medium heat. Place two turnovers or one pancake on the hot oil and let fry for 3-4 minutes until the bottom is golden brown. Reduce heat if it starts to burn or increase heat if it’s not browning. Flip the pastry (pastries) over, adding more oil if needed, and brown the other sides for another 3-4 minutes until golden. Remove from heat. Cook the rest this way. Cut the pancakes into quarters. Serve immediately or keep in the refrigerator for a few days and warm up in the oven. Makes 24 turnovers or 6 pancakes.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

chinese chive dumplings (dc) stir-fried chinese chives and pork chinese dumplings and potstickers scallion pancakes

22 nibbles at “always learning”

  1. Sherry says:

    Chinese chives are garlic chives, right? It looks like it but for some reason, I’ve never run across the name “Chinese chives” before, which is weird because, yeah, they are chives and they are Chinese.

    I’m growing some now but I think it’ll be another month before I can harvest them… I’ll have to bookmark this recipe for later.

  2. Kristina says:

    We called these “Chinese Pizzas” in my house growing up, too…so, it’s totally a thing. :)

  3. Amy says:

    I’ve always loved reading about your adventures with foraging. Wished I had the knowledge needed to go for a hike and come back with something yummy (and not something that would poison my family)! Seeing the picture of your Chinese chives totally reminded me of going out with my family when I was young and “getting some wild onions”. We’d all go out with sharp knives (we were probably 5-12) and there was one section of our pasture that was full of wild onions, we’d leave 2 hours later with enough green onions to last us all year. We’d spend the rest of the day washing, chopping and freezing. One of our favorite breakfasts was wild egg and onion (lol) because we would always talk about how we went out and dug them up ourselves. Thanks for the great childhood memory (I don’t have that many,honestly).

  4. JaneM says:

    I love that your mom and dad participate in the preparation of your Chinese dishes. Yesterday, I made potstickers, using your pork filling/dough recipes, sans bamboo shoots, napa cabbage and shitake mushrooms. I substituted minced water chestnuts. It made my yield smaller, 30 instead of 40 but they were wonderful. Thank you so very much for sharing. I just have to work on perfecting the dough- getting it the right diameter but I was successful in the pleatiing process. I’m going to save your pancake recipe and will have to wait until I can get my hands on the right chives. I now live in a semi-rural, college town and there isn’t a single Asian food store in town; nearest one is 39 miles away. I can no longer make miso soup or my own kimchi… I feel deprived.

  5. Kristin says:

    Mmmm….I love savory pastries myself, but have never had these. You worried me when you mentioned frying, but this frying I think I can handle! I love how your parents are so happy to share things with you…and tell you that things are stupid!

    We were in DIA Monday night and got to spend half an hour in a mens room during a tornado warning…well, I could’ve gone to a womens room, but thought I’d rather be with my husband during a tornado. We spent the weekend with family at the Y’s Snow Mountain Ranch. I had no idea we were so close to you!

  6. Kristin says:

    Oh…re. the hummingbirds landing on fingers…there were dozens at our friends’ feeders, and they told us to put our fingers right next to an opening and stand very still. It takes a while, but eventually they land & stay while they eat. So it’s not as if we had our fingers out in mid air & a hummer just thought, “Hey! This looks like a good spot to rest!” Some CO relatives who camp a lot were with us at Snow Mtn, and they actually bring a feeder with them when they camp!

  7. megan says:

    Nice! I just posted a recipe for jiu cai he zi, too! :) The filling in mine doesn’t contain meat, though..

  8. Eva @ Eva Bakes says:

    Our family friend is famous for her chive pockets/turnovers. My brother and I used to eat 5-6 of them (each) as an appetizer! I was lucky that she shared her recipe with me, which I’ve posted on my blog too. Do you have any tips on how to do the rope pinch? I can never seem to get that right!

  9. Thekitchwitch says:

    All of your recipes are awesome, but I have a special place in my heart for the Chinese ones, particularly when your parents are involved.

  10. dian says:

    Love your recipes almost as much as I love the beauty of your family, lucky folks

  11. John says:

    Fine dining all you want. But the very best recipes to share are the ones passed down in your family that have special comfort meaning to you. I will be making these!

  12. debbie says:

    These look delicious…..

  13. jc says:

    Looks delicious!

    in my house we usually have fried eggs chopped up and glass noodles in the mix for the filling.
    I’m going to try using both hot and cold water next time for the dough!

  14. Sophie says:

    OH for heaven’s sake! This is making me so hungry. Looks amaaazing, Jen! Thanks for including a nice vegetarian substitute, too :) I have never made my own hot water dough before and I kind of think NOW is the time! Because I just need to eat these crispy little snacks!

    Happily we are in the middle of an unexpected rain/thunderstorm as well! Summer has never been my friend and the dark skies are a wonderful relief. I’m ready to enjoy more tomatoes and corn but….. autumn… well, I am really excited for cooler weather :) :)

  15. Christina @ but i'm hungry says:

    Wow, this made me so hungry! I echo the question about garlic chives… same thing, right? I randomly have a bunch growing in my backyard (I brought a clump with me when we moved from our first place, I don’t know who planted them originally!), and I’ve love to find a good use for them. These would be perfect.

  16. jill says:

    These look so yummy!

    And how can those be noxious weeds? So pretty.

    xo, j

  17. Annie says:

    These look like perfect grandma comfort food. I’m intrigued by the hot water dough. The whole recipe looks like it would be devoured by my crew! Please thank your parents for passing along the tradition and recipe!

  18. farmerpam says:

    I’ve learned so much from your site, enough to know if it has pork filling, it’s gonna be good. I will be making these in the future, I’m sure they’ll be a big hit. I love how your parents shared and enjoyed showing you the tricks of the trade. Comfort food, for sure. Thanks to them from this East Coast Butterling!

  19. Anne says:

    Hello !
    I have seen so many beautiful pictures of the landscape around you in all seasons: thanks. I have made the turnovers twice now because my sons really liked them and asked for more. With pork and the second time with leftover cooked chicken. Delicious. Anne MC

  20. jenyu says:

    Sherry – yes, I think so! The Chinese chives have a very garlicky flavor/odor. I love them :)

    Kristina – yay!!!

    Amy – what a great group effort. Sometimes those memories are the best things to fall back on, even if you don’t have many of them. I hope you will go out and make some more good memories for yourself xxoo

    JaneM – I totally know what that’s like (not having an Asian grocery store nearby). You can mail order some hard-to-find ingredients or just stock up when you go to the nearest Asian grocery store and then set aside a day to make those things you love (kimchi especially!!).

    Kristin – my parents are pretty hilarious in their own way :) Oh boy, yes summer in Denver can be an adventure in and of itself with the weather. Glad you all are OK. Yes, you were on the other side of the Divide from us! It’s spitting distance as the crow flies, but no direct roads take you there (well, unless you cross Trail Ridge Road in RMNP in summer). I may have to try that trick with the hummingbirds :)

    megan – yeah, there are several variations. I want to add cellophane noodles to mine next time :) My mom just made some with shrimp, pork, jiu cai, and ginger!

    Eva – oh the rope pinch… I do it all the time and yet I still manage to mess it up about 40% of the time. If you google “how to rope pinch dough” and look up videos, there will be good tutorials… better than I describe in text :)

    TKW – ha ha! I wonder if you can hear them yelling in Chinese when you eat these? ;)

    dian – thank you!

    John – so true! xo

    debbie – thanks :)

    jc – I haven’t had them with egg (although that is traditional). I should make those next!

    Sophie – I hear ya! I just need autumn to wait long enough for me to can a bazillion tomatoes ;)

    Christina – yes, I believe they are the same. Try them in the turnovers or you can just stir fry them with pork (really good!)

    jill – that’s what the guidebook says ;)

    Annie – awww, I’ll definitely do so!

    farmerpam – right on, lady! xo

    Anne – WOW, you are AWESOME! xo

  21. megan says:

    Yes, apparently there are many variations! Mine contained fen si / mung bean noodles / cellophane noodles, as well as some shrimp skins, and egg. I think Chinese/Taiwanese are ingenious in their variations of meat/filling in dough!

  22. Justine says:

    I can’t express how much joy this brings to me! I always thought this was something my mom made up. She’d just call them “bing” and make them every so often and are a wonderful comfort food, and without fail, somehow several houseflies would get into our spotless house the minute my mom started chopping up the chives. But every time I’d describe them to other Chinese/Taiwanese-American friends they’d get confused and say they’ve never heard of such a thing. Maybe the description of a noodle filling threw them off.

    So I tried making them once in college to show everyone what they were, and I totally blew it–I overfilled the strangely tough yet gummy dough (did not get the water hot enough) and didn’t use the right kind of chives because I was confused about the kind my mom used. I resigned myself to never being able to recreate this mythical food from my childhood, and was just glad she wasn’t around to see all that food go to waste. I am totally happy to see that it was an actual, real thing, and once I find these chives, I’m going to make this now that you’ve provided me with legit instructions!

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