Vegan Five Elements Dumpling

The balance of life in the form of homemade dumplings
By Tiffany Alexandria
Photos by CHOOCHOO-ca-CHEW | Tiffany Alexandria

My mom is known for her homemade vegan dumplings. They are packed with vegetables of different textures and a rainbow of colors. Making vegan dumplings is a tradition for our family during the Chinese New Year, but these dumplings are so good, my mom gets requests for them all year long. She’s always happy to share the recipe, but she would share it in the true fashion of an experienced cook: “Blanch vegetables, squeeze out moisture, chop everything, season with a bit of this and a pinch of that. Easy!”

It’s not easy to find a good vegan dumpling; most vegan dumplings found in the store or restaurants are filled with processed food‑—vegan meats, too much tofu or preserved radish. Mom’s version features fresh vegetables, real ingredients and a balance of life. They are more time-consuming, but for the health of the family and deliciousness, the extra effort is worth it.

The balance of food is important in Taiwanese/Chinese culture, and it is often expressed through the five elements‑—metal (, jīn), wood (, mù), water (, shuǐ), fire (, huŏ) and earth (, tŭ). The five elements exist in more than just food; it is a balance of life. Food is just an important part of the balance. Most people in Taiwan believe in the healing power of everyday food. If you eat a balanced diet or supply nutrients your body needs to stay strong and healthy through food, then you won’t need medicine. Food and lifestyle are the medicine.

The filling of this dumpling is based on the colors of the five elements: cabbage is white (metal), spinach is green (wood), mushroom is black (water), carrot is red (fire) and yuba is yellow (earth). This recipe is also Buddhist vegan friendly‑—that means no garlic or onion; ginger is used to flavor the filling.

Get the cabbage, carrots and spinach (or bok choi) at Rochester Farmers Markets at Graham Park on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Locally grown ingredients taste so much better, and supporting small local farms is more important than ever. Rochester Farmers Markets has a large variety and diversity in fresh foods. I’m still amazed by the selection of Asian vegetables that grow here in Minnesota.

For dried shiitake mushrooms, wood ear, mung bean threads and yuba, Asian Food Store (7th Street NW)  is my go-to shop. You can also get frozen dumpling wrappers at the Asian Food Store if you don’t want to make yours from scratch.

Dried shiitake mushroom is a key ingredient in this recipe. The flavor and the aroma of it ties the whole dumpling together. Sun-dried shiitake mushroom tastes very different from the fresh shiitake‑—the flavor is more concentrated, smoky, firm and meaty.

What’s wood ear? Wood ear is also called “black fungus” (horrible name!). It grows on wood, looks like ears and has the texture of “crunchy jelly,” if you can imagine that. Black wood ear is widely used in traditional medicine to help prevent iron deficiency anemia, haematemesis, uterine bleeding, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, cancer and more.

Mung bean threads are also called cellophane noodles. These noodles are made from the starch of mung beans. You will find dry ones often in a neon pink net at the store. These noodles are added to absorb all the flavors in the filling, as well as extra moisture, since vegan dumplings have a lot of watery vegetables in them.

Yuba is “Tofu Skin.” It’s the film that forms on top of warm soy milk when it comes in contact with cold air. I think of it as tofu concentrate.

Yuba is sweeter and more flavorful than tofu. The dried version is the easiest to find; you just need to rehydrate it before use. You can also replace yuba in this recipe by squeezing out most of the moisture in extra-firm tofu, crumbling it and stir-frying the crumbles with vegetable oil until they are golden. Yuba adds a nutty flavor to the dumplings.

Vegan Dumpling Filling Recipe

• Dumpling wrappers

• 1 medium round cabbage or Napa cabbage (about 3.5 lbs.)
• 1 bunch of spinach/bok choy/kale
• 2 cups yuba, finely chopped
• 15 dried Shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes in warm water until soft
• 10 dried wood ear, soaked for 20 minutes in warm water until soft
• 3 bunches of mung bean noodles, soaked for 20 minutes in warm water until soft
• 2 skinny carrots, finely chopped

• 5 Tbsp. soy sauce
• 4 Tbsp. sesame oil
• 1 Tbsp. sugar
• 1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
• 2 tsp. ground white pepper
• 1 tsp. salt or to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to boil.

While the water is heating up, clean and chop the cabbage into 8 wedges and the spinach into 2-inch pieces.

Add the cabbage to the pot of boiling water to blanch for 10 seconds and the spinach for 5 seconds. Drain and let cool.

While waiting for the veggies to cool, chop the tofu skin, soaked mushrooms (squeeze out excess moisture) and mung bean noodles into roughly 2-inch pieces. Mix all the chopped ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Once the blanched veggies are cool enough to handle, chop them up into 2-inch pieces then add to a nut milk bag or cheesecloth and squeeze out about 80% of the water. I usually squeeze mine with both hands until the veggies clump together and form a ball without falling apart easily and are not too soggy to touch.

Add the squeezed vegetables to the mixing bowl and mix in the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, ginger, white pepper and salt. Mix well. The best part about making vegan dumplings is that you can taste it and adjust accordingly

Now you’re ready to fold! Visit for folding instructions and videos.

Makes about 72 dumplings.

Dumplings are great for meal prep! Make them ahead on weekends, line them up on a nonstick cookie sheet and freeze them raw. Peel the frozen dumplings off from the tray and into a bag for storing in the freezer when they are rock hard. Cook them as you would the fresh ones when ready to eat!

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the dumplings. Give it a stir so they don’t stick to the bottom. Once the dumplings float to the surface, boil for another 3 minutes, strain and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.