The usual story of our life: long drive home discussing different ideas for dinner, and eventually agreeing that dumplings are in our thoughts; resulting in a swing by asian grocery for wonton skins, ingredients for filling, and some sides. This time we were extremely lucky – elusive chinese leeks were in stock, so it would be Meat Boxes!
Our first encounter with chinese leeks happened about three years ago (they usually available during the winter season). I don’t have a picture but they look like a young garlic, with a wonderful fresh smell that reminds of ramps.
Around this time there was a thread on eGullet, where Fuchsia Dunlop, an expert on chinese food and an author of excellent Land of Plenty contributed the following:
"Chinese Leeks are NOT the same as Chinese chives (jiu cai), or flowering chives (jiu cai hua) or spring onions (cong). They do look a little like Chinese green onions aka spring onions, but they have flat leaves like leeks, not tubular ones like spring onions. They are a member of the alliums, can’t remember which Latin name as I’m in China and don’t have my reference books with me (but it’s probably in my book ‘Sichuan Plenty/’Land of Plenty’ (US edition)).
One of the reasons for all the confusion is that people have different names for them in different parts of China. For example, in Sichuan they are ‘suan miao’, in Hunan they are ‘da suan’ (big garlic), and others call them ‘qing suan’ (green garlic). They are not to my knowledge eaten raw, but feature in countless stir-fries, and are also added towards the end of cooking in many
stew-type dishes. They are the most commonly used vegetable in Sichuanese twice-cooked pork (hui guo rou) and pock-marked mother chen’s beancurd (ma po dou fu) – see the recipes in my book .
They are hard to find in London, but pop up occasionally in Chinatown in winter. They are a fantastic vegetable so do make the most of them!! Most of the time I have to make do with baby leeks or spring onions, neither of which is ideal – eg baby leeks take longer to cook than suan miao."
Now the idea of pan fried meat boxes (Jin Hup Tze) and using chinese leeks as part of the filling came much later, and should be attributed to another excellent cookbook "The Chinese Gourmet" by William Mark. He doesn’t mention chinese leeks specifically, just says that "leeks and garlic give them [meat boxes] that special flavor". Indeed.
btw the ratio for the filling is quite easy to memorize: 1 part of pork fat to 6 parts of beef and 3 parts of chopped leeks. And then the usual aromatics – some cilantro, soy sauce, chinese rice wine, a dash of sesame oil, a pinch of sugar…