The Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, is one of the most celebrated holidays across Asia. From Vietnam to Thailand to the Philippines, millions of people are painting the town red for the year of the dog. Aside from watching impressive fireworks displays, the best way to join the festivities is the food! Dumplings is a traditional New Year’s dish because it represents good fortune, wealth and longevity. Whether you want to prepare classic Chinese buns or not, the good news is nearly ever culture on earth has its own version of the humble dumpling.
From Japanese gyoza to Polish pierogi, dumplings can be cooked using almost any method, from steaming or boiling to baking or frying. If you’ve sampled these delicious, pillowy bites, you probably also know they’re considered comfort foods for good reason. Think: dough made from refined flour, rich, meaty fillings, and possibly a deep-fried preparation.
Lucky for our taste buds, a few smart recipe modifications can have you eating guilt-free dumplings in no time. Here are 11 healthier takes on classic dumpling variations from around the world. While they might not be as authentic as Grandma’s family recipe from the motherland, they’re sure to satisfy even your deepest doughy cravings.
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11 Healthy Dumpling Recipes From Around the World
1. Xiao Long Bao (China)
Make it healthier: Steamed Shanghai Soup Dumplings
Steamed soup dumpling are a dim sum delicacy. Each tender dumpling is filled with actual soup! How do they do it? The key to a successful soup dumpling is a homemade broth filling rich enough in fat and collagen that it remains semi-sold when cold. Once the dumplings are wrapped up tight and steamed, the filling melts into a silky broth that spills out when the dumplings are bitten into. While the best way to make this recipe healthier would be to choose pork lower in fat or another type of lower fat meat (sacrilege, we know), this recipe takes strides towards “healthy” with less sugar than many other recipes and the use of light soy sauce. Photo and recipe: The Woks of Life
2. Gyoza (Japan)
Make it healthier: Kale & Edamame Dumplings
Ubiquitous at any Japanese steakhouse or sushi joint, gyoza are steamed or pan-fried dumplings made from a thin wheat-flour wrapper with a meat or veggie filling (typically ground pork and cabbage). This recipe presents a healthier take with a vegan-friendly filling. That’s right: iron-rich kale and protein-rich edamame. Want to skip the dumpling wrapper altogether? Try these Paleo Gyoza Bites! Photo and recipe: Emily / This Raw Awesome Vegan Life
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3. Pierogi (Poland)
Make it healthier: Cauliflower, Potato and Cheddar Pierogi
The addition of cauliflower to the traditional potato and cheese filling in these pierogi helps to make the dish a bit lighter. Want to take it a step further? Try adding some extra veggies to the filling — we recommend sautéed, chopped spinach, kale or broccoli. Make it a complete meal by boiling or steaming the perogi instead of frying them, and serving atop a bed of sautéed greens or beside a lean piece of protein. Photo and recipe: Lauren Keating / Healthy Delicious
4. Ravioli (Italy)
Make it healthier: Garden Veggie and Ravioli Skillet
Typically filled with a mixture of cheese, ravioli — perhaps the most famous of all Italian dumplings — can be far from healthy. Especially when paired with creamy sauces (we’re lookin’ at you, Alfredo). But keep an eye on portion size and serve alongside a healthy dose of protein and veggies and you can create a well-balanced meal.
Pro tip: This recipe calls for homemade pistachio butter to use as the “sauce.” If you’d rather go lighter, try tossing the pistachios, herbs and lemon zest directly in with the pasta and adding a generous swirl of heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil. This easy modification will provide all of the flavor from those herbs and pistachios without butter’s saturated fat. Want to try another healthier (and gluten-free) ravioli recipe? Try making your own veggie-based ravioli, like this recipe for zucchini ravioli. Photo and recipe: Tieghan Gerard / Half Baked Harvest
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5. Char Siu Bao (China)
Make it healthier: Whole Wheat Steamed Pork Buns
Another dim sum staple, steamed pork buns are like soft little pillows filled with flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth barbecued pork. This recipe makes the favorite a bit healthier by swapping in whole-wheat flour for classic white, which ads more fiber to the mix. Upgrade your filling, too, by cutting down on sugar and honey, adding shredded cabbage to the filling, or swapping pork for ground chicken. Photo and recipe: Kylie / Imma Eat That
6. Pasties (Great Britain)
Make it healthier: Veggie Pot Pie Pasties
Pasties are like the savory, British version of Pop Tarts: rich, savory filling stuffed between two layers of pastry dough. While many pasties are filled with a rich meat and gravy mixture, these offer a slightly more wholesome version with a filling made from a mix of veggies. Make this recipe healthier by swapping in a whole-wheat pastry dough. Or, mix up the filling. Pre-cooked shredded chicken or an even wider variety of vegetables (like kale, sweet potatoes or squash) would work perfectly as an addition to this basic recipe. Photo and recipe: Becca / Amuse Your Bouche
7. Empanadas (South America)
Make it healthier: Gluten-Free Beef and Chorizo Empanadas
Similar to a pasty, empanadas are the most popular type of dumpling in many Hispanic cultures such as Spain, Portugal and Argentina. Why we love ‘em? They’re stuffed to the gills with flavorful ingredients and fried until crispy. But this recipe is different: Instead of wheat-based wrappers, the low-carb dough for these savory empanadas is made form almond flour and a mix of cheeses. Even better, the chorizo filling is a well-balanced mix of spicy and tangy. Photo and recipe: Kyndra / Peace Love and Low Carb
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8. Knishes (Eastern Europe)
Make it healthier: Mini Potato and Chard Knishes
Knishes are baked pockets of dough stuffed — most traditionally — with mashed potato and onions. While the Jewish snack food can often be the size of a sandwich, this recipe for mini knishes is the perfect way to savor in moderation. Plus, the Swiss chard in the filling packs in a serving of green leafy vegetables, one of our favorite ways to make any comfort food just a little bit healthier! Photo and recipe: Samantha / Little Ferraro Kitchen
9. Samosas (India)
Make it healthier: Fully-Loaded Spring Samosas
If you’re a fan of warm, Indian spices, these samosas are for you. In addition to peas, carrots, chickpeas and baby spinach, the filling gets a healthy dose of cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom and cinnamon. The best part? These babies only call for a pinch of salt for flavor — the mix of spices does the rest of the work. And don’t skip out on the mint chutney. The mint, Serrano chili and slight sweetness from dates pairs perfectly with the baked samosas. Photo and recipe: Sarah Britton / My New Roots
10. Tamales (Mexico)
Make it healthier: Spinach, Corn and Cheese Tamales
Tamales are a classic Mexican dumpling made from masa, or finely ground cornmeal stuffed, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed. While authentic variations often rely on lard to make the cornmeal mixture tender, it’s easy to swap in healthier fats. This one calls for an equal mix of vegetarian shorting and vegan margarine. And while traditional fillings are made from shredded pork, a vegetable-based filling makes this recipe a bit healthier than the classic. Want a dose of protein in the mix? Try adding pre-cooked shredded chicken to the mixture before filling the tamales! Photo and recipe: Pavani / Cooks Hideout
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11. Chicken and Dumplings (USA)
Make it healthier: Paleo Chicken and Dumplings
Chicken and Dumplings is a down-home favorite all around the USA, but a few recipe modifications and the addition of paleo biscuits make this recipe gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, paleo, and Whole 30-friendly. Instead of butter, flour and heavy cream, the gravy for this chicken and dumplings recipe calls for coconut oil, arrowroot starch and coconut cream. And for the dumplings, you have almond flour, coconut flour and egg whites to thank for all the fluffy goodness! Recipe and photo: Amy / A Healthy Life for Me
Originally published October 2016. Updated February 2018.
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