Kitchn Love Letters

The $10 Pantry Staple That’s Upgrading My WFH Lunches

published Feb 27, 2022
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Credit: Thao Thai

Recently, I wrote an email to a coworker that began with this profound meditation: What day is it today? In my head, I’m in Dumpling Land, and there is no time or space in Dumpling Land. Only taste. 

My love of dumplings is long-reaching, through winding annals of personal history that first began with my mom’s comforting wonton soup, ladled out on days when I had the sniffles as a kid. Even now, I get antsy if there isn’t at least one package of frozen dumplings in my freezer. (When making them at home, I’m liable to double or triple a batch, so that my future-self can satisfy a desire for dumplings at will.) But it happens and, sometimes, I run out of dumplings. What to do? I recently saw this viral TikTok trend, featuring pan-crisped, rice paper dumplings, and I knew what would be in my WFH lunch lineup next. 

Credit: Thao Thai

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This trend is perfect because it’s so very flexible — you can really stuff the rice paper with any leftover, pre-cooked protein in your fridge, along with some julienned veggies or a pre-cut coleslaw mix. The one non-negotiable, of course, is the rice paper. Luckily, I always have a package of these wrappers in my pantry. Even when I don’t have any dumplings in my freezer!

Rice paper is gluten-free, and usually made of rice and tapioca starch, salt, and water. All you have to do is soak the hard round sheets in a shallow dish of water for 5 to 10 seconds, until they are soft and pliable. (Don’t over-soak, or the rice paper will be too difficult to handle!) They are quite thin, so once they are softened, you’ll want to work quickly. (It helps to have your fillings in a bowl nearby, ready to go.) You can find rice paper in Asian grocery stores, where they’re often called spring roll wrappers. They will also likely be in any nearby grocery store, in the international foods section. You can also find them online!

I usually keep rice paper wrappers around for Vietnamese spring rolls, another quick and easy meal we like to put together with paper-thin slices of pork loin, pink curls of shrimp, fresh herbs, and tangles of vermicelli. (My very favorite spring roll involves slices of pineapple alongside flaky white fish and fresh herbs.)

Credit: Thao Thai

And TikTok had inspired me. I could try something new with my rice paper and embrace my love of dumplings by making pan-fried rice paper dumplings. Our family had some leftover crab and shrimp in the fridge, so I gave the seafood a new spin, mincing each finely, then adding in scallions and seasonings. I layered a tablespoon of filling into each rice paper wrapper, then folded them into little square packets. Some TikTok recipes have you using just one wrapper; while others call for two. I recommend folding your dumplings with two rice paper wrappers, to make sure the dumpling has some structural integrity while frying in the pan; a soggy dumpling is a sad dumpling.

Then you pan-fry your rice paper dumplings in a small amount of oil for a few minutes on each side. Work in batches, because if the dumplings touch, they’ll get as attached as Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly — the proximity is great for Hollywood romance, I suppose, but less desirable for dumplings. Add a savory dipping sauce and you, too, are on your way to Dumpling Land. 

Once you’ve gotten your fill of dumplings, you can store the leftover, dry rice paper in a cool pantry for a few months after opening. Some cooks say they last indefinitely, but be sure to check the expiration dates, if available on your package. 

Do you have a favorite brand of rice paper? Tell us about it in the comments below!