My Quest for Vegan Soup Dumplings
Vegan soup dumplings are like the holy grail, or the fountain of youth: Elusive, perhaps unattainable. They certainly aren’t common.
I dreamed about meatless soup dumplings for years. I even fantasized about opening a food truck dedicated to the delicacy. I’d perfect a version of the classic xiaolongbao, of course, but I also imagined little sacs of salty miso soup, filled with scallion, tofu, and seaweed, and pockets of sweet, luxurious onion soup. Last winter I finally purchased a little bamboo steamer at a kitchen supply store in Chinatown. I brought it home and installed it in the cabinet next to the bowls, where it sat untouched for months, a monument to my dormant culinary ambitions.
This summer I decided to actually follow through: First, to finally recreate the gush of salty, fatty broth when you bite into a soup dumpling, and the exquisite burst of black vinegar and ginger on the palate; and second, to test my reckless and thoroughly unfounded theory that agar agar, like a magic incantation, will transform most any soup into a dumpling filling.
The soupiness of the final product is the integral feature. A good vegan dumpling simply isn’t hard to find if you live in a major metropolis like New York City. Even if you don’t, you can probably find some half-decent ones in the freezer aisle at the grocery store. In short, there is little need to labor over tiny rounds of dough or finely dice vegetables for the filling, unless it’s for the sheer pleasure of creation.
Vegan soup dumplings, on the other hand, are like the holy grail, or the fountain of youth: Elusive, perhaps unattainable. They certainly are not common. Xiaolongbao, the soup-filled steamed buns said to have originated in Nanxiang, China, are usually filled with a mixture of pork, sometimes also crab.
My quest began, as many culinary adventures do these days, with an internet search. Turns out, vegan or vegetarian soup dumpling recipes are few and far between. The notable exception was a recipe by Christina Ng, a food writer and vlogger whose YouTube channel East Meets Kitchen features vegan versions of classic Asian dishes. Since her recipe attempts to mimic the original xiaolongbao as closely as possible, it…