If you like empanadas, calzones, or any type of savory pies, chances are you will be charmed by Chinese garlic chive turnovers.

It’s easy to see what these foods have in common and why they have universal appeal: alluring golden shell, luscious filling, warming, comforting, versatile, and perfect as a one-dish meal or snack.

This is not to say that each of them is not created in its unique way.  To make calzones, you would start with a yeast dough, the same one used for pizzas.  Empanadas call for a flaky dough using butter, lard or vegetable shortening.  As for garlic chive turnovers, the dough is surprisingly simple and ingenious: a hot water dough made with wheat flour and hot water!  By mixing very hot water (above 160 °F or 70 °C) with the flour, you partially cook the flour to reduce the degree of gluten development during kneading, creating a very soft dough.  Hot water dough is extremely useful when the cooking method is pan-frying or steaming.  Both potstickers and scallion pancakes, for example, are made with hot water dough.

In northern China, people eat these lovely turnovers a lot in the spring, when garlic chives are at their best with young and tender leaves and stems.  As you can see from the picture to the right, the leaves of garlic chives are flatter and broader than those of common chives.  They have a delicate garlic flavor, hence the name.  You can find them in Chinese or Korean grocery stores, as well as at farmers’ markets.

You can add other ingredients to the filling depending on what you are craving.  Here are a few suggestions: eggs, ground pork or chicken, pressed tofu, shrimp, cellophane noodles (mung bean noodles), and mushrooms.

My recipe below uses shrimp and eggs, both of which are frequently paired with garlic chives in stir-fry dishes.

Garlic chive turnovers 

Makes 4 turnovers

Ingredients:

7 oz (200 g) all-purpose flour
3/8 cup (90 ml) hot water (above 160 °F or 70 °C)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) cold water
2 eggs, beaten
4 oz (115 g) shrimp, shelled, deveined, and chopped into small pieces (pea size)
3 oz (85 g) garlic chives, cut into ¼-inch (6 mm) pieces.
1 teaspoon vegetable oil for cooking the eggs
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for pan-frying
1 teaspoon Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Procedure:

For the dough:

  1. Spread the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle.  Slowly pour the hot water to the flour, stirring quickly with chopsticks so the water is distributed evenly.  Sprinkle with the cold water and continue to stir.
  2. When the dough is no longer too hot to handle, use your hands to form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured work surface.  Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic, 2-3 minutes.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

For the filling:

  1. Lightly season the eggs with salt and pepper.  Heat a pan over medium heat and add a teaspoon of oil.  Pour the eggs into the pan and lower the heat.  Stir constantly until all of the runny liquid has just disappeared.  Transfer the eggs to a plate and let cool to room temperature.  Chop the eggs into small pieces.
  2. Add the garlic chives, shrimp, eggs, soy sauce, and sesame oil to a bowl and mix well.

For the turnovers:

  1. Divide the dough into 4 even pieces and form each piece into a ball.
  2. On a lightly floured work surface, press one ball down with your palm and roll into a 7-8” (18 – 20 cm) circle using a small rolling pin, ideally an Asian dowel-style rolling pin about one inch in diameter.
  3. Place a quarter of the filling in the center of the circle, and fold to form a half moon shape.  Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork to seal.  Gently flatten the turnover with your palm.
  4. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
  5. To cook the turnovers, add 2 tablespoons of oil to a hot skillet over medium low heat.  Pan-fry the turnovers until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.
  6. Cut each turnover in half.  Drizzle with Zhenjiang vinegar and serve immediately.

Variation: omit the shrimp and substitute  with chopped pressed tofu for a vegetarian version.

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