Dim Sum Recipe #3: Ha Gao Dumplings

The great thing about being Chinese American is that you can celebrate New Year’s, twice, every year.

It’s also ironic though, because just after creating all the these January New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier and make better choices, by February the Lunar New Year is a time where stuffing yourself silly is definitely encouraged if not mandatory.

Dumplings, noodles, rice cakes…go for it!

You see, Chinese New Year’s is like Christmas for the Chinese.  It’s the no holds barred holiday of the year where even if you aren’t skinny you’ll be told that you are just to encourage more eating.  “Please, eat!!!” your Chinese aunties will say.  And to make the holiday that much more calorific, Chinese New Year festivities last for two whole weeks!

As you already know, I love my tea foods and dim sum and because this a fact, I find that making dim sum at home can be just the right time to lighten things up a little.One of the quintessential food items to feast on during Chinese New Year celebrations are dumplings.  My favorite are the steamed ones, and Ha Gao are at the top of that list (right behind Siu Mai).  These white, translucent little pouches might seem light and healthful when they arrive at your table delicate and steaming, but Ha Gao dumplings actually contain a fair amount of pork fat or lard.

Not all dim sum recipes are easy to make healthier.  Luckily, with the use of a special ingredient in this Ha Gao recipe, it can be done.  The secret ingredient?  Vegetable oil spread, which brings some richness to the shrimp filling by serving as a replacement for pork fat.

I know the dim sum masters out there are probably quite displeased with me right now, but the way I see it–balance is key, especially when it comes to food choices.  Oh yes, and there are no pleats on my Ha Gao.  I’ll leave the fancier tricks for those same dim sum masters to execute!

The slightly chewy texture of the homemade wrapper is what makes this recipe especially delicious.  The dough easily comes together in not more than 5 minutes.  It’s common to use a Mexican tortilla press to flatten the dough balls into flat wrappers, but it’s really not necessary.  Just use any flat bottom pot or bowl and press down evenly and deliberately.

The more pressure you exert the flatter (and thinner) the wrapper will be.  Especially if you are new to the process, don’t press the skins too thin otherwise they will be really hard to work with.  Slightly thicker than a nickel coin thickness is about right. The process is very similar to making homemade tortillas.

I’ve made two versions of Ha Gao here.  One type is the more traditional filling with a white wrapper.  The other kind has spinach in the filling and some emerald green matcha in the wrapper for taste and color.  At the end of 2013 I went matcha-crazy, and apparently I am still suffering its effects.  At least this time, I’ve ventured into the savory realm!

Celebrate Chinese New Year and your New Year’s resolutions with light and steamy Ha Gao shrimp dumplings.  There is nothing like opening a bamboo steamer lid to find these delicate pouches staring up at you.  This is one time where making a dish homemade is worth the extra effort.  Eat these elegant dumplings fresh out of the steamer without hesitation or guilt…hey, you can only celebrate New Year’s twice every year!

Ha Gao (Steamed Shrimp Dumplings)

Makes 24 dumplings.



12 oz. peeled, deveined shrimp

2 tsp less-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp sherry

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp grated ginger

3 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegetable oil spread (I used Natural Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks) @ room temperature

2 tsp white sugar

1/8 tsp white pepper

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 of 8 oz. can of sliced bamboo shoots, drained and diced

2-3 stalks green onion, sliced thinly

****Green Wrapper Variation:  2 cup spinach, microwaved for 1 minute (uncovered), then chopped finely

{Ha Gao Wrappers- makes 24 dough balls}

Note:  You can easily make both the white and green wrappers for one batch of filling by cutting the wrapper recipe in half and placing one portion of the ingredients in one mixing bowl, and the second portion (with matcha added) into another separate mixing bowl.  You’ll end up with 2 doughs, one dough ball making 12 white wrappers and another dough ball making 12 green wrappers. 

2 cup wheat starch

1 1/3 cup tapioca flour

1/2 tsp fine salt

2 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegetable oil spread (I used Natural Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)

1 cup water just before boiling (175 degrees F)

*** Green Wrapper Variation:  mix 1/2 tsp matcha green tea powder into hot water


bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

1 Tbsp measure

parchment paper, cut in circle to size of bamboo steamer and perforated with 1″ cuts throughout

food processor

one large ziplock bag


large flat-bottom pan or mixing bowl


1.)  In a food processor, process 6 oz. of the shrimp with the 3 Tbsp of vegetable oil spread.  Cut the other 6 oz. into a 1/4″ dice.  Mix all filling ingredients together with shrimp, gently mixing in green onion last (and spinach if using).  Set aside in fridge to chill.

2.)  Place dry dough ingredients into a large mixing bowl.  Add the hot water and oil and mix the dough with chopsticks (or a spoon) until you get a shaggy dough, then knead the dough for about 2 minutes until you get a smooth dough that is very slightly tacky without actually sticking to your hand.

ha gao wrapper dough

3.)  Divide dough in half and roll each dough ball into a log, about 12 inches.  Cut the log in half, then cut each half into half again.  Cut each of the 4 shorter logs into 3 pieces.  You will get 24 dough pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, then place in airtight container and set aside.

*** Green Wrapper Variation:  If you have decided to make both the white and green wrappers, you should execute steps 2 and 3 once for the white dough and again for the green.  As a result you will have 12 dough pieces from the white dough and another 12 pieces from the green dough.

4.)  Cut all 4 edges off of the ziplock bag to create 2 squares of plastic.  You will use the two plastic sheet pieces to make wrappers.

5.)  Place a dough ball on top of one square of the ziplock bag, then place the other plastic sheet on top.  Using both hands on opposite sides of the flat-bottom pan,  press down directly onto the dough ball with a deliberate and even pressure.

Press dough ball until you get a 3 3/4″circle (or just under 4″) that is about 1/8″, slightly thicker than a nickel.

After the dough ball is flattened, peel off top plastic sheet carefully.  Flip the wrapper onto one hand, then peel off the second (bottom) plastic sheet to free the wrapper carefully and completely.  If your wrapper doesn’t detach from the ziplock sheet easily your dough has too much moisture and you should knead in some more tapioca starch into it to create a less-tacky/sticky dough.

6.)  Fill the wrapper with 1 Tbsp of the shrimp filling (regular filling for the white dough, and spinach filling for the green dough).  Fold half of the circle over the other half and press lightly to seal and create a half-moon dumpling.  Pinch the edges of the half-moon to seal.  Sit the dumpling up on its base and bring both edges in on one side.  Press edges of dumpling just off the vertical center of the dumpling, creating a propped up pouch-looking dumpling.  Repeat this process to make all 24 dumplings, then place the dumplings in a bamboo steamer lined with perforated parchment.

***  Make Ahead Tip:  Dumplings can be made up to 2 hours ahead of time and placed in fridge until steaming time.  Dust bottoms of uncooked dumplings with tapioca or wheat starch to prevent sticking.

Fill a large wok or stockpot half full with water and bring to a full boil.  Place bamboo steamer on top of wok or pot, then steam for 12 minutes while water is on full boil the entire time.  Eat Ha Gao fresh, right out of the steamer with soy sauce or chilli sauce for dipping.

Love Dim Sum?  Please check out my other recipes!  And as Chinese New Year comes closer there will be more to come!

Dim Sum Recipe #1:  Siu Mai Dumplings

Dim Sum Recipe #2:  Honeyed Pork Buns (Baked Char Siu Bao)

Dim Sum Recipe #4:  Egg Custard Tarts (Dan Tat)

Dim Sum Recipe #5:  Pork & Chive Potstickers

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They look absolutely gorgeous! I’ve always been too scared to try my hands on Har Gao mainly because of the skin. I almost forgot about the Chinese New Year! Yikes! Gotta start planning now 🙂

Helen Adams

Great post. Love the idea of the pot and Ziploc. I used a 3.5 inch pasta can to press mine and that worked out good.


Oh what a great idea! Perfect size and I would imagine the edge on the can helps to indicate when you should stop pressing…so clever!! =) Thanks for stopping by Helen!


These dumplings are super fresh and healthy tasting (in a good way!).

Fred also wants to know why we aren’t neighbors…he’s been super happy with me calling him “stud muffin” all evening…can’t get enough! 😉


they look delicious! i have questions, 1) can i substitute tapioca flour with something else? 2) if yes then with what? and 3) will i have to make any changes in the recipe for that substitute?

Bonnie Eng

Hey there! Honestly, there isn’t a good substitute for the tapioca flour. The ingredient lends a chewiness and translucence to the dumpling skins that isn’t easy to find in another ingredient. Are you having trouble finding it? If so, let me know! I can certainly give you some suggestions on where to find. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂


Hy, 🙂
when i add the spinach ? this part i don’t understand..
thank you,
Daniela 🙂