Stuffed with sweet kabocha squash and miso-glazed eggplant, these Oyaki Japanese dumplings are a popular snack in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan.
As the weather chills and you spend more time in the comfort of your home, I thought it would be nice to share a fun Japanese dumpling recipe that will keep you busy in the kitchen. You – and maybe your kids too – get to play with flour, making the dough from scratch, and stuffing the dumplings with your favorite fillings!
I love making Oyaki (おやき) – Japanese Stuffed Dumplings – this time of year. They are such a delicious comfort food on cold days, so I just had to introduce them to you today.
What is Oyaki?
Oyaki (おやき) are stuffed dumplings that originated in Nagano Prefecture. The chewy oyaki dough is made from wheat flour or the mixture of wheat flour and buckwheat flour and stuffed with a variety of yummy fillings. The fillings are generally made from vegetarian ingredients such as fresh seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, beans, or pickles.
These rustic, homemade oyaki dumplings have played an important role in Nagano’s regional cuisine for generations. Located in central Japan, Nagano has steep mountains and a cold climate, so rice cultivation was very difficult. Instead, soba (buckwheat) became the main crop, with Nagano yielding the 2nd highest production by volume in Japan, only behind Hokkaido.
Oyaki may not be fancy food, but these humble treats from Nagano are a symbol of necessity, comfort, and sustainability.
How Oyaki Are Cooked
Oyaki were traditionally cooked and charred in the ash of an open fire in an irori (囲炉裏) hearth. These days, oyaki at specialty stores are typically roasted on an iron pan, then either steamed or broiled before enjoying piping hot.
To cook oyaki at home, you can try one of these methods:
- Pan-fried then steamed
- Steamed and then pan-fried
Personally, I like to pan-fry oyaki first to give them a nice char, and then steam till they are cooked. But I encourage you to try a few methods to find your favorite way of preparing Japanese stuffed dumplings.
Popular Fillings (An 餡) for Oyaki
The type of fillings for oyaki vary with region, with each area having its own local specialty. Today’s Oyaki recipe includes sweet and savory kabocha squash and miso-glazed eggplant fillings. They are very popular fillings for Japanese dumplings.
But there are endless choices of ingredients to stuff oyaki with. Here’s a list to give you some ideas to play with:
- Nozawana (a pickled leafy green famous in Nagano)
- Various mushrooms
- Kiriboshi Daikon (recipe coming soon!)
- Negimiso (leeks and miso)
- Walnut miso
- Hijiki seaweed dressed with walnut
- Sweet azuki read beans (anko)
- Sesame miso
- Fukinoto (butterbur sprout)
- Fukinoto miso
- Warabi (bracken)
- Japanese sweet potatoes
- Gobo (burdock root)
- Kinpira Gobo
- Local Shinshu salmon
- Jidori chicken
These ingredients are often seasoned with soy sauce or miso for savory dumplings and sweetened with sugar for sweet dumplings. The dough doesn’t have much taste, so make sure to add extra flavor to the fillings so the oyaki won’t taste bland.
There are so many creative fillings and seasonings to try. Have fun experimenting with new flavors!
Oyaki are a great snack or side dish to a meal. Serve oyaki with cold beer in the summer and hot tea in the winter. And when you have a chance to visit Nagano Prefecture, don’t forget to try these healthy and delicious snacks in specialty shops and food stalls!
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Oyaki (Japanese Stuffed Dumplings)
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plain flour)
- 200 ml boiling water (measure 1 cup and remove 2 ½ Tbsp to be precise)
- 1 tsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.)
- ¼ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- 12 oz kabocha squash (¼ kabocha with seeds)
- 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.)
- ¼ cup water
- 1 Tbsp sugar (you can reduce if you like; if you prefer a more savory taste, you can increase the amount of soy sauce but you will need to add some sugar to balance out the salty flavor and can't omit it completely)
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- pinch kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
The rest of ingredients
- 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.) (for cooking oyaki)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Make Dough
- Using the fine mesh strainer, sift the flour into a large bowl. Combine hot water, oil, and kosher salt.
- Mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients with chopsticks until you can pick up the dough with hands.
- Use the dough to pick up crumbs in the bowl.
- Knead on a lightly floured surface for about 3 minutes, until a smooth dough forms. In Japan, we say “knead until the texture is like your earlobe”.
- Form the dough into a ball, put it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or longer. Letting the dough rest increases its elasticity making it easier to work with later, so please don't skip.
To Make Eggplant Filling
- While the dough rests, make the fillings. Remove the eggplant stem and cut it half vertically. Then slice into half circles. Soak in water for 5-10 minutes (Meanwhile, you can cut Kabocha). Drain well and set aside.
- Heat sesame oil in a large frying pan and sauté eggplant until it is coated with oil. Cover the lid and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
- When tender, add sugar and combine well.
- Add miso and julienned shiso leaves, and mix well together. Transfer to a dish to let cool.
To Make Kabocha Filling
- Cut the kabocha into smaller wedges and remove the skin (See How To Cut a Kabocha Squash).
- Cut each wedge into thin slices and then cut into thin strips.
- Heat the oil in the frying pan and sauté the kabocha. When it’s coated with oil, add water and cook covered for 5 minutes on low heat.
- Add sugar and combine well.
- Add soy sauce and pinch of salt. Mix well together.
- Transfer to the dish to let cool.
To Shape into Oyaki
- Roll out the rested dough into a rectangular or circle shape and divide it into 12 pieces.
- Make each dough into a ball then press down with your hand.
- Stretch the dough to 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter. The important trick is to keep the center thicker than the edges. Using your fingers, stretch the outer edges by rotating the dough. This way, when you pinch the dough to seal, the dough won’t be too thick/too much.
- Place about 1 Tbsp of the filling in the center of each piece of dough. Close the oyaki by bringing the dough up over the filling, pinching at the top to seal.
- I use the same pleating technique as my Nikuman recipe (see the video on how I close the dough and pinch).
- After pinching the dough, put the pinched-side down on a lightly floured surface and twist a few times. Then press the top of the oyaki a little bit into a slightly flat ball.
To Cook Oyaki
- Set a steamer ready, by placing a steamer basket on top of wok/pot filled with enough boiling water. If you don’t have a steamer, after cooking the oyaki in a frying pan, add ¼ cup water to the pan. Cover with a lid and steam it until the water evaporates.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan (12 inch) and cook oyaki, pinched-side down.
- Pan fry for 3-4 minutes each side, or until golden brown.
- Transfer the oyaki to a steamer basket and cover to cook on high heat for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the oyaki and filling – small one should take about 10 minutes). Make sure the lid is covered with the kitchen towel so condensation on the lid doesn’t fall onto the oyaki.
- When they are done steaming, transfer to a wire rack (I use a bamboo strainer) where the heat can escape from the bottom.
To Serve and Store
- Enjoy them immediately. As soon as they become warm, not hot, cover the leftovers with plastic wrap (I wrap individually). Don’t wait until completely cooled down. You can freeze to store for up to a month, and re-steam to enjoy later.