Dumpling Darling

By Kelly Visser, Iowa Food & Family Project

Photos by Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

They say good things come in small packages. At Dumpling Darling, good things are carefully stuffed, pinched and twisted into delightful, dumpling-sized packages.

Owned and operated by Lesley and Brian Triplett, the fusion restaurant brings together Asian flavors and Iowa-grown ingredients to create dumplings, bao buns and other Korean dishes.

“Dumplings are special because they can be any shape or size, they can incorporate a variety of ingredients and there are so many ways to prepare them,” says Lesley Triplett.

Lesley Triplett owns and operates Dumpling Darling, a fusion dumpling restaurant with locations in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

The Tripletts’ love of dumplings stems from the couple’s own love story. On their third date, they packed their bags and moved to Korea to teach, travel and experience new cultures. During their adventures throughout Asia, they discovered and fell in love with dumplings.

“We really missed dumplings when we moved back to Iowa,” Lesley says. “I started making my own to share our experiences in Korea with people in Iowa.”

Soon after creating her own traditional and fusion dumplings, Lesley began selling dumplings at the Iowa City Farmers’ Market and other festivals and community events around the state.

In 2015, the couple opened their first Dumpling Darling location at Newbo Market in Cedar Rapids and in 2017 opened a fast-casual shop in Iowa City. This summer, the Tripletts plan to open a larger-scale location in Des Moines’ East Village neighborhood.

Twist on Traditional

Each dish on the Dumpling Darling menu is an expression of the couple’s love for food, the earth and bringing people together. Whenever possible, the Tripletts opt for locally grown, raised and produced tofu, vegetables, meats and kimchi.

“There’s something special about seeing the face and talking to the person behind a product. To be able to know where it comes from and who makes it is very important,” Lesley says. “Our staff and customers appreciate the local ties our dishes have.” 

While some dishes are more traditional, like the steamed pork and cabbage dumplings or steamed kimchi mandu dumplings, Dumpling Darling will twist the traditional to pull in local ingredients.

“We’ll sometimes add or change menu items based on what’s fresh and available locally. For example, a farmer let me know they had fresh shishito peppers, which are my favorite, so we decided to add it into a dumpling,” she says.

Talkin’ Tofu

“People are generally intimidated by tofu, which is ironic because soybeans are growing all around us in Iowa,” says Lesley. 

The Japchae dish is a pan-fried sweet potato noodles with shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, carrots, sesame seeds and tofu from Old Capitol Food Company.

Tofu is a minimally processed soybean curd that has a mild flavor and easily absorbs the flavor of seasonings and marinades. Beyond the cooking benefits, the healthful and affordable soyfood is chock-full of protein, vitamins, fiber, healthy fats and phytonutrients.

“I love using tofu in our menu because it has so much flavor and texture versatility,” she says. “Plus, it is an opportunity to encourage people to discover a new food that is close to my heart.”

Dumpling Darling works closely with Old Capitol Food Company, a tofu producer in Iowa City dedicated to producing homegrown and handcrafted tofu. The company sources its soybeans from local farmers to produce the “best tofu, ever, period” and distributes to restaurants and retail locations throughout Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Ames.

Beyond producing tofu, Old Capitol Food Company is dedicated to building Iowans appreciation for the soyfood. The team shares recipes, blogs and is active community outreach events.

“We’re always trying to build awareness of how tasty tofu is and show people how to embrace tofu, not shy away from it,” says Jake Gratzon, co-founder of Old Capitol Food Company.

In celebration of National Soyfoods Month, be sure to stop by one of the Dumpling Darling locations to enjoy a menu item showcasing soyfoods, such as the kimchi dumplings, green curry bao or side of edamame. Visit the restaurant's website at www.dumplingdarling.com for more details.