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Chinese New Year is a great time to try making dumplings

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press

Simple to make, they also work for an easy weeknight meal

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 12:01 am

Dumplings are a traditional choice for Chinese New Year, which this year begins Feb. 10. The basic steamed dumpling is among my favorites. Not the least because it is incredibly weeknight friendly.

I always start by using purchased wonton skins as dough. These skins, which are available in various shapes and sizes, are widely available, inexpensive, need no prep, cook quickly and are easy to use.

For filling, you can use virtually anything you like. Seasoned ground meats (pork, poultry or even beef) are wonderful, especially when combined with diced vegetables, such as carrots and onion. If your filling contains many vegetables, give them a quick stir-fry before adding them to the mixture. This helps remove excess water. For smaller amounts of veggies, this isn't necessary. You'll also want to opt for lean ground meats for the same reason.

For this recipe, I decided to go vegetarian and used purchased seasoned and baked tofu in the filling. If you'd rather use meat, substitute equal amount of diced or ground meat and skip food-processing step. You'll also need to steam for a bit longer (use instant thermometer to check progress and ensure you hit a safe cooking temp).

Vegetarian steamed dumplings with sweet-and-sour sauce

Start to finish: 45 mins.

Makes 48 dumplings

For the dumplings:

12 ounces seasoned baked tofu, cut into cubes

6 scallions, ends trimmed

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, leaves and stems

1/2 cup finely grated carrots

1 whole egg or 2 egg whites, beaten

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon hot sauce

12-ounce package 3-inch square wonton wrappers

For sweet-and-sour sauce:

1/2 cup rice vinegar (cider vinegar can be substituted)

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons apricot jam

2 tablespoons ketchup

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

In a food processor, combine tofu, scallions, garlic, cilantro, carrots, egg, hoisin, soy sauce, sesame oil and hot sauce. Pulse until the tofu is finely chopped, but not ground, about ten 1-second pulses.

One at a time, place 1 teaspoon of mixture in center of each wonton wrapper. Dunk fingers in water, then use them to wet edges of wrapper. Gather edges of wrapper over filling, pinching them together to form small bundle. Repeat with leftover filling and wrappers.

In large saute pan, bring about 1 inch of water to boil. Set bamboo or other steamer basket over water, then lightly coat it with cooking spray.

Working in batches if necessary, arrange dumplings in steamer (they shouldn't touch), then cover and steam for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare sweet-and-sour sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine vinegar, brown sugar, jam, ketchup, soy sauce and hot sauce. Bring to simmer. In small glass, mix cornstarch and water, then add to saucepan. Simmer for another 2 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Serve dumplings with sweet-and-sour sauce on the side for dipping.

Per dumpling: 50 calories; 10 calories from fat (20 percent of calories); 1 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 2 g protein; and 135 mg sodium.