Whether or not Chinese New Year marks a major event in your life, it's easy to love many of the foods associated with it.
Dumplings are a traditional choice for the holiday, which this year begins Feb. 10. And while there are seemingly endless variations on the simple theme of stuffing rounds of dough with something savory and delicious, the basic steamed dumpling is among my favourites. Not the least because it is incredibly weeknight friendly.
I always start by using purchased wonton skins as the dough. These skins, which are available in various shapes and sizes, are widely available, inexpensive, need no prep, cook quickly and are easy to work with.
For the filling, you can use virtually anything you like. Seasoned ground meats (pork, poultry or even beef all work quite nicely) are wonderful, especially when combined with diced vegetables, such as carrots and onion. The only trick is to make certain the ingredients aren't watery, as this will ruin the texture of the dumplings.
If your filling contains many vegetables, it's a good idea to give them a quick stir-fry before adding them to the mixture. This helps remove excess water. For smaller amounts of vegetables, this isn't necessary. You'll also want to opt for lean ground meats for the same reason.
For this dumpling recipe, I decided to go vegetarian and used purchased seasoned and baked tofu in the filling. If you'd rather use meat, substitute an equal amount of diced or ground meat and skip the food processing step. You'll also need to steam for a bit longer (use an instant thermometer to check the progress and ensure you hit a safe cooking temperature).
For this recipe, I use a simple fold-and-pinch method of forming the dumplings. It requires no special equipment or skill. But if you make a lot of dumplings, consider getting a dumpling press sold for just a few dollars at Asian markets. These clamshell-style presses neatly fold and crimp the dumplings into attractive packets.
VEGETARIAN STEAMED DUMPLINGS WITH SWEET-AND-SOUR SAUCE
Seasoned baked tofu is sold with the other refrigerated Asian items, usually in the grocer's produce section.
Start to finish: 45 minutes
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 the 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 the 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 the mixture in the centre of each wonton wrapper. Dunk your fingers in water, then use them to wet the edges of the wrapper. Gather the edges of the wrapper over the filling, pinching them together to form a small bundle. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.
In a large saute pan, bring about 1 inch of water to a boil. Set a bamboo or other steamer basket over the water, then lightly coat it with cooking spray.
Working in batches if necessary, arrange the dumplings in the steamer (they should not touch), then cover and steam for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the sweet-and-sour sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the vinegar, brown sugar, jam, ketchup, soy sauce and hot sauce. Bring to a simmer. In a small glass, mix the cornstarch and water, then add to the saucepan. Simmer for another 2 minutes, or until slightly thickened.
Serve the dumplings with sweet-and-sour sauce on the side for dipping.
Nutrition information per dumpling: 50 calories; 10 calories from fat (20 per cent of total 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; 135 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch