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Every Year Is the Year of the Dumpling

Dumplings are said to bring good fortune, and eating them is a time-honored traditional way to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which falls this year on Thursday. So why not rally a few friends for a little homemade dumpling feast?

I’m not recommending an elaborate dim sum spread at home. That’s a daunting concept, unless you have a kitchen equipped with bamboo steamers and woks, and a small army of skilled cooks with cleavers.

But good dumplings (or wontons) are well within a home cook’s reach and, frankly, are often better than what is served at restaurants.

Don’t misunderstand – there are many fine Chinese restaurants serving impeccable delicate dumplings, the likes of which no amateur could reproduce. But we all know that sad, thick-doughed, stodgy, indifferent dumplings abound. Factory-made and frozen, they are cheap and filling. Dunking them in a spicy dipping sauce makes them edible, barely.

I’m here to tell you that it’s not that hard to make good ones, so don’t settle.

If you want to go all out, you can make your own dough — it’s a basic one, made with just flour and water, which you then form into little blobs and roll to a flat circle. But why complicate matters? Use store-bought wrappers, then be sure to have a delicious filling. I like a hand-chopped mixture of shrimp and scallops, seasoned simply with ginger, scallions, hot pepper and sesame oil. It takes no time to put together, and can even be prepared a day ahead.

Rope a friend into helping stuff and crimp the wrappers. It’s a surprisingly rapid business. I like to cook a dozen at a time, enough to give four diners a few dumplings to drizzle with a savory chile-spiked vinegar dressing.

The beauty of it all is this: Once the dumplings hit boiling water, you are a mere four minutes away from a bowlful of pleasure. Of course, you’ll want more than one bowlful. Not a problem – simply repeat as necessary.

Shrimp and Scallop Dumplings

For the Dumplings:

½ pound sea scallops, roughly chopped

½ pound shrimp, peeled, cleaned and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon grated ginger

∑ cup chopped scallions

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

½ cup chopped cilantro, leaves and tender stems, plus a few sprigs for garnish

1 serrano chile, finely chopped

40 round dumpling wrappers, 3½-inch diameter

For the Dipping Sauce:

½ cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon spicy sesame oil

2 scallions, thinly slivered

Put chopped scallops and shrimp in a bowl. Add salt, pepper, ginger, scallions, sesame oil, chopped cilantro and serrano chile. Mix well with a wooden spoon, then cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. (Mixture may be prepared up to 1 day ahead.) You should have about 2½ cups filling.

Working in batches, line up dumpling wrappers on a work surface. Place 2 teaspoons filling in the center of each wrapper. Lightly moisten the edge of each wrapper with water and pinch together to surround filling and form a half-moon. Pleat edges to secure the seal.

Bring a large low pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce: Whisk together rice vinegar, spicy sesame oil and slivered scallions in a small serving dish.

Add 12 dumplings at a time to the pot. When they bob to the surface, simmer 4 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon or spider tool. Serve each person 3 or 4 dumplings in a small bowl. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon dipping sauce and garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Makes 40 dumplings