January 28th, was Lunar New Year. Growing up in Korea, this day was more sacred and celebrated than January 1st New Year. Since moving to America in 1988 though, my family started to focus less on Lunar New Year. My sister and I were eager to be Americanized so anything that was too “korean” or “traditional”, we didn’t want to be part of and I think my parents saw that. I believe our parents still celebrated the Lunar New Year on their own quietly, somehow without us really knowing about it.
Time passed, we grew up. In my late thirties now, and all I crave is TRADITION – the history behind all the food I used to grow up eating. The stories. The ingredients. Everything seems to be ‘fusion-ized’ these days. I do appreciate that we can take the best from each culture and make it our own, experiencing each other in that way. Still, the root of that culture, the people who grew up with them has been lost in the midst of fusion-ing. How was this food, this dish, prepared hundreds of years ago? What stories did it tell?
This year for New Years Day, we spent it in our home with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. Here’s my mom showing my husband how to make the dough not too thin or too thick. Also, she swears by this korean wheat flour for her dough and trust me, it makes all the difference in giving your dumpling dough a perfect hearty, yet light texture.
It was beautiful watching my husband and my mom cook together, sharing a meal, and embracing our culture. So, a way to re-introduce traditions we grew up with, this year for the first time, Leo and I invited some friends over and celebrated Lunar New Year. We made something Chinese and something Korean (baozi and kimchi dumplings). My husband is an incredibly gifted chef and I reap its benefits. I do the taste testing and writing.
Growing up, my mom always made kimchi “mandoo” (dumplings in Korean) because we preferred it over meat fillings. Both meat filling and kimchi fillings are very traditional. We tweaked my mom’s filling because we wanted to keep it more simple. My mom spends a lot of time on her filling. Her mandoos are filled with kimchi she made, tofu, mung bean sprouts, carrots and mushrooms sautéd in sesame oil. A lot of time and love.
Here is Leo’s 4 ingredient Kimchi Mandoo Filling: (again, Korean dishes are generally as I like to call it, “no recipe” dishes because it’s really about tasting as you cook and add) Simply add all ingredients in a big bowl and mix well. The dough mix is our secret recipe, but it’s just flour and water.
–Handful of kimchi chopped well (if we can’t get my mom’s, alternatives are The Brinery (local) or Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi (vegan). We have tried many, many brands of kimchi and if you are going to get store bought, these are the best in flavor with integrity in ingredients. Nothing artificial.
– Chopped green onions
–Chopped Greens. We used watercress because it works so well with the sour and spice from the kimchi. Watercress cuts that a bit with delicious bitterness and gives the filling depth of flavor.
– Extra Firm Tofu. We made the mistake of not squeezing out the water the first time so don’t forget! If water is not squeezed out, it will make the dough soggy, filling watery, and very difficult to shape the dumplings.
Dumplings then can be added to any veggie or chicken broth to make it into soup. This is the traditional meal on New Years Day. Garnish or prepare on side of the broth with green onions and toasted seaweed pieces. This is probably the only meal in Korea that doesn’t require any other side dishes. Typically, at every meal, there is rice, some kind of boiling soup, and side dishes that are just as important.
Not with Mandoo soup. You have the comfort of gluten, boiling soup, Korean staple (kimchi), all the flavors in one bowl- welcoming another year of good eating and fortune. For me, I find myself going back the traditions I once left behind. Sometimes the greatest treasure in food is the one that’s always been there. The simple, the humble, the incomparable.