In the latest installment of our series Hungry Hearts, we're introducing you to Caroll Lee, Board Certified Health Counselor and the founder of Provenance Meals. Today Caroll shares a family recipe —and speaks to how when she finds herself in the kitchen today, those lasting emotions of food and love remain.
An enduring memory I have from being a child is sitting with my mother and siblings at the kitchen table, with the lacquer blue tray in front of me to hold the dumplings (or “mandu” in Korean) that we were making. My mom’s were always perfect. She laid out the square wrappers on a tray so that they overlapped, dipped her finger in a bowl of water and wet the exposed edges of the wrappers. Then she rapidly spooned a mound of dumpling filling onto it and folded it into a perfect little gift, set it on another clean tray, and moved on to the next.
Mine were lumpy, with meat coming out of the sides, or maybe the wrapper would rip because I’d added too much filling. They were nowhere near as pretty as my mom’s. But I didn’t care. There’s too much fun to be had in playing with your food.
I don’t know what was better—making the mandu or eating them. My mom would fry them up and serve them with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. The crisp wrapper, the juicy fatty filling, the tang of the vinegar in the salty soy... I’m salivating thinking of them now.
I lost my mom very suddenly to brain cancer when she was 66. She died much too young, and now, as a holistic nutritionist, I often think of her diet and the role it played in her health.
She emigrated from South Korea with my Dad and my older brother and sister in 1969 to Washington, D.C. Can you imagine, moving halfway across the world, not speaking the language, and to the nation’s capital during the Summer of Love, no less? The sheer bravery is something that inspires me every time I think of it.
There was plenty of Korean food on our table growing up. But there was also a good amount of American food. I remember a time in the 80s when she took a microwave cooking class that resulted in a microwaved Thanksgiving turkey that had to be “painted” brown to look like it was roasted! There was Stouffer’s french bread pizzas and Swanson’s TV dinners in the freezer for quick meals for the kids, and my mom had a penchant for bagels on weekend mornings, often spread with Country Crock margarine.
I can’t help but compare this diet of refined flours and unhealthy fats with the vegetable-heavy Korean diet made with mostly nutrient-dense and whole food ingredients, like rice, fish, seaweed, and kimchi. Of course, I can’t know if a different diet would have given us more time with my Mom. I do know that two of her older sisters are alive and well in Korea in their eighties, and that her eldest sister lived a strong and robust life until age 93. In fact, South Korean women have some of the longest life spans in the world. I suspect that the unhealthier diet of the West may have robbed me of some wonderful years with my Mom.
I make mandu with my own kids now. We make it every year on New Year’s Day because eating mandu and rice cake soup brings good fortune for the rest of the year. My dumplings are almost as nice as my Mom’s now. My kids’ dumplings? Not so much. But they don’t really care and in the end, it all tastes the same—the taste of memories and of love.
Makes approximately 100 dumplings
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 cups cooked Korean vermicelli noodles
2 medium onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp minced peeled ginger root
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
12 oz firm tofu, drained and crumbled
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
½ cup cabbage kimchi with juice, chopped
2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp black pepper
2 packages square dumpling wrappers (often sold frozen)
For the dipping sauce:
splash of rice wine vinegar
sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds
Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Add mung bean sprouts and cook for 3-4 minutes, then drain in colander and rinse with cold water until cool enough to touch. Squeeze out as much of the water from the sprouts as possible, then chop and set aside.
Cook Korean vermicelli noodles according to package instructions, drain and cool, then chop into bite size pieces and set aside.
In a skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat and saute the onions until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and scallions and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, add sprouts, vermicelli noodles, tofu, beef, pork, kimchi, salt and pepper to bowl. Mix with your hands until smooth and ingredients are evenly distributed.
Place a small bowl of water on your work surface. Remove dumpling wrapper from the package and lay flat. Dip your finger into the water and wet the rim of the wrapper. Spoon about a tablespoon of the filling into the center, then bring the diagonal corners of the wrapper together, pinching with your thumb and index finger to seal the sides. Set aside on a parchment paper-lined tray or baking sheet and continue folding the remaining dumplings to form a single layer on your trays. You can put the trays of dumplings in the freezer overnight and then transfer to freezer-safe bags for easier storage. Or fry, boil, or steam the dumplings right away and serve with dipping sauce.