cooking our roots.


I love America. I really do. This is the country that allowed one generation be the difference between a Korean farm girl without a high school diploma and a Midwest American girl with a law degree. For all its flaws (of which there are many, including a growing chasm between the very rich and the very poor), I appreciate America’s diversity and freedom – both of which contribute to America’s access to a whole world of food. Sam’s parents came to town for a couple weeks from Canada. We ate a lot of Korean food, and it felt like home. It felt right downright American (err, and Canadian) to be making Korean food in my new San Franciscan home. One day, we spent the afternoon making Korean dumplings – mandu.


I’ve attempted to make mandu in the past and know that I’m not good at it. My dumplings are misshapen or too stuffed and burst when boiled. But, Sam’s mom was patient with me. The recipe for the stuffing is, of course, not precise. Here are the ingredients to taste:

  • ground beef and ground pork in equal parts (1-2 lbs each)
  • firm tofu, crumbled (1 package)
  • garlic, chopped
  • yellow onion, chopped (1-2 large)
  • green onions, chopped (scallions)
  • chives, chopped
  • sesame oil
  • salt
  • dumpling wrappers – thicker wrappers are good for stews (like mandu gook) and thinner wrappers are sufficient for pan-frying.

Using your hands, mush all the ingredient together evenly. Before stuffing the dumplings, fry up a little piece of the stuffing to make sure there’s enough salt.


There are different ways to shape your mandu. Place a spoonful of stuffing in the middle of the circle wrappers, and then moisten the edges of the circle with water. (Growing up, I was told to use egg to close the edges, but Sam’s mom learned from a Chinese woman at the grocery store that water does just fine, and it does). Close the mandu in half, pinching the edges shut. If you want to keep it half-moon-shaped, pinch three little folds at the top. Or, the way I prefer because of the adorableness factor, bring the edges of the half moon together and pinch, making a round chubby dumpling. Boil the dumplings until they rise in the water and are all wrinkled up. Drain and eat, or drain and fry, or drain and freeze. The dumplings should be served with Korean dipping sauce:

  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • sesame seeds
  • Korean red pepper flakes
  • chopped scallions

Growing up, Sam’s grandmother made pork ribs that weren’t a typically Korean dish, and it was Sam’s favorite. Realizing it had been years since he had the dish, Sam requested his mom to make it before they returned to Vancouver. The ribs require cooking in three parts.


First boil the pork ribs in water with a couple large spoonfuls doenjang and copious amounts of sliced ginger. Boil until the ribs are cooked through, without any pink ~ 15-20 minutes.


Drain the ribs and remove the ginger. Places ribs back in the pot with sliced onions, a dash of soy sauce, chopped garlic, and sesame oil. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft ~ 10-15 minutes. While the ribs are cooking, make the sauce:

  • gochujang
  • soy sauce
  • garlic
  • sugar
  • sesame oil
  • sesame seeds
  • (optional: more doenjang to taste)


Add the ribs to a slow cooker (or keep in the pot over low heat, taking caution not to burn the meat), pour the sauce over the ribs and mix until ribs are evenly coated.


Cook on low heat for ~2 hours. The sauce triggers pretty much every type of taste your tongue has the luxury of experiencing – sweet, salty, spicy, sour/bitter (tangy), and umami.  It only tastes better as leftovers.


For a July 4th BBQ, I used the same recipe with thick cut pork belly, typically used for bo ssam, with excellent results. With red leaf lettuce, sticky rice, and a morsel of porkbelly, eat in one large bite. And, I fried up some leftover mandu. American gluttony at its best.

DSC02319 _Snapseed

God bless (North) America.

3 thoughts on “cooking our roots.

  1. i really want to learn to make mandu. and i think that pork rib recipe is identical to the one my mom uses. i can’t wait to have my own space (and utensils) so i can cook for real.

    • i assumed mandu was going to be one of those things that will be too much of a hassle to make at home. but, i see now that if you make a large batch at once, it makes future meals and dishes for larger parties all the easier. and, that’s awesome your mom made those ribs too. it’s pretty rare to find at a korean restaurant. they’re really really good. and, we have the luxury of knowing what they should taste like when we cook them. even though i have my own kitchen, i still covet better appliances and utensils. i can’t justify certain things unless i’m cooking regularly for more than 2 people.

  2. Pingback: vancouver: home away from home… | Rhea eats.

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