To my mom, my aunt, and my two grandmothers. Thank you for my genetic dumpling making ability.
Having this list of who's who of dumpling makers in my family meant that growing up, we made dumplings. A lot of them. As a younger child, after the filling was made, I'd sit down on the floor with my grandmothers and my mom and begin the tedious process of filling the dumplings. Scoop, wet, seal. I'd get criticism from my grandmother that the dumplings weren't plump enough and that the ratio of filling to skin had to be a lot more filling to the skin. "That's how people can tell you're an expert dumpling maker" she'd tell me. I learned more complicated double folding techniques so that my dumpling looked like a cute little hat. Again there'd be critique and criticism about the shape and the amount of filling inside.
As I got older, my job as a dumpling assistant became more complex. I'd have to keep the water boiling and get all the vegetables blanched, and then once the vegetables were blanched, I used a food processor to chop them up to just the right size, and then I'd move those chopped vegetables to a bag and would squeeze the vegetables until my mom told me that they were the right texture. It'd be my mom's ultimate job of seasoning, mixing, and making sure everything tasted good altogether.
It was also through these times that I was instructed on a bit of the wizardry behind Korean dumpling making. Squeezing the water from the vegetables and tofu ensured a firm yet fluffy texture to the filling of the dumpling. Seasoning the meat separately from the vegetables was also an absolute must because if you tried to season it all together, you'd get bland dumplings. My paternal grandmother also had a special ingredient inside her dumpling which was a pinenut pushed into the center of each dumpling before folding it up and sealing it. It added a special texture and nutty flavor to her dumplings (but is a technique I do not use because of Son's allergies.) A light hand was also important as you didn't want to make the vegetables too mushy or become watery.
Despite my excessive training and apprenticeship, dumpling making was not a life my own mother wanted for me. In fact, she wanted our special dumpling making traditions to end with her, and not have me do them. "It's too much work, too strenuous, and it's not something that I want you to do for the rest of your life." Instead, she masterfully makes trays and dumplings, freezes them and brings them to me when she comes to visit. She has no desire to see the repeat of dumpling making pass to her daughter for fear of the lifetime of work it would entail. Truthfully, dumpling making is a lot of work, and don't get me started on the condition of your kitchen after you're done with all the chopping and blanching and squeezing and filling.
However, if you've got dumpling making in your blood, it's not a life you can escape. My mother has given me various apparatuses for dumpling making (including a machine that squeezes the liquid out of the vegetables for you) and yet didn't want me to get involved in it. However, I love dumplings and I love the kind that are freshly homemade. Because of that, I had no choice. I had to roll up my sleeves and make dumplings on my own, despite my mother's protests to the contrary. I trained in Korea, under my grandmother (who also insisted that I shouldn't do this) and I came back to the US to practice. It was my aunt who gave me the wisest words about dumpling making: "Don't think you have to make a LOT of dumpling mixture, just make enough for your family."
Most recently, it was the sour kimchi and two daughters at home during break that really pushed me to make them, because Family loves the dumplings like you wouldn't believe. I decided to use the sour kimchi and turn them into dumplings, which is another family dish that I grew up eating. Sour kimchi actually saves a few steps because you don't have to blanch the cabbage; the kimchi is already tender enough from fermentation that makes blanching unnecessary. There is less need to season, as kimchi has a lot of the seasoning value for you, and all in all, it's a great way to get rid of some kimchi that you cannot eat otherwise (except in a stew, in a grilled cheese sandwich, or sauteed with pork. But I digress.)
This time, during this round of dumpling making, Daughters begged to be let in on the tradition of filling and folding dumplings. I suddenly missed my childhood, sitting on the floor with my grandmothers, filling the dumplings as quickly as I could. Daughters, as it was their first time doing it, were not skilled, and in fact made some horrible dumplings at first. But as I coached and instructed, they got better. They began filling those dumplings full and became faster. And although it's not a life I want for them either (I really need to show people what happens to your kitchen) I know that once again, dumpling making is in THEIR blood. They won't be able to stop it either.
As for the actual preparation, set aside a good amount of time, about 3 hours to provide adequate time to make the filling and fill the dumplings. You'll need a large food processor (not the mini prep type) or really good knife skills, which is not a method I recommend at all. I've actually hand chopped dumpling mixture once in Korea, and it's not something I'll do again. EVER. If you don't have a food processor, definitely borrow one from a friend. You'll need a muslin or cloth bag, in order to squeeze your vegetables well.
Kimchi Dumplings (김치만두)
Makes 85 to 100 dumplings, depending on your wrapper size and how full you are stuffing them
4 cups well-ripened kimchi (sour), drained in a colander (but not washed)
1 onion, peeled and cut into quarters
16 oz mung bean sprouts
14 oz soft tofu
1 lb boneless pork loin chops
5 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of peeled ginger, sliced into pieces
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons crushed sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
2 packages of gyoza wrappers (I prefer Dynasty brand because it doesn’t use egg)
Food processor (large capacity, not mini prep)
Muslin bag or cheesecloth bag (I love these dried food bags from Whole Foods.) You can also use a clean dishtowel.
Bring a pot of water to boiling. Blanch mung bean sprouts for about 2 minutes, and then remove from heat and drain. Set aside.
In a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, begin processing all the filling. Chop the mung bean sprouts. A couple of pulses, totaling no more than 30 seconds should be enough to get them small enough. Remove blad from food processor. Remove chopped bean sprouts from processor and place into muslin or cheesecloth bag. Squeeze mung bean sprouts until volume is reduced by about half. Remove squeezed bean sprouts from bag and place into a large bowl, large enough that you will be able to make your filling in it.
Replace blade on food processor and process onions, once again a few pulses to get fine pieces, but not mush. Remove blade from processor. Remove onions from processor, place into bag, and squeeze until volume is reduced by about half. Place onion into same bowl as mung bean sprouts.
Replace blade into food processor. Add 4 cups of kimchi. Once again process kimchi until it is in small pieces, but not slush (about ¼ inch pieces). Remove blade. Remove kimchi and place into bag, and squeeze until volume is reduced by about half. Add kimchi into same bowl as mung bean sprouts and onions.
Take tofu and place into bag and squeeze until the volume is reduced by about half. Add to bowl with the rest of the vegetables. Add 2 tablespoons sesame oil and 1 tablespoon crushed sesame seeds and mix together, using your hand gently.. This means do not squeeze too hard but rather lightly incorporate all the ingredients together. After all the ingredients are distributed, taste. This portion (since it’s all cooked) should allow you to check the seasonings. It should be well seasoned, not bland and not salty. If needs salt, add a pinch of salt and mix again.
To the food processor, add pork, sliced ginger, and garlic cloves. Pulse pork until all pieces are cut into a fine mince. Add ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and mix together. Add pork mixture TO vegetable mixture. Once again, using a gentle hand, mix ingredients together. This is the dumpling filling.
Fill a small bowl with water. Taking one dumpling wrapper, scoop about 1 heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger in water and wet the outer edge of one half of the wrapper. Fold wrapper over and using a bit of pressure, seal the dumpling shut tightly. Lay dumpling on tray, and continue until filling is all gone. This is where employing child labor comes in very handy.
After the dumplings are wrapped (or in process of being wrapped) there are two cooking methods you can employ - boiling or frying. Both are delicious, but boiling allows you to really appreciate the dumpling filling while frying makes you appreciate the crispy dumpling skin.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once water begins boiling, add dumpling to water, just enough so that there is room for the dumplings to swim around. Dumplings are finished when they float to the top and the skin is translucent and wrinkling over the top of the filling. Using a slotted spoon, remove from water. Bring water to a boil again and repeat with additional dumplings.
Heat a medium pot with at least 3 inches deep of oil. Heat oil over medium high heat. Place a rack over a paper towel lined cookie sheet. When the oil begins to shimmer, add a test dumpling to the oil. The dumpling should immediately sizzle and begin cooking. Dumplings cook quickly in the right temperature oil, about 4 minutes and they should be golden brown. Move dumplings to rack and allow them to drain and cool.
Delicious any way you have them.