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Dumplings: Traditions old and new, wrapped up together

  • Fried Korean Dumplings, meat-filled and vegetable-filled, plus Korean Seasoned Dipping Sauce, left, and Homemade “Rooster” Sauce. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)

    Fried Korean Dumplings, meat-filled and vegetable-filled, plus Korean Seasoned Dipping Sauce, left, and Homemade “Rooster” Sauce. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)

  • Korean Fried Vegetable Dumplings come together: Egg wash is applied halfway around the wrapper, then folded over to form a triangle. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photos for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)

    Korean Fried Vegetable Dumplings come together: Egg wash is applied halfway around the wrapper, then folded over to form a triangle. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photos for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)

  • Grace Hong passes a tray of dumplings. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)

    Grace Hong passes a tray of dumplings. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)

  • Fried Korean Dumplings, meat-filled and vegetable-filled, plus Korean Seasoned Dipping Sauce, left, and Homemade “Rooster” Sauce. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)
  • Korean Fried Vegetable Dumplings come together: Egg wash is applied halfway around the wrapper, then folded over to form a triangle. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photos for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)
  • Grace Hong passes a tray of dumplings. Illustrates DUMPLING (category d), by Cathy Barrow, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Dayna Smith)

Grace Hong is pretty sure her mother would be appalled. Not at the fact that she and her husband celebrate the new year with traditional lucky mandu, dumplings made the Korean way. But possibly at every other aspect of their celebration. With 600 dumplings, 60 guests and an unmentionable amount of wine and beer, the annual fete they call Dumplingfest violates most, if not all, of her mother’s holiday traditions.

Hong, 40, grew up in Lyons, N.Y., not far from Rochester.

“We were the only Asian family in town,” she says. And every New Year, for a small, family-only gathering, her mother would make duk mandu guk, a traditional Korean soup. She would fill a large soup pot with beef bones and aromatic vegetables to make the rich broth, in which she simmered meat-filled dumplings and glutinous rice cakes, symbols of prosperity.

Compare that to Dumplingfest, which was born when Hong missed the flavors of her mother’s cooking 10 years after her death. At the first party in 2004, she remembers three skillets filled with oil, a few dozen dumplings – and an unholy mess. The next year, she and husband David Olsen, 42, bought a deep-fryer and invited more people to their small apartment in D.C., encouraging everyone to help form the dumplings, tend the fryer and stir the soup. Even early on, by inviting friends Hong was veering away from her mother’s family-centric celebration. Fried dumplings? They were never part of a New Year’s meal, either. And no guest, on any occasion, would have been asked to shape their own dumplings. Ever.

One of the only things the two traditions have in common, in fact, is the timing. Though the Lunar New Year marked in some Asian households is later than the West’s (this year it’s Jan. 31 in Korea, China and Vietnam), Hong and her husband celebrate on Jan. 1, as her parents always did and as many Korean Americans do. “All of us kids were sure to be home from school on that day,” she says.

The other tie that binds the parties is, of course, the main attraction. Across Asian cultures, filled dumplings – steamed, fried or simmered in soup – are said to bring good fortune in the coming year. Andrea Nguyen, author of Asian Dumplings, says they’re formed to look like gold ingots, to represent prosperity. However, at least traditionally, “Korean dumplings are not so much about the shape as the texture,” she says. “The wrappers are made from wheat and a glutinous rice flour, so they are chewy – even a little sticky. The texture says, ‘Good fortune will stick to you.’ ”

Hong’s parents, Dong-Gi and Theresa Hong, emigrated from Korea in 1967 and, like many first- and second-generation immigrant families, assimilated in dozens of ways to accommodate their new homeland. But the change Hong and Olsen made in 2011 would have been downright befuddling to Theresa. After viewing the documentary Forks Over Knives, the two avid bicyclists became vegan.

“We’re not intransigent: We’ll enjoy the meat-filled dumplings at Dumplingfest or taste non-vegan dishes from time to time,” Olsen says.

Nonetheless, adds Hong, “the addition of a vegetarian dumpling to the already modified new year celebration is another check mark on the list of things my mother never would have done.”

Dumplingfest

Twenty-eight hours before this year’s Dumplingfest begins, Hong and Olsen pull into the parking lot at an outlet of the Asian grocery chain H Mart. They organize shopping bags, the list and a plan of action before plunging into the crowd.

Hong has carefully calculated how much food to buy. She plans for about a dozen fried dumplings per person and another three in each bowl of soup. Some guests will go far beyond their allotted 12, so there is plenty of wiggle room. Last year, there were no dumplings left at the end of the night. Not one.

She picks out white cabbage, scallions and grassy, pungent Chinese chives. Olsen is sent in search of bean sprouts and mushrooms. Swerving through the aisles with precision and speed, they add a bucket of freshly made, soft tofu and nearly 10 pounds of ground beef and pork before moving on to the center aisles for rice vermicelli noodles and roasted, salted seaweed sheets – another shortcut her mother would look upon with dismay. As a child, Hong remembers spending hours sitting tableside with sheets of seaweed, painting each one with Korean sesame oil, sprinkling them with salt and stacking them high. After preparing dozens of sheets, she stood at the stove wafting them back and forth across the electric burner to roast. It’s easier to buy them.

In the freezer section, Hong picks up a dozen packages of gyoza skins, half of them square and the other half round – and, unlike traditional mandu wrappers, made of wheat, so they’re not as sticky. She uses the shapes to distinguish between meat-filled and vegetarian dumplings.

A crate of blue crabs brings back memories of watching her mother tearing live crabs to pieces and packing them in jars with salt and chili paste to ferment: “My mom was tough.” As in many Korean homes, there was a refrigerator in the basement dedicated to all manner of kimchi. In H Mart’s prepared-foods section, Hong selects a variety of house-made kimchis: radish, zucchini and the traditional cabbage. She supplements these spicy dishes with something milder, tofu in sweet chili sauce. She lingers over a small container of fermented, tiny, whole fish – a favorite snack from childhood – then drops it into the shopping cart.

Back at their home, Hong pulls out two enormous bowls and starts mixing dumpling fillings while Olsen sets up the back porch, running long extension cords to two deep-fryers.

The party starts mid-afternoon and goes until nearly midnight. Hundreds of dumplings are formed at the kitchen peninsula. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the experienced teach the newcomers, and tidy triangles and half-moons are lined up on baking sheets, simplifying transport to the fryers. Hot fried dumplings are passed around with bowls of Sriracha and spicy soy sauce as well as a traditional sweet-and-salty dipping sauce. Everyone is smiling broadly. There is no way to be unhappy eating a dumpling, and this is most evident on the face of Ryan, Hong and Olsen’s 17-month-old son.

In the 10 years since Dumplingfest began, the guests have grown older, some have married and many have children. This year, that change is seen in a living room filled with kids happily playing, munching on dumplings and sipping soup. The crowd grows each year, as new attendees learn the correct way to fill and fold a dumpling. Those new to the process soon learn that overstuffing leads to dumpling failure in the fryer, so they are encouraged to hold back, using only about a teaspoon of the savory filling in each packet.

Other guests oversee the deep-fryers with Olsen, braving freezing temperatures to coax a crisp, puffy exterior from each carefully formed triangle or half-moon.

It’s true Theresa Hong, who died in 1994, would be surprised by the way her family celebration has morphed into Dumplingfest. But while she might take issue with some of the specifics, surely she would appreciate the spirit: the spectacular flavors, the hospitality and the camaraderie her daughter cooks up in her own kitchen.

Korean Fried Dumplings (Goon Mandu)

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water

4 ounces cored and quartered green cabbage

2 ounces dried thin rice vermicelli noodles

1/4 medium yellow onion, cut into chunks

1/2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

4 ounces lean ground beef

4 ounces ground pork

2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped

1 cup Chinese chives, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (see headnote)

1 large egg yolk, plus 1 large egg for the gyoza skins

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Korean sesame oil

2 teaspoons crushed, toasted sesame seeds

vegetable or canola oil, for frying

25 to 30 gyoza skins (3-inch wonton wrappers)

water, for the egg wash

Place the bean sprouts in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Discard any green seed pods that float to the surface. Drain.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Drop in the cabbage; cook for 3 minutes or until fork-tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cabbage to the food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Empty the cabbage into a clean dish towel set into a large colander to drain. Turn off the heat, but do not drain the water from the pot.

Add the bean sprouts to the pot; heat for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the food processor. Pulse until the sprouts are reduced to pieces the size of a pea, then scrape the mixture into the towel-lined colander.

Add the rice vermicelli to the pot; cook for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to the colander.

Twist the towel closed; holding it over the sink, squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the mixture, then open the towel and transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl.

Combine the onion, ginger and garlic in the food processor. Pulse until finely minced, then transfer to the bowl with the cabbage mixture. Add the beef and pork, scallions, Chinese chives, egg yolk, cornstarch, teaspoon of salt, the pepper, sesame oil and crushed, toasted sesame seeds. Use your clean hands to mix until well blended.

Place a baking sheet on the middle oven rack and preheat to 250 degrees. Line a separate baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels, then place a wire cooling rack on top.

Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed pot or deep-fryer to a depth of 3 inches; heat to 375 degrees (over high heat).

While the oil is heating, unwrap the stacked gyoza skins, then immediately cover them with a piece of plastic wrap to keep them from drying out. Whisk together the egg and a little water to create an egg wash. Place a generous teaspoon of filling at the center of a wrapper; this is not very much filling, and it shouldn’t be. Too much will cause the dumplings to split open or cook through unevenly. Use your fingers to paint the egg wash halfway around the edge of each gyoza, then fold over, pinching the edges together firmly. Repeat to form 25 to 30 dumplings, using all of the filling.

Carefully add 8 to 10 dumplings to the hot oil; fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown, monitoring the oil temperature closely and adjusting the heat to make sure the dumplings fry at that constant temperature. Transfer the fried dumplings to the rack to drain, then transfer to the oven to keep warm. Repeat to fry all of the dumplings.

Makes 5 or 6 servings (25 to 30 dumplings).

MAKE AHEAD: The filling can be refrigerated for a few hours in advance. Uncooked dumplings can be covered and refrigerated for about an hour in advance. Leftover dumplings can be reheated in a 325-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until crisped and warm.---

Korean Seasoned Dipping Sauce

(Yangnyeom Ganjang)

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon Korean sesame oil

1 teaspoon crushed, toasted sesame seeds

1 scallion, trimmed and cut crosswise into very thin slices

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 to 1 teaspoon Korean hot red chili powder (gochugaru; optional)

Whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, crushed, toasted sesame seeds, scallion, garlic, sugar and black pepper and Korean chili powder to taste, if using, in a medium bowl.

Serve after 5 or 10 minutes, or cover and refrigerate.

Makes 2/3 cup, 12 to 15 servings.

MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Adapted from “The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes From the Land of the Morning Calm,” by Copeland Marks

Korean Dumpling and Rice Cake Soup

(Duk Mandu Guk)

8 cups homemade or low-sodium beef broth, chicken broth or vegetable broth

18 uncooked meat- or vegetable-filled Korean fried dumplings

7 ounces (36 to 42) fresh or frozen/defrosted rice cake slices (see note)

4 scallions, trimmed and cut crosswise into thin slices

crushed, toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Bring the broth to a boil in a large, wide soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the dumplings and rice cake slices; cook at a boil for about 6 minutes or until the dumplings have risen to the surface and the rice cake slices are tender.

Ladle equal amounts of the broth, 3 dumplings and 6 or 7 rice cake slices into each bowl.

Garnish with the scallions and crushed, toasted sesame seeds; serve piping hot.

Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: Small rice cake slices are available in the fresh and/or frozen sections at Asian markets.

Korean Fried Vegetable Dumplings (Yachae Mandu)

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water

4 ounces cored and quartered green cabbage

2 ounces dried thin rice vermicelli noodles

8 ounces soft tofu, drained

2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

2 ounces oyster mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

1/4 medium yellow onion, cut into chunks

1/2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root

4 cloves garlic

2 scallions, trimmed and chopped

1 cup Chinese chives, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

1 large egg yolk, plus 1 large egg for the egg wash

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Korean sesame oil

2 teaspoons crushed, toasted sesame seeds

vegetable oil or canola oil, for frying

25 to 30 gyoza skins (3-inch wonton wrappers)

water, for the egg wash

Place the bean sprouts in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Discard any green seed pods that float to the surface. Drain.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Drop in the cabbage; cook for 3 minutes or until fork-tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cabbage to the food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Empty the cabbage into a clean dish towel set into a large colander to drain. Turn off the heat, but do not drain the water from the pot.

Add the bean sprouts to the pot; heat for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the food processor. Pulse until the sprouts are reduced to pieces the size of a pea, then scrape the mixture into the towel-lined colander.

Add the rice vermicelli to the pot; cook for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to the colander.

Working over the towel-lined colander, squeeze any remaining liquid out of the tofu, which will break up into pearls. Add to the cabbage-vermicelli mixture. Twist the towel closed; holding it over the sink, squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the mixture, then open the towel and transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl.

Combine the shiitake and oyster mushrooms, the onion, ginger and garlic in the food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, then add the mushroom mixture to the cabbage mixture along with the scallions, Chinese chives, egg yolk, cornstarch, salt, pepper, sesame oil and crushed, toasted sesame seeds.

Place a baking sheet on the middle oven rack; preheat to 250 degrees. Line a separate baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels, then place a wire cooling rack on top.

Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed pot or deep-fryer to a depth of 3 inches; heat to 375 degrees (over high heat.)

Unwrap the stacked gyoza skins, then immediately cover them with a piece of plastic wrap to keep them from drying out. Whisk together the egg and a little water to create an egg wash. Place a generous teaspoon (about 1/4 ounce) of filling at the center of the wrapper; this is not very much filling, and it shouldn’t be. Too much will cause the dumplings to split open or cook through unevenly. Use your fingers to paint the egg wash halfway around the edge of each gyoza, then fold over, pinching the edges together firmly. Repeat to form 25 to 30 dumplings, using all of the filling.

Carefully add 8 or 10 dumplings to the hot oil; fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown, monitoring the oil temperature closely and adjusting the heat to make sure the dumplings fry at that constant temperature. Transfer them to the rack to drain, then transfer to the oven to keep warm. Repeat to fry all of the dumplings. Serve with Korean Seasoned Dipping Sauce.

Makes 5 to 6 servings, 25 to 30 dumplings.

Make Ahead: The filling can be refrigerated for a few hours in advance. Uncooked dumplings can be covered and refrigerated for about an hour in advance. Leftover dumplings can be reheated in a 325-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until crisped and warm.

Homemade ‘Rooster’ Sauce

1 cup distilled white vinegar

4 cloves garlic, any green sprouts removed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces fresh, spicy/hot chili peppers, preferably red ones

2 tablespoons honey, or more as needed (may substitute 2 tablespoons palm sugar)

Combine the vinegar, garlic and salt in a quart jar or glass container with a tight-fitting lid, swirling the mixture so the salt dissolves.

Put on food-safe gloves, then stem the chilies and coarsely chop them. Transfer to the jar or container, including the seeds. Cover and marinate on the kitchen counter overnight.

Pour the mixture into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the honey; bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 5 minutes, being careful to avoid inhaling the fumes directly. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature.

Transfer the mixture to a blender. Puree for about 5 minutes to form a smooth, orange-red sauce – again, being careful not to inhale direct fumes. Use a spoon to taste; add honey as needed and blend to incorporate.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cool, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled before using.

Makes 24 servings, 11/2 cups.

Make Ahead: The mixture needs to marinate (brine) overnight at room temperature. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to several months.

Adapted from a recipe on Food52.com

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