LAM's (Never Too Late For Tradition) Mandoo aka Mandu

Printable Version (Recipe Only)

Looking back, there were lots of understandable reasons why our family didn't observe that many traditions, either Korean or Vietnamese, when I was a kid.

My parents met in Vietnam in the late 60s, and my dad returned to Korea with my mom and brother in 1971, I think it was, to live for the next seven years until we emigrated to the States.

Not that it would have stopped them to realize it, but I'm not sure either of them really considered the hostile environment in which this would place my mom for those seven years - a young Southeast Asian woman in an East Asian country, subject to all the discrimination and maltreatment inherent in that situation at the time, having to learn a new language, navigating the complex and insular social structure of a Confucian culture and a mother-in-law I would come to know as manipulative and passive aggressive kind of woman, alone, while my dad was either working or out drinking with his buddies until the wee hours.

And so my mom immersed herself in Korean culture - learning to speak the language so well that Koreans were shocked to discover she wasn't one of them, to cook the food so well that she could sell it to Koreans at my parents' restaurants, and to forsake her own culture so well that the only way I knew I was half Vietnamese for a long time was just that I was told I was.

And when we finally emigrated to the US in 1978 when I was five, I think my mom by that point probably resented having had to lose so much of her own culture in order to marginally fit in with my dad's, that she didn't want any more to do with it than was necessary to get by.

But Sierra Vista, Arizona, where we first lived with my paternal aunt who sponsored us when we came to the States, was a military town full of small-town minded Korean wives of American GIs. So my mom would continue to live in an only slightly lighter version of her estranged hell for the next six years.

Until we moved to Garden Grove, California, home to yet another Korean enclave, when I was eleven...

(As I'm typing this, I can't help but chuckle at my mother's misfortune never to be able to escape the culture that, while she embraces it now, antagonized her in many ways over many years.)

All that alienation and understandably resulting resentment aside, the truth is you can't really and truly live among a people for so long and not see something good and beautiful about their culture. And so it was with my mother that at some point, she began to truly embrace some parts of Korean culture as much as she resisted other ones.

And to know her today, you might think she is, like I am, half Vietnamese and half Korean.

Unfortunately for my mom, however, that happened at some point after my brother and I had learned to expect that ours was not a family that kept traditions.

For many years following, this became a point of contention between me and Little Asian Mama. Specially after I had started my own family and begun to observe certain traditions, the scheduling of which often did not prioritize LAM's then newly found appreciation for them.

It wasn't punitive. At least not consciously so.

LAM didn't mean to deprive us of tradition, and I didn't mean to deprive her of it, either.

It's just that for a long time in our lives, our timing just didn't work out.

But time is the test of true family.

When timing doesn't work out with acquaintances, friends or lovers, we accept that our ships have passed in the night and move on from them.

When someone is, or becomes, our true family, we fight to hold on, sometimes actively, and sometimes passively, until the timing is right again. And it will be right again if we just have patience and understanding enough to let it.

And so after many years of not observing traditions, followed by many years of intermittently disagreeing about how and when to observe them together if at all, it just happened one New Year's Day that the timing was right for LAM to begin our Korean family tradition of making New Year's Mandoo (aka Mandu and pronounced MAHNdoo) and for me to release my subconscious resentment for the years she wanted me to act as if she always had. For me to finally understand why she needed so much not to in the first place, and then needed even more to suddenly in the second. And hopefully for her to understand why it took me as long as it did.

I'm not sure exactly how many years it's been since we began making New Year's Mandoo, but I'm pretty sure that with so much tumult behind us, each and together, LAM and I are both ready to ensure that this family tradition stands the test of time.

Hopefully it survives all the bad timing I will undoubtedly live through with my own children.

I figure if I write down this recipe, it increases the chances. :)

LAM's (It's Never Too Late For Tradition) Mandoo
Makes about 200 (You can halve the recipe.)
Time: A REALLY LONG FUCKING TIME. Anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending on how fast you work, and how efficient an assembly line you've got going.
Printable Version

A few tips before we get into the recipe itself:

You'll want to take the meat out a good 30 to 45 minutes before mixing the filling to avoid chilling your hands too much while mixing the filling, which really does need to be mixed with the hands to get everything thoroughly and evenly incorporated. I don't recommend using a food processor because this will result in too fine a paste and an overly dense pressed sausage texture once cooked.

This process goes considerably more efficiently if there are people dedicated separately to folding and cooking.

If you have at least one person to fold and one person to cook, you should decide in advance whether you want to steam and/or deep fry your mandoo and begin warming the appropriate cooking vessel/medium as soon as the folding begins.

You'll need...

- 4 to 5 packages of wonton/gyoza skins (they usually come in packs of about 50 each)
- water for sealing the wrappers


- 2 pounds ground meat (I like ground pork, but you can use any combination of pork, beef and chicken)
- 3.5 cups blanched and finely minced green cabbage, pressed or squeezed to remove all excess liquid (2 medium heads should cover it)
- 2.5 cups finely minced onion (3 medium onions should do it, the sweeter the better)
- 2 cups boiled dangmyun (DAHNGmyun) noodles that have been chopped into roughly 1/4" long pieces (if you can't find dangmyun, you can substitute with shirataki noodles, which usually come precooked and so only have to be well drained if needed and chopped)
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper

1) Combine all filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl and work them together with your hands until they are thoroughly and evenly combined. (Do yourself a favor and take the meat out of the fridge a good 30 to 45 minutes before you mix it, otherwise the process can get uncomfortably cold for your fingers.)

2) Prepare a couple of large trays or cookie sheets very lightly dusted with corn or potato starch or flour. This will keep your mandoo from sticking to the surface.

3) Open one packet of wrappers at a time, leaving the rest in the fridge.

4) Take one wrapper, place one Tablespoon of filling in the center, and lightly wet the top half of the wrapper periphery with water.

5) Loosely fold the wrapper exactly in half over the filling, then, gently working from the center out so as not to tear the wrapper, make sure to remove any air pockets before sealing the wrapper. Once you've sealed the wrapper, take the thumb and forefinger and working from one side to another, pinch the periphery of the wrapper to give it an extra tight seal.

If you already know how to crimp dumplings and would like to crimp the mandoo, just about any crimping method works. If you're inexperienced and would like some kind of crimp, you can always crimp the periphery by pressing all along it with the back of a fork.

If you'd like to crimp them like LAM does:


Steam Method: If you're steaming, make sure the water comes up to a steady but gentle boil and stays there for at least 5 minutes or so before placing the mandoo in the steamer. If your steamer has large holes, make sure to line it with a cheesecloth so the mandoo doesn't get soggy. I find the first couple of batches might take about 5 minutes, the subsequent ones about 4 as the steam gets hotter. Remember to check the water level every couple of batches to make sure it's sufficient and always let it come back up to that steady but gentle boil for a while first before putting your mandoo in.

Once they're steamed, you can either eat them just like that, or further pan fry them in a well oiled pan for a little bit of that outer chewy crunch you get with this two pronged cooking method. (This is my favorite way to enjoy them.)

If you'd like to save some of the steamed mandoo for use in soup, cool it completely, then freeze completely, in a single layer, uncovered, on a sheet pan or plate or whatever fits in your freezer for at least 3 or 4 hours before placing them in a freezer bag for storage.

Deep Fry Method: Get your oil between 360 and 370F degrees and deep fry 7 or 8 at a time (you don't want to crowd the vessel), for about 7 or 8 minutes total, flipping occasionally to ensure even browning. Make sure to have a paper towel lined plate or rack ready to drain the cooked mandoo.

How to know if your oil is ready to fry without a thermometer? Throw a little flour or piece of wrapper in the oil and if it immediately and gently sizzles and bubbles, it's ready.

Pan-Fry & Steam Method (my personal fave): Preheat a well oiled fry pan to just higher than medium, pan-fry 7 or 8 potstickers at a time on each side until they get a dark golden brown crust on them (1.5 to 2 minutes per side), then turn the heat up to medium high, add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of water, cover completely, and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until all the water has evaporated.

The frying process gives you a deliciously crunchy crust, and the steam ensures that the filling gets cooked all the way through while giving the un-browned portion of the wrapper a yummy chew that contrasts the crunch of the crust. :)

If you'd like a truly yummy dipping sauce recipe, click HERE.

And as always, thanks for sharing in a little morsel of our family life with us.

I hope you enjoy. :)




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