For the past year, my relationship status with Kimchi has been “complicated.” It’s not Kimchi, it’s me. Well, maybe it is a little bit Kimchi’s fault. When we go to diners together, Kimchi is simply soggy. If we frequent my school’s cafeteria, Kimchi is too fiery. I finally grew tired of being strung along (can you blame me?), and decided to not return any of Kimchi’s calls for a while.
We had been separated for weeks when I strolled into a diner near my school and saw Kimchi sitting alone at one of the little tables, shamefaced, apologetic. When he saw me his face lit up and he shyly handed me a gift: mandu. Kimchi and I were on again.
Over the past few months, I have frequented that diner several times, always ordering kimchi mandu (kimchi dumplings). Purchasing this meal is quite cheap and convenient, but for some time now I have wanted to learn to make this dish myself. Although the kimchi mandu is rather healthy, I detected a small amount of pork in the dumplings and would have preferred it to be left out. I also had a large container of kimchi in my fridge waiting to be used from when I made it with my Korean friend and her family last year. I set to work researching homemade dumpling wrapper tips, chose my filling, and began cooking, excited to be making the Korean dish I had idealized for so long.
I will be honest: although mandu is easy to make, it is quite time consuming. I spent nearly 3 hours simply preparing the dough for the wrappers, chopping and squeezing the kimchi, and prepping the other ingredients until they were ready to be made into the dumplings. However, when all was said and done, I had over a hundred kimchi mandu to freeze.
*For those seeking a strict ingredient list, down to the number of kale leaves used, this is not the recipe for you. I instead seek to give a good idea of what I used to make my own delicious mandu. This recipe is for a large batch, but may be halved, quartered, etc, to fit the amount of ingredients that you have.
5-6 cups of kimchi, finely chopped and squeezed of excess liquid
1.5-2 cups finely chopped shittake mushrooms, sauteed
2 cups wilted greens, finely chopped, squeezed of excess water (I used kale and a local Korean green similar to spinach)
10-15 scallions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons minced ginger
3 heads of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons sesame oil
10-12 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
* Work in batches of 2 cups of flour at a time to make handling the dough much easier. Each batch should yield between 20-25 dumpling wrappers, depending on their size. I made 5 batches of dough, (2 cups of flour each) which made over a hundred wrappers. The extra flour is for flouring your work surface.
1. First prepare the dough for the wrappers. Working in batches of 2 cups of flour at a time, add enough nearly-boiling water to the flour to bind the flour (about 3/4 to 1 cup of water for whole wheat flour). Form the mixture into a ball (be careful, the water is quite warm), before placing it onto a floured work surface and kneading it until it is a thoroughly dough-like consistency, slightly sticky. Form the dough into a ball and place into an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rest for at least 30-45 minutes. Make as many batches as you will need.
2. While the dough is resting, prepare the rest of your ingredients: chop and squeeze the kimchi of excess liquid (using gloves, to avoid burning your hands), chop and saute the mushrooms, chop the onions, garlic, and ginger; wilt, chop and squeeze the greens of excess liquid.
3. When the dough has sufficiently rested, it is time to began making the wrappers. I first tried the traditional way of making the wrappers by rolling the dough into logs and slicing medallions that I then rolled out into thin discs for the wrappers. However, my husband and I quickly realized that if he thinly rolled out the dough and cut them into wrappers while I added the filling and sealed them, the mandu making would go much faster. My husband rolled the dough into a thin sheet (about 1/6-1/8 of an inch) before using the rim of a container to cut them into perfect circles. Whichever method you try, work quickly and use small batches of dough to prevent it from drying-out. If you use the cookie-cutter method and have left-over dough edges, quickly knead them into the next small batch of dough to avoid waste.
4. Place just enough filling (no more than a tablespoon) so that the dumpling can easily seal without food spilling out.
5. To seal, use a light hand to dab a little water around the edges of the dumpling skin. Afterwards, “pleat” the dumpling by folding it in half and pinching and overlapping extra dumpling skin for a total of 6 pleats for a more traditional dumpling, or simply gather the edges towards the center and pinch them together. A word of caution, this step may take bit of practice until perfectly formed dumplings appear.
6. To freeze, coat the finished dumplings with a light coating of cornstarch and place on a plate or cookie sheet and place in the freezer until hardened. Once the dumplings are hardened, place them inside a freezer-proof bag and press out the excess air before sealing. They should keep well in the freezer for at least three months.
7. To panfry: Heat one tablespoon of high-smoke point oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the mandu to the pan, and cook, stirring often, until they are lightly browned and crispy. If the mandu is freshly made, you may serve as it is. If cooking frozen mandu, after browning the mandu, pour a tablespoon of water around the edges of the pan, cover with a lid, turn the heat to low, and let the mandu steam for 2-3 minutes. This allows the inside of the mandu to cook thoroughly. Mandu is also delicious steamed, just be sure to coat your steamer with a little oil to avoid sticking. For fresh mandu, allow 3-4 minutes steam time, and 8-10 minutes for frozen mandu.
Serve your mandu plain, or with a simple sauce of sesame oil, sesame seeds, and soy sauce. Enjoy!