Recipe: Kimchi Mandu (Kimchi and Pork Stuffed Dumplings)

Mandu, also known as dumplings or pot stickers, are a fascinating culinary dish to me. A simple dish of meats and veggies enveloped within some form of carbohydrates... mandu, or some derivative of it, is found throughout most of the world from raviolis in Italy to manti in central Asia.

They're a common staple of East Asian cuisine as well and in Korea the northern regions (now North Korea) are particularly famous for their love of mandu and mandu soup. Gyeseong mandu and such, for example, are all commonly referred to as North Korean cuisine.

Ever since I was a kid, mandu has been one of my favorite things to eat and it's apparently something embedded in my DNA because my siblings and I have all inherited similar tastes from the North Korean side of my mom's family including a love for mandu.

There's various variations of mandu in Korean cuisine but a popular option includes one made with (what else) kimchi. :)

Well fermented kimchi is chopped and mixed with pork, ginger, garlic, noodles and other fillings to create these little treasures. Be warned though- the work that goes into its preparation is a lot so if you're going to try this recipe out, make sure you have a couple of hours free to do so. On the other hand, after being made, these can be frozen and enjoyed for a few months at your heart's whim so it can be a nice "investment" of sorts if you're keen for the 'du.

Making mandu in Korea is often done as a family so why not get together your family and/or friends and have a bit of bonding time over some mandu makin'? It'll make the prep go a lot quicker anyhow :)

Kimchi Mandu 
Makes approximately 8 servings

You'll need:
- 1/2 pound (or about 8 oz) of ground Pork
- 1 package of firm Tofu
- 2 cups of fermented Kimchi, chopped
- 1/2 an Onion, diced
- 1 1/2 cup of Mung Bean Sprouts (also known as Sookjoo 숙주 in Korean) 
- 1 1/2 cup of Cellophane Noodles
- 2 Green Onions, chopped
- 1 Egg
- 2 tbsp of Frying Powder (퇴김가루) or Flour
- 2 tbsp of Sesame Seeds (optional) 
- 1 package of Mandu Wrappers 
- 1/2 tbsp of Soy Sauce
- 1 tbsp of Sesame Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Water for steaming
- Cooking Oil for frying

For the meat marinade: 
- 1/2 tbsp of minced Garlic
- 1 tbsp of Maeshil Syrup (매실액 but skip if you don't have it)
- 1/2 tbsp of minced Ginger
- 1 tbsp of Soju 
- 1/2 tbsp of Sesame Oil
- Dash of Salt and Pepper

1. Combine all the ingredients for the meat marinade with your ground pork in a bowl. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients for the filling. This will help make the pork tender and eliminate any gamey smells.

Pork being marinated

2. Boil up a pot with water and cook your cellophane noodles according to instructions (usually 6-8 minutes) then scoop out the noodles and set aside to cool.

To save time, don't throw away the heated water but heat it up again and then cook your (thoroughly washed) mung bean sprouts for about 5 minutes or so until they are soft. Immediately dunk the mung bean sprouts in cold water to stop it from cooking further. Then squeeze the sprouts to let out the water and then set aside.

Lay heavy weights on your tofu to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Alternatively, you can use a cheese cloth to squeeze out the moisture.

Finely chop the onion, green onion, cellophane noodles, tofu and mung bean sprouts and add to a large bowl. Remove the liquid from your kimchi, chop the kimchi and then add it to the large bowl. Add your marinated ground pork, soy sauce, sesame oil, a dash of salt and pepper and a bit more garlic and sesame seeds if you like.

Crack your egg on top and then add your frying powder or flour.

3. Mix all the ingredients for the filling by hand

4. Now it's time to get wrapping. Fill a small bowl with lukewarm water, get your mandu skin ready and have a plate or tray on hand to hold your wrapped mandus.

To assemble, carefully peel a mandu skin off and onto the palm of your hand. Using a normal-sized spoon, scoop up just a bit less than a tablespoon worth of filling and pack it together by pressing it against the side of the mandu filling bowl. Then place the filling carefully in the center of your mandu skin. This "packing" will help make the filling stay together and not fall apart on your skin.

Dip a (clean) finger into your bowl of water and trace around the skin edges. Then carefully seal the fella shut making sure to press down on all the edges nice and tight so it doesn't fall apart during cooking. The first few mandus you make may be a bit of trial and error as you get a feel for how much filling to put in, how to seal, etc.

You can get creative in how you seal your mandus. Whatever shape you make, just use more water from the bowl to seal any spots that needs to be held down.

5. There are two ways to cook your mandu: steaming and frying. For kimchi mandus I generally recommend them to be steamed.

When steaming, fill a big pot with water and place your metal steamer inside. Take out a sheet of parchment paper and place it on top. The parchment paper will ensure the mandus don't stick to the steamer and will make cleanup easier. A cheesecloth will work fine too.

6. Once the water is boiling, carefully arrange a few of the mandus around making sure to give them all space. If they're arranged too close together, they'll stick onto each other. Close the lid and let it steam for at least 10 minutes. When done, carefully scoop out and arrange on a plate. Repeat as necessary for the amount needed to serve.

7. If you choose to fry them, heat up a pan with some oil on medium heat. Once the pan is heated, lower the heat a bit and then carefully place your mandus on the pan. Close the lid and let it cook, approximately 2-3 minutes. Because of their thin skin, mandus fry up a lot quicker than you may expect so if it's your first time frying them, keep a close eye so you don't burn them.

After one side has been cooked, carefully flip each mandu over. CAREFULLY add just a tablespoon or two of water and close the lid again. You can skip the adding water step but if you like your mandu crispier, the water will help.

Careful! Mandus fry surprisingly fast because of their thin skins

Once the second side has slightly browned and turned a golden color (approximately 2-4 minutes) scoop out each mandu and place on a plate with a paper towel to catch the excess oil.

Fried mandu

I prefer serving without any dipping sauce as I feel they are plenty seasoned (especially from the kimchi) and already moist but if you want to make a simple dipping sauce, take two tbsp of soy sauce, a tbsp of vinegar and a dash of red chili powder and mix.

Steamed mandu

Inside a steamed mandu

To store leftover mandus (the ones you're not going to cook right away) arrange the mandus on a plate being careful not to let them touch. Freeze them for an hour or until each mandu is thoroughly frozen. Then, place the mandus in a ziplock bag and you're good to go whenever you're craving mandu. 

If you have leftover filling and you don't want to purchase more mandu stickers, you can choose to make a simple jeon, or savory pancake. Just add a few shakes of frying powder (and water if needed) to the leftover filling and mix until you get a slightly sticky consistency. 

Heat up a pan with oil over medium heat and then scoop out the filling and flatten a bit with your spoon. After about 3 minutes (or until browned), carefully flip it over and cook another 2-4 minutes until the second side is cooked. 


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