As a country, we seem to be quite smitten with Korean food—and for good reason. It's anything but subtle, boasting intense flavors ranging from fiery to potently garlicky to fermenty-funky to salty-sweet … or some glorious combination of all the above. Here, an exploration of some of the defining dishes from this burgeoning cuisine.
Is there anything better in life than a soft, slippery dumpling? I kinda think not. I have always loved dumplings (mandu in Korean) because a tasty filling inside a thin sheet of dough is always a good idea. I have never met a dumpling I don't like.
(Side note: The blogger who writes Cravings in Amsterdam has a cat named Mandu, and I am deeply jealous that I never thought to name a pet that. One of my dogs right now is a sweet little dumpling, so he would have been a perfect Mandu!)
When I visited Korea in 2012, I sampled lots of dumplings around Seoul and Busan, and they were all absolutely delicious. Most of the ones I tried were steamed, a few were fried, and some were boiled and tossed in soup, like this one:
Dumplings are easy enough to make at home, so long as you give yourself over to the process. It is a methodical (but not difficult) art, soothing somehow in its repetition. The Korean dumpling recipes here use store-bought wrappers (easy!); if you're new to shaping dumplings, maybe pick up some extra wrappers in case some dumplings split. (Overfilling is usually the cause here, so just go easy on the fillings. They're so flavorful that you don't need a lot.)
The first recipe, Shrimp Mandu, has you filling round gyoza skins with a heady mixture of shiitake mushrooms, green onions, garlic, ground pork, and crumbled tofu (which gives the filling a moist, light texture), and then you add a whole shrimp to each dumpling. Shrimp, pork, and mushrooms—together in beautiful harmony! Serve with Korean Dipping Sauce, and die with joy.
Pork and Kimchi Dumplings use Korea's most beloved fermented cabbage as the main flavoring agent—spicy, garlicky, and tangy, it's absolutely irresistible here. The recipe calls for a quick homemade kimchi, but you can use store-bought kimchi to make things easier. If you have a Korean market in your town, try using other types of kimchi in your dumplings; radish, green onion, or cucumber kimchi would be fantastic.