When I was a kid in Korea, my favorite holiday was the New Year’s Celebration. It was a fun-filled day to see all my family members and kick off a great new year together. At the sunrise, my mom used to wake us up and get us dressed up in the traditional Korean folk dress called “hanbok”. And then, we headed to join a big family gathering at my Grandma’s. In her house, traditional Korean bows from youngsters to elders took a place. We took turns to bow to all elders, including my Grandma, aunts, and uncles, and say, “Please receive many blessings in the new year”. Elders, in return, gave us New Year’s pocket money with their words of wisdom. Afterwards, the big New Year’s holiday feast, which my Grandma had prepared for weeks, started. All the men sat at one table with my Grandma, while all the women sat at another table. We children, of course, sat at a third table. Wherever we sat, all of us were served a bowl of dumpling soup with rice cake called “dukk mandu guk”. It’s the traditional Korean New Year’s celebratory meal. My mom told me that one bowl of the soup symbolized one more year of age. As a kid, I believed that eating 2-3 bowls would make me grow faster and see the mysterious world of my older cousins. Now that I’m an adult, I wouldn’t want to eat more than a bowl on New Year’s. Even though age means wisdom (at least in my culture), I don’t want to age 3 times faster than I already am!
On the first day of 2011, I made a “dukk mandu guk”. First, I boiled 2 quarts water and added ½ lb beef brisket, 2 whole shiitake mushrooms, 2 whole garlic cloves, ½ onion and some sea salt to make the soup stock. While simmering the stock, I made a dumpling filling by mixing together 1 lb ground beef, 3 cups chives (chopped), ½ onion (chopped), 3 cloves garlic (minced), 5 shiitake mushrooms (chopped),1 carrot (chopped), 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 2 teaspoons sugar & 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil. Then, I placed a teaspoonful of filling in the center of a dumpling skin wrap. I moistened the edges of the wrap with a finger dipped in water, folded the dumpling in half and sealed the edges together. Lastly, I bent the dumplings around in a circle and pinched the left & right corner edges together to make a crown-shape. This recipe made about 60 dumplings, 16 for the soup, and rest to be pan-fried .
Separately, I took the beef brisket, the shiitake mushrooms and the onion out of the beef stock. Then, I thinly sliced the brisket and mushrooms and put them back into the stock, along with 16 dumplings and 1 cup sliced rice cakes. When the dumplings and rice cakes floated to the top of the boiling stock after about 5-7 minutes, I added 2 chopped green onions and a sprinkle of pepper. Finally, I garnished it with1 roasted seaweed sheet (crumbled) and served with kimchi.
My “dukk mandu guk” came out pretty good. I didn’t add tofu, a usual starchy ingredient for fillings, so, mine tasted richer than the tofu versions. I’d describe it as “Korean-version ravioli meatball soup”. Making this dumpling soup on the “family-gathering” New Year’s Day made me think of my Mom, who passed away 5 years ago. Dumpling was her favorite food. When we were making dumplings together, she used to say, “Cuter you make dumplings, cuter your daughter would be born when you grow”. As a young girl with vivid imagination, I tried pretty hard to make my dumplings look cute. I am dedicating my dumpling soup to my Mom, who loved me more than any words in the world can possibly describe. I wish everyone many blessing in the New Year.