What is a mother if not the heart and soul of a family? She is a nourisher, a provider, a caretaker, a comforter. Her family turns to her for love and support. In Please Look After Mom, the titular character is a source of comfort, an anchor for her family, strong on the outside but full of love. As the point of view changes with each passing chapter, so does the way we see Mom. She changes, you see, in the context of her daughter, her son, and her husband. That's why I put together this dish — with the soft, plump mandu dumpling representing Mom, and each of the dipping sauces representing her daughter, son and husband.
Let's start with Mom.
Mandu are Korean dumplings, frequently made with square wonton or round gow gee wrappers. They are filled with chicken, tofu and kimchi, but you can swap out the meat or remove it altogether to make it vegetarian.
CHICKEN MANDU DUMPLINGS
- 2 lb chicken (white meat, finely minced)
- 1 packet extra firm tofu
- 1/2 lb kimchi (chopped)
- 3 tablespoons garlic paste
- 1/2 spring onion (just the green part, chopped)
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 100 wonton wrappers (I used Nasoya brand)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons salt
Grind sesame seeds and salt together in a coffee grinder. Set aside.
Combine chicken, tofu, kimchi, garlic paste, spring onion and sesame oil and season with black pepper and your sesame salt, to taste . Set aside.
Set up a work station for dumpling assembly. Also, set a pot of water to boil.
Lay wonton wrappers on a flat surface and drop a teaspoon of filling in the center. Wet two edges with water and fold to seal. Leave them this way or fold two corners together for a fancier shape (see below).
Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
Cook dumplings in batches in boiling water over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Drain and keep warm.
Serve with dipping sauce.
If you don't plan to cook all the dumplings at once, they can be frozen. Place them on a tray in the freezer so they are not touching. When frozen, toss into a zip-top bag for easy storage.
The bitter ginger dipping sauce represents the son, whose memories of his mother are tinged by regret and some level of anger. His lack of appreciation when Mom was around, his failure to fulfill her dreams for him, and his continued stress relating to her disappearance lend to his bitterness at the current situation.
BITTER GINGER DIPPING SAUCE
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons ginger (finely chopped)
- 3 teaspoons sugar
Mix all ingredients together and use as a dipping sauce for dumplings.
Dad took a long time to realize he loved Mom. Throughout their 50-year marriage, he was at times unfaithful and unfeeling, and he never missed her. He never even slowed down to walk alongside her. Upon returning to his empty house and not finding Mom their, either, Dad realizes what he has lost. His slow acknowledgement of his fondness for his wife is sweet, albeit reluctant, and represented by this pear and sesame dipping sauce.
SWEET PEAR AND SESAME DIPPING SAUCE
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon white onion (minced)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 1/2 medium pear (peeled and minced)
Combine sugar, onion, garlic, and pepper in a bowl and mash to a smooth paste with the back of a spoon.
Add the soy sauce, and honey and stir until the sugar and honey are dissolved.
Stir in the scallion greens, sesame seeds, and pear.
Serve with dumplings within a few hours.
Finally, the daughter, a famous novelist who never has time for Mom is represented by the spicy garlic dipping sauce. Combative, unyielding, and heated in her anger, the daughter's relationship with her mother is strained to say the least. But when Mom goes missing, it is the daughter's passion that drives her to search for her with an unparalleled fervor.
SPICY GARLIC DIPPING SAUCE
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon white onion (minced)
- 1 teaspoon garlic (chopped)
- Sriracha sauce (to taste)
Mix first five ingredients. Squirt as much Sriracha sauce as you can take to reach your desired level of spiciness. Use as a dipping sauce for dumplings.
Though I love all these dipping sauces, it's probably best to choose one to make at a time. There is something nice about having a choice of flavors, though, so if you want all three, you can make smaller quantities by just keeping the proportions the same.
Now that you’re good and hungry, read our recommendation of the book that inspired this recipe: Please Look After Mom.