Category Archives: Appetizers


IMG_9711We are blessed to have an amazing and awesome houseguest who is staying with us for several weeks. Hooray! It is a great thing to have someone who likes to cook, living with us and cooking in our kitchen! Last night she introduced us to the joy of gyoza, aka potstickers. This is something I would NEVER have attempted on my own, but she demystified the process and showed us how very fun and easy (and delicious) they could be.

There were no measurements or written recipe, so I just soaked up this info while watching:

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined and chopped up (we used the easy-peasy frozen kind)
  • chopped up can of water chestnuts
  • chopped up green onions (3-4??)
  • little bit of sesame oil
  • minced garlic
  • minced ginger
  • little bit soy sauce?
  • wonton wrappers

Mix up all ingredients.  Put teaspoon? of mixture in half of wonton wrapper (they’re round). Seal with water and make a little pocket. Line up on tray. When you have a few dozen, put a little bit of oil in bottom of nonstick pan. Add gyoza and cook until they are browned on the bottom. Add a little bit of water and cover to steam cook the rest of the way. Probably takes about 5-8 minutes per batch. Eat. ENJOY!

Homemade Tortilla Chips

corn tortillas

Crunch. You’ve sat there dipping your store bought chips into salsa, guacamole, even bean dip. These things are salty! Do these taste a little stale? Processed, even? How come these chips don’t taste, or even look like the ones you get when you sit down in Mexican restaurants? How do they make those?

It’s easier than you think… Bake or fry, you can make your own tortilla chips at home. I promise that not only will it be cheaper than buying bags from the stores, but it is also healthier, and even fun.

Corn tortillas are useful for so many things. Enchiladas, soft tacos, even well… chips! Each brand of tortillas carries it’s own set of flavor. When making your chips, be sure to choose the brand you like. I like Guerrero.

To fry: Slice the tortillas into pie-like slices. About three corn tortillas will make one serving of chips. Heat oil (vegetable or canola) in a pan (or wok) to about 360* F (180* C). Layer cut tortilla into oil, making sure to keep each piece separate. Fry until crisp and lightly browned. Remember, that chips will cook slightly even after removing from hot oil.

cooked chips, layed out to drain

Add salt (and other seasoning) if desired. This is the best part, as you have absolute control over the salt content of your chips. Repeat procedure with your remaining tortilla pieces.

In Mexican restaurants, chips are served best when warm. This is achieved either by serving them to guests right after they’ve been fried (or baked), or by keeping them under a heat lamp. I prefer to serve my homemade chips right after they’ve been fried.

To bake: Lightly brush whole tortillas with vegetable (or canola) oil. Cut into pie-like pieces, and spread into single layer on greased baking sheet. Add salt as desired. Bake at 400* F (205* C) for 10-12 minutes, making sure to turn chips halfway through the baking time. Keep an eye on them, as ovens cook differently. They should be crisp and light-golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to cool.

Usually the chips disappear as fast as the homemade guacamole, or salsa. But if you do have leftovers, be sure to keep them in an airtight container. After all, the reason you made these it to avoid that store bought stale taste, right?

chips, ready to store

After this, you’ll make sure you always have corn tortillas in your kitchen. Can you do this with flour tortillas? Sure, why not (cooking times will be faster). But why?


hummus and pita

This is one of my husband’s great comfort foods–he’ll happily scoop this dip up with extra thick pita, possibly triggering all sorts of childhood memories. When I married my husband, one of the first things I did was go up to his mother and ask her for the recipes of all his favorite foods. She happily obliged and started off by teaching me how to make hummus, something she learned from HER mother-in-law. It trips me out to think that this family recipe passed from its Jewish Iraqi roots to my Ashkenazi Jewish mother in law, to Korean American me. I’m honored.
This is “the real stuff,” as I know it, and as I have been taught. No adulterations: no black bean hummus or artichoke hummus or black eyed pea hummus or habanero hummus. I’ve made some changes over the years: I’ve increased the lemon and the cumin, and upped the garlic. But the main ingredients that make up a classic hummus are all there.

I’ve come to love this snack (I have always liked it, but now I too find it a happy snack, especially when paired with chicken schnitzel). And I’ve even learned to say it correctly: it’s hummus, with a gutteral “ch” and a “u” like “ooo.” “chooomooos.”

Recipe follows after the jump:

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Korean fried mandoo

Korean fried mandoo

Going to make this short–I’ve done a lot of posting the last few days, and it’s a reflection of all the typing I’ve been doing on the whole…as a result, my wrists and forearms are burning! I don’t dare admit I have the evil thing called “carpal tunnel syndrom” but I will take it as a sign to lay off typing for awhile. In fact, after this post, I’ve vowed to try to take a few days off from food blogging just for the sake of my wrists.

Oh–see how this is not short already?

On with the show.
When Melanie blogged here about lumpia, the most lovely fried concoction I have had in months (and considering how wonderful MOST fried foods are for me, that is saying a LOT), she spurred on a desire in me to have the equivalent in Korea-land. Mandoo.

Mandoo are one kind of Korean dumpling (the other kind resembling Chinese steamed pork buns with their round bready shapes). You can make soup with them, “Mandoo guk”…and you can boil them…and you can fry them. I prefer them fried–my mother used to make Mandoo and take them to our school and boy scout troop potlucks where they would be welcomed with “oohs” and “aaahhhs.” They were in high demand, and she would make them every time, feeling that for people to love our food was for them to accept a small part of Korean culture, and thereby her children.

These are not easy things to make–they are somewhat labor intensive (you have to wrap each dumpling by hand), and I remember spending hours making dumplings with my mother for these social engagements. And we would watch with both pride and horror (hours of work!) how they disappeared into the mouths of our suburban neighbors in a matter of minutes.

Additionally, I was also put into a “mandoo mood” because I signed up to make aushak for the ReadCookEat Book club–and its accompanying “cooking meme” of making a recipe out each selected book. Aushak are afghani dumplings…


and for some reason, i could NOT stop obsessing about making both Afghani aushak dumplings AND Korean mandoo dumplings in one day! What a pair!

And the ingredients were in many ways convenient ( both use gyoza wrapperes…and the aushak dumplings require a filling made with the chopped green tops of scallions…the korean dumpings require a filling made with the chopped white root end of the scallions just for starters). So why not?

So I did.
My husband kept looking at me, “Okay…stop obsessing over dumplings.” But when it came round to TASTING and EATING my creation, I think he knew it was all worth it.

My mother made an “Americanized” mandoo which included finely minced carrot and zucchini. I used a recipe out of a book and adapted it and though it does not resemble my mother’s mandoo too much, it’s much more traditional.

making aushak

I’ll post details and the recipe for the aushak MUCH later–since that’s saved for Eric’s Book Club.

KOREAN MANDOO (adapted from Hi Soo Hepinstall’s Growing up in a Korean Kitchen)
* store bought wonton skins or gyoza skins, defrosted (if frozen)
* handful of fresh oyster mushrooms or shitake mushrooms (or dried shitake if you cannot find them fresh)
* 1 cup cabbage kimchi finely chopped (I used radish kimchi, minced since I didn’t have any cabbage kimchi on hand).
* 8 ounces medium-firm bean curd tofu
* 1/2 pound ground beef
* 1 egg, slightly beaten
* 2 tablespoons of rice wine or vermouth
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
* 2 large green onions, white and pale green part only, finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon sesame oil
* 1 teaspoon ginger juice or grated ginger
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* pinch of freshly ground black pepper

* 2 cups flour for dusting

Note: bean curd (tofu) and egg are 2 necessary ingredients in the stuffing. They act as crucial binding agents.

In a stockpot, make 4 cups acidulated water (basically water with a splash of vinegar and a pinch of salt in it) and bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms and blanch for 10 seconds or until the mushrooms are barely wilted. Scoop out the mushrooms and plunge them into ice water to stop cooking. Drain in a colander. With a kitchen towerl, squeeze out as much liquid as possible and chop fine. Place the mushrooms in a large bowl.

Wearing rubber gloves, wrap the kimchi in a paper towel. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and add it to the bowl with the mushrooms.

Wrap the bean curd in a paper towel. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place the bean curd in the bowl, along with all remaining ingredients (EXCEPT THE FLOUR). Mix well with a wooden spoon or with your hands until the mixture is smooth and soft.

To assemble the dumplings have the following on hand: the bowl of wrappers, the bowl of stuffing, a teaspoon, a bowl of cold water, and a plate or 2 large baking sheets liberally dusted with flour.

Hold a wrapper in the palm of one hand and using the teaspoon, spoon a walnut-size ball of stuffin gin teh center of the wrapper. Using your finger, lighten moisten the wrappers edge with water. Fold into a half-moon shape. Seal the edges tightly using your thumb and index finger.

Doubly seal the dumping by pinching the edge with your thumb and middle finger. It will resemble a piecrust edge. Line up the finished dumpings on the baking sheets about 1/2 inch apart to prevent sticking.

To store, dust the dumplings well with flour, wrap the baking sheet tightly in plastic wrap, and place in the freezer. After the dumpings are frozen they may be transferred to a plastic bag and kept in the freezer for up to a month.

You can steam the dumplings, boil the dumplings…or fry them (I like to deep fry them).

Makes about 64 dumplings.
1 hour to prepare.
45 minutes to cook.

To Eat It Is to Love It: Lumpia

There are eggrolls, and then there are eggrolls. While there’s a lot of crossovery-cousin-ish type similarities between many Asian foods, I have to say that lumpia are not just eggrolls; they are just what they are, a deep-fried wrapped stick of meat that could not go by any other name. LOOM-pya. LOVE it. LOOM-pya.

Some non-Filipino men seem to remember this about the Philippines and its people more than anything. They have gone up to me and said things like oh, do you eat/cook lumpia? and kumusta ka, maganda ka!. (Those phrases mean, in this order: hey you are cute, do you cook, too? and hi, I’m a dork, will you go out with me?) They kinda are spitting game and kinda want to sample your lumpia; unfortunately, they really want you to sample theirs.

(Pause for collective “ewwwwwww!”)

lumpia before and after frying

Everyone’s mom probably has a different recipe for this dish. Perhaps the biggest difference between lumpia and other eggrolls is that the wrapper is paper-thin, thus fries up very crispy. Re: the stuffing, it varies. Some use pork, some use shrimp, some add shredded carrot, some add corn (note: I do not like corn in lumpia!), others julienned green beans.

I didn’t make lumpia by myself until a few years ago. I wanted to make it for my bf Marcus; you don’t know how pleased I was when he so loved the garlic/vinegar dipping sauce, that he turned to me and said: I could drink this. Anyway, so I had called up mom and prepped all my ingredients and when the rolling began, I think genetics took over. Memories of relatives sitting at a kitchen table, each assembling dozens of these, just set my hands into motion. It’s sort of comforting, like snapping peas, like hanging out the wash on a summer day, something to busy the body and free the mind. All those years of helping the aunties in the kitchen had paid off, and I had a hundred stacked in the freezer before I knew it.

I’m going to share my mom’s recipe because I already foolishly handed out copies of it a bunch of folks at a book club meeting for Tess Urize Holthe’s When The Elephants Dance. I don’t know what I was thinking, maybe I felt the need to represent, but mother would probably not be happy – though it likely wasn’t all hers originally, anyway. Plus, I like to think that, recipes aside, each person adds their own culinary flair and love to their cookery. And that, dear Muffin-Top readers, is the one thing you must add yourself…

Mama Magdalena’s Lumpia Shanghai

1 package ground turkey (1 lb-ish)
1 bundle green onions, sliced thinly
1-2 cans water chestnuts (I like to use 2)
1- 1 1/2 lb of small pre-cooked shrimp (you know, the tiny kind in the cheap Vegas shrimp cocktails, but really any shrimp chopped up a bit will work)
A few shittake mushrooms, diced (either fresh or the dried-then-rehydrated kind)
1-2 eggs (depending on the amount of turkey)
garlic cloves, to your heart’s desire, chopped
soy sauce
oyster sauce
if you have it
4-5 packages lumpia wrappers (see: your local Chinatown or the nearest Ranch 99. Round or square is fine, but they must say “lumpia”.)

Mix the ground turkey with the egg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Mix in the green onion, water chestnuts and shrimp. Finally, add the soy sauce and oyster sauce.

When you purchase the wrappers, they’ll be frozen, so you will want to defrost them (either a few hours in the fridge or pop them in the microwave for a minute) to make it easier to separate the paper-thin wrappers from one another. I recommend separating a dozen at time so you’ll be able to wrap in batches. They tear, they’re kind of a pain, so get extra packages just in case. Try cutting a bit of the edges too; it helps get them un-stuck.

Rolling lumpia kind of like making tiny burrito: Take a heaping teaspoonful of the filling and place near the bottom of the wrapper, in the center. Fold the bottom edge over the filling, then fold the sides in and finish rolling the whole thing up to the top edge. Seal with edge with you finger, dipped in a little bit of water, as you might with an envelope. Try to make as uniform as possible, and about the size of your finger. (If they’re too thick your raw ingredients may not cook thoroughly.)

Fry’em up: I like canola oil in cast iron, enough oil so they float a bit. Let drip in a colander or paper towels or a clean paper bag.

Serve with plain white rice (sticky is preferable) and a dipping sauce of vinegar, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Mom’s variation: add a touch of brown sugar.

This recipe makes approximately 120 lumpia. Tip: Make whoever is going to be eating it with you help you roll. Another tip: these freeze EXCEPTIONALLY well and you can enjoy these ages from now, unless you’re like me and Marcus and end up having lumpia for dinner 5 times in one month. (Hey, it happens.)

As Gawd is my witness, I’ll nevah go hungry again!

My aunt is from the South. Yeah, capital “S” south, that South, not quite Bible-belt country but close enough. Since I’ve known her as Auntie Dianna from the time I was seven, it doesn’t seem weird to me that she’s this blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman originally from Corpus Christi. The story of how my Philippine-born uncle and her fell in love is probably too long and not food related enough for this blog; however, I will quote their son/my cousin by saying: The South and the Philippines have way more in common than you’d think.

Namely, if y’all must know, they both likes their food fried. So bring it on because the oil is hot and ready!

That said, it’s been long that my Auntie D has praised the wonders of cast iron. Tonight, at a writers’ group meeting, I fried up a batch of lumpia (that post coming soon, I swear!) in a friend’s cast iron skillet, and My Lawd, I do declare, but I’ve never seen these fry up so perfectly golden, nevah evah!

How long have I been frying food and never done so in cast iron? It’s almost shameful, when I think of it: flashes of fried chicken sizzling in their floury skins suddenly bring it all back. Whose fried chicken? I don’t know. I keep thinking of that scene in Ray when Jamie Foxx is cooking a batch of it in the dark. Auntie Dianna knew, my friend Rose knew, Ray Charles knew!

Geez, if a blind man can trust frying to cast iron, surely I can, too.

Then, Rose and hostess of the meeting, being a seasoned cook as well as foodie, said she had two skillets the same size. My delight at the fabulously fried lumpia so apparent, she said, “Go ahead and take one of those pans home with you.” This one? Home? It’s fantastic! It’s perfect! It weighs 20 lbs!

And so here it is: my new frying pan. I can see why angry wives threw these, bet this 10-inch pan sure could pack a wallop. Maybe I’ll even keep it by the back door next to the baseball bat (our “security system”); in the meantime, baby, I’m ready to fry (or bake). A batch of chicken or lumpia or cornbread wants this skillet. This skillet dreams of them.