Think Mom's same old Thanksgiving mashed potatoes are boring? Jejune? Predictable?
Debbie Lee's are anything but. And they all started with a happy accident.
Lee is the owner and operator of the Los Angeles-based Korean-American restaurant Ahn Joo, and the author of Seoultown Kitchen: Korean Pub Grub To Share With Family And Friends. While Korean by heritage, Lee didn't grow up eating traditional Korean foods.
"When my parents came over here in the early '60s from Korea after the war, they planted in Jackson, Miss. My mother was too young at the time to really develop the understanding of cooking Korean food, so what she learned how to make was good ol' Southern food," says Lee.
"Mom would do everything from standard giblet gravy to some buttermilk mashed potatoes to sweet potato pie" for Thanksgiving.
But Lee's grandmother would bring a jar of kimchi — a Korean spicy pickle, usually cabbage, to Thanksgiving every year. And Lee had to put some on her plate, to be polite.
"For some reason I would follow my brother's suit, and so Robbie would put it right next to his mashed potatoes and I'd do the same, so the juice from the kimchi would end up going to the mashed potatoes, and I'd start stirring it. Hence where I sort of developed the recipe for my kimchi smashed potatoes," she says.
Lee's recipe has been a bit "doctored up" as she's grown up, she tells All Things Considered host Melissa Block. She now uses kimchi along with a combination of sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, garlic and onion boiled in milk and chicken broth. Lee says when she serves her kimchi smashed potatoes to friends, they just about go crazy for it.
But make no mistake, Lee says; it all started as "an accident of the melding of flavors on your plate."
Now Lee gives her Thanksgiving table an Asian twist on purpose.
What got us most excited was her description of her Fuji Apple Egg Rolls — her take on McDonald's apple pie, twice fried and served with a ginger mascarpone cream.
"It's essence of an apple pie, but what's great, too, is that if you're having a lot of people over, you can slice them in half, everybody can get a piece, and they're really easy to make ahead of time, put them in the freezer, take them out, and then bake them off afterwards."
You had us at "twice fried."
To hear the whole conversation with Lee, click on the audio link above. Below are some of the Korean-American mashup recipes she shared with us.
Kimchi Smashed Potatoes
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered
1/2 pound carrots, peeled, quartered
1 yellow onion, cut in large dice
3-4 garlic cloves
1 quart chicken broth
1 quart milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 pound butter, unsalted, cut into cubes
1 cup heavy cream, warm
2 cups kimchi, drained and cut into small dice
1. Boil potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic in chicken broth and milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain well.
2. In a large mixing bowl, add butter, cream, and potato mixture. Smash well.
3. Add kimchi and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
Yield: 8-10 portions
Fuji Apple Egg Rolls
3 Fuji apples, large, peeled, diced into 1/4 inch
1/4 pound butter, unsalted
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 large egg
1 package egg roll wrappers
1 tablespoon cold water
Shortening for deep frying
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 additional teaspoon cinnamon, ground (for garnish)
1. In a large skillet, melt butter on low heat. Do not let butter burn.
2. Once butter is melted add brown sugar. Whisk well until sugar has completely melted.
3. Toss in apples and let simmer for a few minutes, making sure to stir constantly.
4. Remove from heat, add cinnamon and fold in to incorporate.
5. Spread mixture onto a sheet tray and let cool down in refrigerator.
6. Once mixture is cool, drain mixture in a fine mesh colander so that excess liquid drains well. Mix egg with cold water in a small bowl to make egg wash.
7. Assemble egg rolls by using 1 1/2 tablespoons of mixture in each wrapper and roll like you would an eggroll. Seal with egg wash.
8. In a deep pot or fryer, heat shortening to 300 degrees. Fry egg rolls until golden brown.
9. Combine powdered sugar and additional teaspoon of cinnamon well in a shaker. Dust egg rolls and serve immediately.
Yield: 12-14 egg rolls
You can also par fry and then freeze to use at a later time. Reheat at 350 degrees on a sheet tray for 5-6 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Serve with Ginger Mascarpone Cream.
Ginger Mascarpone Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar, granulated
1 piece ginger root, peeled, 1 inch slice
3 tablespoons Canton (ginger liqueur)
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients except mascarpone cheese
2. Allow to steep for about 15 minutes. Remove and cool down immediately.
3. Using an electric hand mixer, whisk together cream mixture and mascarpone cheese until light and fluffy.
4. Place in serving bowl and serve immediately.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From turkey now on to the rest of the Thanksgiving table. We're going to get some ideas today from Chef Debbie Lee. She owns the restaurant Ahn Joo in Los Angeles. She's Korean-American. Her parents immigrated to the States after the Korean War and settled in Jackson, Mississippi. And the food Debbie ate growing up was not Korean. It was Southern soul.
DEBBIE LEE: Giblet gravy, you know, buttermilk mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, fried bird.
BLOCK: Authentic Korean food didn't even make it onto the family dinner table until her grandparents started visiting for the holidays.
LEE: I finally remember my grandmother brought a big old, you know, jar of kimchi. I'm like, what is that?
BLOCK: You didn't even know.
LEE: Well, I knew of it, but I wasn't, like, crazy about eating it because it just wasn't in, you know, our regular diet. You had to put it somewhere on your plate. And for some reason, my - I would follow my brother's suit. And so Robbie would put it right next to his mashed potatoes, and I'd do the same. And so the juice from the kimchi would end up going in the mashed potatoes, and I'd start stirring it, hence where I sort of developed the recipe for my kimchi smashed potatoes. So make no mistake. It was sort of an accident of the melding of flavors on your plate.
BLOCK: Well, let's explain kimchi here, just a little bit, Debbie. It's a Korean staple. And it has to do with cabbage, picked cabbage?
LEE: Yes. Yeah. Yes. The standard one is baechu, which is a cabbage kimchi made of Napa cabbage. However, kimchi is anything that you pickle and ferment with chilies and garlic and, you know, of course, the fish agent. There's like over, I think, like, 1,000 variations of kimchi.
BLOCK: So that's evolved into kimchi smashed potatoes.
LEE: Yes. Of course, I've doctored it up a little bit. It's part sweet potatoes, regular russets and, you know, garlic and onion that you boil with some milk and chicken broth, because my mom always used to actually boil her potatoes in milk. Of course, I add a little chicken stock, and then, you know, you just basically follow with some heavy cream, some butter and a lot of chopped kimchi. And you got yourself some really incredible unique potatoes for the holidays.
BLOCK: So it's rich and spicy at the same time.
LEE: Yes. Actually, the spice and the acid from the kimchi is a really nice balance of the richness of the potatoes. So I personally think it's great. And, you know, a lot of times, when I'm just having people over the last minute and doing, you know, whether it's pork chops or a steak, I just serve it as a side, and people go crazy over it.
BLOCK: Well, Debbie, where else does your Korean heritage appear at Thanksgiving?
LEE: Oh, well, we go through appetizers because, you know, there's a whole process with my family in Thanksgiving. You know, mom wakes up at 8. She starts putting the turkey in, but it has to cook really nice and slow. And so during that time, of course, you know, everybody's smelling the turkey, so they're getting hungry. Dad and my brother are watching sports, and whoever else comes over. So we've got to have snacks.
So one thing that my mom used to love to make when I was a kid in the '70s was rumaki, scallop-wrapped with bacon. And what I did is I actually took what my grandma used to give me as a treat, which was bacon-wrapped rice cakes that I actually serve at my restaurant. But it's always, you know, the annual infamous appetizer that I serve before we have a meal. I also think bacon is a great way to sort of get your taste buds going, get you excited about eating.
BLOCK: Bacon's good for just about everything as well as I can tell.
LEE: I completely agree.
LEE: Everything's better with bacon.
BLOCK: When you're talking about rice cakes here, you're not talking about those discs that come in the plastic bag that you...
LEE: No, no.
BLOCK: ...(unintelligible) for a while.
LEE: Yeah, no. These are completely the opposite. Think of basically enoki made of rice. It's a dumpling. But what makes these, you know, rice cake skewers so unique is they're so easy to make, and it's a matter of you just grilling like you would grill a bacon, you know, on a fry pan. And when you bite into them, you get this crispy, smoky texture and the chilliness of the rice cake, which is basically our version of a rice enoki.
BLOCK: What about for dessert, Debbie?
LEE: You'll always see some of my Fuji apple egg rolls at the table. It's my take on the fried apple pie. I was a little upset when McDonald's decided to be baking their pies.
LEE: Well, that's no fun. It's healthy now. So I basically make a mix of Fuji apples with some butter and brown sugar and spices, and I roll it up, and I twice fried it in an egg roll wrapper, and then I serve it with a ginger mascarpone cream. So, you know, it's the essence of an apple pie. But what's great, too, is if you're having a lot of people over, you can slice them in half, everybody can get a piece. And, you know, they're really easy to make ahead of time, put in the freezer and then take them out and bake them off afterwards.
LEE: Yeah. We eat well at the Lee house.
BLOCK: Well, Debbie Lee, happy Thanksgiving. Thanks so much for sharing your recipes with us.
LEE: Thank you very much for having me.
BLOCK: That's Chef Debbie Lee. Her latest cookbook is "Seoultown Kitchen." That's Seoul, S-E-O-U-L. Audie, tempted by any of those recipes?
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
I'm totally won over by this rice cake plan.
BLOCK: OK. Well, we don't have that recipe on our food blog, The Salt, but we have two other ones: the recipes for kimchi smashed potatoes and Fuji apple egg rolls. And tomorrow, Chef Jose Garces shares how he brings the taste of Latin America to his Thanksgiving table. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.