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.
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