Woking the wok: The Leung family keeps family heritage recipes alive

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(From left to right) Judy, Kaitlin, Bill, and Sarah Leung created a blog, The Woks of Life, nearly a decade ago which has become the top online resource for Chinese cooking in English. Photo by Christine Han.

Bill, Judy, Sarah, and Kaitlin Leung each deeply focused on one aspect of their Chinese heritage cuisine and began to teach it on their blog, “The Woks of Life.” Their presence online has become the top resource for English language learners to create restaurant-style Chinese dishes at home. Siblings Sarah and Kaitlin describe each other's roles and talents, and the braintrust of the blog — their parents, Bill and Judy.

The first blog post was simple, spicy pan-fried noodles, a go-to after school snack of the sisters. Their dishes over the last nine years have been collected in the Leung’s first book, “The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love From a Chinese American Family.”

Pork & Shrimp Siu Mai

Sarah’s classic Cantonese-style sui mai, made with a well-emulsified pork and shrimp filling and store-bought dumpling wrappers and topped with minced carrots, are a surprising starter recipe for making dim sum at home. Photo by Sarah Leung and Kaitlin Leung.



  • 3 small or 1 to 2 large dried shiitake mushrooms
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 8 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp (any size)
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper powder
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil


  • 24 very thin yellow Hong Kong-style round dumpling wrappers or thin yellow square wonton wrappers
  • 2 tablespoons very finely minced carrot
  • Chili oil or chili garlic sauce, for serving


  1. MAKE THE FILLING: Soak the shiitake mushrooms in the hot water for 2 hours (or overnight) until fully rehydrated. Squeeze any excess water out of the mushrooms. Trim away any tough stems, and very finely chop the mushrooms—you should have about ¼ cup.
  2. Add the shrimp to a medium bowl, and toss them with 1 teaspoon of the sugar, the baking soda, and the 2 tablespoons water. Set aside for 15 minutes, then rinse the shrimp in a colander under running water until the water runs clear. Drain.
  3. Meanwhile, to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or just a large bowl, if mixing by hand), add the ground pork, the remaining tablespoon sugar, the cornstarch, Shaoxing wine, salt, and white pepper. Mix on medium-low speed for 5 minutes, or until the mixture resembles a paste that sticks to the sides of the bowl. (Alternatively, mix vigorously in one direction with a pair of chopsticks by hand for 10 to 15 minutes until you get the same result.)
  4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the shrimp, and beat on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the shrimp is well incorporated into the pork, another 2 minutes. (If mixing by hand, roughly chop the shrimp, add them to the pork, and mix in one direction for 10 minutes.)
  5. Add the chopped mushrooms, the neutral oil, oyster sauce, and sesame oil. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute (or by hand for 2 to 3 minutes).
  6. ASSEMBLE THE SIU MAI: Line a bamboo steamer with perforated parchment paper, damp cheesecloth, or thin cabbage leaves. Take one wrapper and place a tablespoon of filling in the middle. Squeeze the sides of the wrapper up around the edges of the filling to create an open-topped pocket. Use a butter knife to continue filling the wrapper until it’s stuffed to the top with filling, and then scrape the top flat. If using square wrappers, fold over any excess wrapper and squeeze the wrappers to the sides of the siu mai.
  7. Continue until you’ve assembled all the siu mai, transferring them to the lined steamer basket as you go, placed 1 inch apart. (Place any siu mai that don’t fit in the steamer on a parchment-lined plate or sheet pan to cook in later batches or freeze.) Top the center of each siu mai with a small amount of the minced carrot.
  8. COOK THE SIU MAI: Fill a wok with enough water to submerge the bottom rim of your bamboo steamer by ½ inch (you may need to add more boiling water during steaming to keep the water at this level). Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Place the covered steamer in the wok and steam each batch over medium heat for 9 minutes. Serve with the chili oil or chili garlic sauce.

Shortcut Dan Dan Noodles 

Kaitlin’s shortcut to labor-intensive dan dan noodles is a pre-mixed sauce that can keep in the refrigerator for up to six months. She said the recipe will build homecook’s confidence in making Chinese food. Photo by Sarah Leung and Kaitlin Leung.


FOR THE SHORTCUT DAN DAN SAUCE (makes 2 ¼ cups sauce, enough for 18 servings):

  • 1½ cups Ultimate Chili Oil (see next page) without optional salt
  • 1/3 cup light soy sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste
  • 5 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons chicken bouillon paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns 
  • ¼ teaspoon five-spice powder

FOR EACH SERVING OF NOODLES (multiply as needed for up to 18 servings):

  • 3-4 ounces ground pork or chicken 
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • ¼ teaspoon cornstarch 
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil 
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan preserved vegetables (碎米芽菜)
  • 5 ounces fresh white wheat noodles (or 2.5 ounces dried)
  • 1 handful of fresh spinach leaves 
  • 2 tablespoons 


  1. MAKE THE SAUCE: In a sterilized airtight glass jar (large enough to hold 2¼ cups of sauce) or medium bowl, mix the chili oil, light soy sauce, sugar, sesame paste, dark soy sauce, chicken bouillon paste, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and five-spice powder. Stir with a clean spoon until thoroughly combined, then close with a tight-fitting lid. (Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Use only clean utensils when handling and stir thoroughly prior to each use.)
  2. ASSEMBLE AND SERVE: Marinate the ground pork with the Shaoxing wine and cornstarch for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat. When the wok is just beginning to smoke, add the neutral oil. Add the seasoned pork and brown it, stirring often, until crispy and golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and Sichuan preserved vegetables and cook for 1 minute to take the raw edge off the garlic.
  4. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Add the spinach to the noodles in the last 30 seconds of cooking. (Be sure to boil the noodles after you cook the pork. You don’t want the noodles sitting around, or they’ll clump.)
  5. Drain the noodles and spinach and divide them among your intended number of serving bowls. Top each bowl with the sauce and the pork mixture. 
  6. Serve immediately, stirring the noodles in the bowls to combine the ingredients. (If needed, add a spoonful or two of the noodle-cooking water to loosen the noodles and sauce.)

“The Woks of Life” offers four different perspectives of cooking and keeping tradition alive in a Chinese-American family. Photo courtesy of Clarkson Potter.