July 25, 2008
It happens every July. Suddenly, almost overnight, the far corner of my backyard looks like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors has taken up residence. Those two small squash plants overtake a raised bed garden and produce large fruit that needs to be picked on almost a daily basis for the next month. I plant Korean squash, which is different than zucchini, both in shape and taste. Korean squash is rounder (although my current batch is extremely round, rounder than normal), the texture is slightly softer, and the taste is milder.
So the dilemma facing all home gardeners is what the heck to do with all that zucchini? I don’t have a magic answer – I do what almost everyone does. I make zucchini bread, pasta with zucchini, grilled squash, steamed squash with Korean dipping sauce (so simple and delicious), and of course, I give it away. But my husband’s favorite recipe is a staple of Korean kitchens during the summer months, denjang jigae (Korean bean paste soup).
Denjang is fermented soybean paste, different than the Japanese version miso. Denjang has a much stronger taste (and smell!) than miso and has bits of soybeans in it. While it is available in Korean and Asian grocery stores, I am lucky enough to have an aunt who makes homemade denjang. Homemade denjang is about as common as homemade ketchup these days, extremely rare but exceptionally delicious.
Denjang jigae can be made so many different ways with different ingredients. Use clam broth, chicken broth, or even vegetable stock. Add mushrooms, potatoes or carrots. This is the way I make it.
8 oz. sliced pork belly
6 C. water
3 Tbs. denjang
1/2 to 1 tsp. dried chili powder (gochu garu) optional
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, quartered
1 small zucchini, sliced
1/2 cube of tofu (about 7 oz.), cubed
3-4 scallions, sliced
1-2 Korean hot peppers, sliced (optional)
Bring water to a boil in a large pot (I use a traditional Korean clay pot). Add sliced pork belly lower to medium high. Skim off fat and foam.
Add denjang, chili powder and garlic and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add zucchini, onion and hot pepper and simmer for 10 minutes more. Add tofu and scallions, cover and let sit for a few minutes.
Serve with white rice, kimchi and any other banchan you have on hand.
July 16, 2008
We are well into the dog days of summer here and this dish is the perfect solution for a quick, easy, light and cool dinner. I love making cold soba noodle salad after a day at the pool or when the mercury rises above 90 (the two usually coincide as it did today). Soba noodles are Japanese buckwheat noodles, higher in protein and fiber than wheat or rice noodles.
This is Korean comfort food, amazingly simple to make yet so satisfying. I like to eat it without meat, but one can easily add some shrimp, pork or even sashimi. One key ingredient that may not be easily accessible to all is fresh perilla leaves, available at most Asian grocery stores. Perilla is a member of the mint family and is not unlike arugula or fennel with a strong, unique flavor all its own.
Perilla – a staple of Korean summer recipes
In addition to selling it in small packets in the produce section, Korean grocery stores often sell perilla in pots in the late spring/early summer. Once planted in the ground (full to partial sun), you won’t ever have to buy another perilla plant again. The plants go to seed in the early fall and will self-propagate. By next summer, you will have a profusion of perilla plants growing in a 5 feet radius around the original plant.
Soba noodles usually come in pre-measured single serving bunches.
SOBA NOODLE SALAD
4 bunches of soba noodles
10 perilla leaves, sliced thinly
2 C. mixed baby greens
1/4 – 1/2 thinly sliced red onion
1/2 C. soy sauce
1/4 C. vinegar
1/4 C. + 3 Tbs. sugar (more or less to taste)
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. water
crushed toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Cook soba noodles according to package directions. Rinse under cold water and set aside. Combine soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, olive oil and water in small bowl. Whisk until well combined.
Toss greens, perilla, onions and noodles in dressing. Garnish with crushed toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.
June 26, 2008
My personal favorite: Korean mung bean pancakes (bindae duk)
As with many other Korean special occasion foods that are made in large quantities or not at all, mung bean pancakes (bindae duk) are not something one decides to make on a whim. Two ingredients require overnight soaking and the resulting quantities are usually sufficient to feed the entire Duggar brood(although something tells me Korean food isn’t a fav in the Duggar house). For me, however, it is one of those foods evocative of large festive gatherings, the smell delicious foods wafting through the house overheated by cooking and bodies, ending inevitably with the need to unbutton one’s waistband.
One can buy freshly made bindaeduk at Korean mega-marts like Assi and H-Mart, but they never look like this version. Fernbrake, as known as bracken, is relatively expensive and often eschewed for cheaper ingredients like cabbage and carrots. My mother always puts fernbrake (kosari ) in her bindae duk and this recipe is a variation of the kind I grew up with.
In order to make this dish, you need to buy the smallest bags of dried mung beans and fernbrake you can can find at your Korean or Asian grocery store. This recipe calls for 8 C. of soaked mung beans which was an entire bag (sorry, I didn’t note the weight of the bag). One bag of dried bracken makes a shockingly large amount. You can soak the entire bag and use the remaining fernbrake for bibim bap, or just soak what you need.
This bag wasn’t even labeled as “bracken” or “fernbrake.” “Wild Greens” and “Well-being Food” are the only words in English on the package. Gotta love cryptic labeling.
That 100g bag of unpromising dark bracken expands to this soft, uniquely fragrant “meaty” vegetable.
Mung bean pancakes are a great source of protein, gluten-free, and if omitting the pork, can be vegan. The beans give the pancake a heavier texture and you’ll feel full after just a couple (although you will keep eating since they’re so tasty!).
Korean Mung Bean Pancakes (Bindae duk)
Yields 35-40 3-4″ pancakes
8 C. mung beans, soaked overnight with any green casing picked over and discarded
1½ C. hydrated fernbrake, cut 1-2″ long
1 bunch sliced scallions, cut 1-2″ long
1½ C. chopped kimchi
8 oz. thinly sliced pork
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ C. sesame seed oil
salt and pepper to taste
oil to fry
(you can add up to 4 lightly beaten eggs to this recipe if you wish to make your pancakes less dense.)
Working in batches, liquefy mung beans 2 cups at a time in a blender, adding about 1/4 of water used to soak the beans each batch.
Combine pureed mung bean, fernbrake, scallions, kimchi, pork, garlic, sesame seed oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Heat oil on griddle or large frying pan on medium to medium high. Ladle about 1/4 or 1/3 C. on griddle, making sure not to make the pancakes too thick. I like to keep them between 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Turn over when golden brown (about 4-5 minutes) and add more oil as needed. Serve hot with Korean dipping sauce.
Mung bean pancakes freeze very well, so go ahead and make that large batch. Just defrost and refry when you have a hankering for these delicious pancakes.
May 19, 2008
Spicy Korean-style pork spare ribs and cool watermelon salad
My version of spare ribs are spicy and sweet, using Korean red pepper paste (gochu jang). I measured out this recipe for the first time since I’ve always made this to taste, depending on how many ribs I was cooking. This recipe should feed 4 very hungry people (or 6 people who had a snack before dinner).
Gochu jang is available at Korean and Asian grocery stores (and online, apparently).
This red pepper paste is not for the weak-hearted.
Spicy Korean pork spare ribs
1/3 C. Korean red pepper paste (gochu jang)
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 C. sugar (or less, depending on how sweet you like it)
3 Tbs. sesame seed oil
1/4 C. water
4-5 scallions cut into 3 inch long pieces
1 medium onion, sliced
2 Tbs. crushed toasted sesame seeds
4-5 lbs. pork spare ribs
toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Combine red pepper paste, garlic, sugar, sesame seed oil and water in a large bowl until smooth and runny.
Add scallions, onions and crushed sesame seeds to mixture. Add spare ribs and coat well.
Refigerate for at least a half hour (I like to put them in for an hour). Heat up grill and cook on medium high, covered for about 6-8 minutes on each side, depending on your grill and the thickness of the ribs. You can cook the onions and scallions on the grill (they will fall through unless you use a grill pan), or discard. Sprinkle cooked ribs with sesame seeds, if desired.
Serve with lots of moist towelettes.
Something this spicy must be served with something to cool the tongue, and this watermelon salad fits the bill.
3 C. cubed watermelon
1 1/2 C. cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 C. thinly sliced red onion
1 C. diced seedless cucumber, peeled
3 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground pepper to taste
Combine watermelon, cherry tomatoes, red onions, cucumber, lime juice and olive oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss lightly. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve chilled.
April 29, 2008
DIY California Rolls
I’ve decided to feature my children’s favorite meals this week, starting with my daughter’s. She has always had a fairly sophisticated palate, choosing an aged Asiago over American, a hard crusty Italian bread over Wonderbread, chorizo before a hot dog, and freshly steamed hard shell crabs over fish sticks. So what does this little foodie say is her favorite meal? California rolls. Ok, I know California rolls are to sushi lovers what beefaroni is to pasta gourmets, but she’s seven. And I serve it family style, meaning everyone makes their own, which she adores. I offered to make the real deal for her birthday, rolling and cutting into the traditional individual pieces. Nope – not interested. She wanted to make her own, as she always has done.
Serendipitously, this also happens to be a no-cook dinner (other than the rice, which I don’t even count as cooking since I have a rice cooker). You do have to season the cooked rice, and the only other “cooking” is the miso soup, which I usually serve with California rolls. You can buy the dry soup packets and just add boiling water. I make my miso soup with miso paste, water, tofu and a garnish of scallions – it takes all of 3 minutes. Once you cut up the cucumbers, imitation crab meat, avocados and nori, dinner is ready!
Make your own California rolls
2-3 ripe avocados
8 oz. imitation crab meat sticks (about 10)
1 English (seedless) cucumber
8 sheets of nori
2 C. seasoned sushi rice
soy sauce for dipping
prepared wasabi for soy sauce
Cut avocados and cucumbers into strips about 3 inches long, 1/4 inch wide. Shred or cut crab meat into about 3 pieces per stick, also about 1/4 inch wide. Using scissors, cut nori sheets into quarters. Place each ingredient (avocado, cucumber, crab meat, nori, and rice) onto its own plate. Everyone takes their own nori, puts a bit of rice, one piece of cucumber, crab and avocado on it. Roll it up and dip in wasabi soy sauce.
Seasoned Sushi Rice
2 – 2 1/2 C. cooked Japanese or Korean rice
3 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Once the rice is cooked, let cool slightly. Mix in rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix well and serve in California rolls immediately.
April 18, 2008
Pan fried mandoo with Korean dipping sauce
Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve a kitchenful of women, all sitting around the table making mandoo, gossiping and laughing. My mother, grandmother, aunts and female cousins would gather together in the kitchen, making short work of a big bowl of dumpling filling. Mandoo, Korean dumplings (also called pot stickers and gyoza) is rather labor-intensive and is best when made with a lot of hands (and a lot of love). Today at age seven, my daughter is now eager to help in the kitchen and join the tradition.
I’ve modified this recipe to a manageable amount – I usually make about 150 at a time and either freeze or give away the extras. (The photos do show a larger amount than the recipe calls for.) This is a very basic, traditional recipe, although I have modified it many ways over the years. Take out the meat, double the tofu and bean sprouts and add some shredded carrots to make it vegetarian. Or, use ground turkey instead of beef and pork for a more heart-healthy version. My favorite variation is adding chopped kim-chi – yum!
Mandoo – Korean dumplings
8 oz. bean sprouts, coarsely chopped
6 oz. ground beef
6 oz. ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 tsp. minced ginger
1 block of tofu
4 scallions, chopped
1 Tbs. sesame seed oil
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
50 gyoza or Chinese dumpling skins (available in the frozen section of Asian grocery stores and some über-hip suburban grocery stores)
1 beaten egg for wash
Boil chopped bean sprouts for about 3 minutes – do not over cook. Place cooked bean sprouts, meat, minced garlic, ginger and onions, tofu and scallions in a cheesecloth.
Squeeze the dickens out of it. (For those with weak upper body strength – you can place a heavy pot filled with water on top of the cheesecloth-wrap and let the moisture ooze out for a half hour or so).
Add sesame seed oil, egg, salt, and pepper. Combine well, making sure to break down the tofu into little bits.
This size package contains approximately 50 skins. Make sure to defrost fully.
Lightly beat one egg in small bowl, adding a tiny bit of water. Dip you finger in the egg wash and moisten the entire outer edge of the dumpling skin. Then take a heaping teaspoon of the filling and place it in the center of the dumpling.
Make sure to NOT over-stuff!
Fold dumpling in half.
And pinch close tightly.
Repeat 50 times. My daughter made the bottom right ones – ignore the filling coming out the edges.
Ok, from here you have several options. You can 1.) steam them right now and eat them (healthiest option), 2.) steam them right now, then pan fry them (the tastiest option), 3.) put them in beef broth and make mandoo soup, 4.) steam them now, then freeze them to fry at a later time, 5.) simultaneously fry/steam them, or 6.) drop these babies in the deep fryer (easiest but least healthy option).
If you opt for the time-saver #5 option, you need to coat a heavy frying pan with oil and place on medium high. Add raw dumplings and fry for a few minutes, then turn and fry for a couple minutes more. Turn up heat to high and carefully add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan about 1/4″. Cover tightly and steam for about 4-5 minutes, lowering to medium-low once the water boils, making sure not to burn.
I like to steam them separately then pan fry them, mainly because I have the mother of all steamers. Check out my double-decker steamer (the bottom layer is covered):
Always place a wet paper towel on a metal steamer (not necessary on bamboo). Otherwise, the dumplings will stick and rip when you try to take them out. You do not want to over steam – the edges will get very dried out. It should only take about 4-5 minutes to cook. Look for the dumplings to puff up and after you take off the lid, it will sink back down and cling to the bumpy meat mixture.
Pan fry the dumplings in oil and serve with Korean-style dipping sauce. You can place the fried dumplings in an over-safe dish, cover in foil and warm in oven until ready to serve. If you bring this to a party, expect them to disappear within five minutes (maybe less).
1/3 C. soy sauce
1 minced garlic clove
2 scallions, finely chopped
1-2 tsp. sesame seed oil
dash of Korean red pepper powder (kochu garu) or cayenne pepper
dash of crushed toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Mix all ingredients well and serve with mandoo, scallion pancakes, or anything that tastes good dipped in soy sauce!