Besides the occasional meal at a local Korean restaurant Chicago, my first real exposure to that country’s cuisine was in the test kitchen of Saveur magazine, where I interned this past summer. In preparation for the October issue, we were testing a variety of recipes for kimchi, all of them made entirely from scratch. On the roster were the classic baechu (cabbage) kimchi, mild water kimchi (made with daikon, Asian pear, and scallions), spicy daikon kimchi, and stuffed cucumber kimchi. (You can find recipes for all four on Saveur’s website.) For the most part, I was in charge of testing the recipe for the cabbage kimchi, which involved chopping and mincing no less than twelve ingredients. Suffice it to say that by the end of end of my stint, I felt pretty confident about my kimchi-making skills.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of Korean cuisine remains a mystery to me, which is something I hope to correct while living in Japan. Although there are Korean immigrants living throughout the country, Matsumoto seems to have a sizeable population, at least based on the number of Korean establishments I’ve seen around town. This is good news for me, because it means easy access to steaming bowls of soondubu jigae, handmade kimchi, and Korean staples like gochujang (Korean chile paste).
The following two recipes are the results of my recent experiments with Korean ingredients and flavors. The first, a sort of deconstructed bibimbap salad, uses cooked beans in place of the usual rice.
Mixed with the beans are wilted komatsuna (sort of a cross between spinach and bok choy), oyster mushrooms sautéed with ginger and garlic, and bean sprouts. It’s dressed with a simple, spicy mix of gochujang, sesame oil, lemon juice, and honey and topped with a smattering of toasty sesame seeds. The end result is not particularly pretty…
…but it packs a serious whallop of flavor and spice into every bite. Plus, it’s super-healthy and endlessly adaptable – what more could you ask for?
The second dish couldn’t be easier to whip up on a moment’s notice, and the result would be equally welcome on the breakfast or dinner table. All you need are eggs, milk, a fistful of garlic chives, a dried red pepper or two, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. The eggs, brightened by the bursts of green chives, are imbued with the deep, savory flavors of the sesame oil and soy sauce.
Although neither of these recipes is truly Korean, their ingredients and flavor profiles both draw inspiration from that cuisine. Hey, if the Japanese can put nori on top of spaghetti, why can’t I have a little fun, too?
Technically, this is not bibimbap at all, since the word bibimbap means “mixed rice” and this dish is bean-based. Forgive me! You can vary any of the ingredients according to what you have on hand, though I do recommend using the gochujang. It’s a thick, slightly sweet paste traditionally made from ground red peppers, glutinous rice powder, fermented soybeans, and salt. It has the slightly funky and salty kick of miso, which is tempered by a round, mellow sweetness. I’ve found that it’s great as a dip for raw vegetables, though that application it might be too spicy for some palates.
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
One large handful of wild or cultivated mushrooms of your choice (I used oyster)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
1 dried red chile, snipped into rings (I used a variety of Japanese chile, but you could substitute chile de arbol, or the like)
One bunch dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, mustard, or turnip, well rinsed and roughly chopped
One large handful bean sprouts
About two cups cooked beans of your choice. (I used the variety pictured above)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
2 tablespoons gochujang
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons honey, or to taste
For the beans:
In a sauté pan, heat the sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until softened. Add the garlic, ginger, and chile and briefly stir-fry until fragrant and golden. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the chopped greens to the pan and let them wilt over low heat, then set aside with the mushrooms.
For the dressing:
Whisk together ingredients, and adjust seasoning to taste.
Assemble the remaining ingredients any way you like – I tossed everything together in a bowl, but you could arrange the vegetables attractively over the beans – whatever works. I found that this dish didn’t need any extra salt, but you may need to adjust the seasoning, depending how much gochujang you use.
Korean Scrambled Eggs
No photos on this one, sorry! My camera ran out of batteries just as I began cooking.
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 dried red chiles, snipped into rings (I used a variety of Japanese chile, but you could substitute chile de arbol, or the like)
1 bunch garlic chives, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Heat the sesame oil in a skillet over moderate heat, and add the chiles. Fry the chiles in the oil until they begin to release a toasty fragrance and take on a darker hue, then add half the garlic chives. Sauté until slightly wilted, then add the eggs and lower the heat. As soon as the first curds begin to form, gently push them around the pan without breaking them up too much. After a minute or two, add the soy sauce, remaining chives, and one tablespoon of sesame seeds. Stir gently to combine and remove from heat once eggs are done to your liking. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sesame seeds over the top, and enjoy.