Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian

Chilean Sea Pancakes

[one_half][I] understand that anyone can have an off-day, but to whoever was responsible for naming the mung bean? Maybe you should have focus-grouped that. To be fair, it never occurred to me, all these years, that I was eating products derived from a legume many uninitiated Americans would think sounds vaguely like elimination product. When I started cooking with mung beans myself, I learned quickly that:

  1. An astonishing fraction of my peer group has never knowingly eaten mung beans.
  2. People who’ve never eaten mung beans think I’m the freak.

“Whatcha makin’?”
“Mung bean pancakes!”
“Ohhhhh, that sounds… Great!

The forced enthusiasm accompanies a look of thinly veiled disgust, as if I’d just passed gas, or secretly replaced the tuna salad with cat food. The striking thing is that it’s not as if I’m talking about durian or balut—both cases in which a person might have the foggiest idea why she’s repulsed by the concept. Rather, said person often doesn’t even know what mung beans look like. She simply doesn’t like the sound of it.

As the parent of a picky eater, I understand that certain keywords are a no-no for pitching new foods to a young child. For example, “spicy,” “green,” “new,” etc. On the other hand, Esme reacts positively to spicy, green, new foods that are tagged: “honey,” “chocolate,” “sweet,” or “halmoni,” (the Korean word for Grandma, with whom Esme associates the vast majority of her favorite foods).

In other words, it’s all in the packaging—an effect all too familiar to the Patagonian toothfish, whose wildly successful rebrand as “Chilean Sea Bass” propelled it to the brink of extinction.

There’s no need for me to sell Esme on the premise of “halmoni pancakes,” since she already adores them. I have, however, been able to repurpose the “halmoni” modifier to get her to try jajangmyeon, which she scarfed down with extreme prejudice, despite her general aversion to brown food and noodles.

For you, I offer another Mom Food staple: a savory pancake along the vein of the beloved pajeon, but with a more robust texture.

* * * * *

Chilean Sea Pancakes, or
Bindaetteok
 (Korean Mung Bean Pancakes)

2 C dried, skinned mung beans (or, as I now like to call them, “Chilean Sea Peas”)
1/4 C uncooked, short grain white rice
water
about 2 C spicy cabbage kimchi
kimchi liquid (from the jar of kimchi you used above)
1 round onion, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
vegetable or grapeseed oil
optional:
2 korean or jalapeno peppers, sliced and seeded
salt
fish sauce

Soak mung beans and rice in 4 C of cold water, covered, for at least 3 hours and as long as overnight. Hepinstall advises boiling them for 30 minutes as an alternative to soaking. That has never worked for me. In my experience, cooked beans will blend into a sticky paste that doesn’t form pancakes when fried.

Drain the soaked beans/rice and reserve liquid. Working in batches, puree the beans and rice until just smooth, slowly adding small amounts of the bean liquid as necessary to achieve a consistency slightly thicker than cake batter. Store in the refrigerator during the next steps.

Squeeze kimchi in paper towels to lightly drain. Chop coarsely and set aside.

Tip: Kimchi tends to stain like a motherfucker. Don’t chop it directly on a cutting board, since it’s impossible to clean thoroughly. Cover your cutting surface with a flattened milk carton.

Question: Does it matter what kimchi I use? Yes. There’s a huge dynamic range of flavor and quality here, but as a general rule, you should use kimchi that you’d be thrilled to eat straight. I do tend to use kimchi that’s more on the acidic side, as a chunk of that provides nice contrast with the rest of the pancake. Kimchi gets more acidic the longer it ferments, so don’t use super-young kimchi. Unless, of course, that’s all you have.

Combine pureed beans, chopped kimchi, onion, and scallions and stir well. Add kimchi liquid and bean liquid to achieve a cake batter-like consistency. How much kimchi liquid relative to bean liquid? It really depends on how spicy the kimchi is, and how spicy you want the pancakes. I find cooked kimchi to be pretty mellow, so I add enough liquid to make the batter distinctly orange. I backed off a bit in this case so as not to freak out my daughter:

The pancakes will be crisper if the batter is cold. So if you want, make the batter in advance and chill until you’re ready to cook.

To fry the pancakes, use a 12-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet. An electric skillet or griddle also works. In any case, heat a liberal amount of oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. The oil should certainly cover the entire surface of the pan when swirled. Use slightly more than that. With a large dinner spoon or soup spoon, quickly spoon batter into the pan to make four pancakes roughly 3 inches in diameter. They should be about 1/2 inch thick when cooked—that should help you adjust the batter thickness as you go along. If desired, add a few sliced peppers atop each pancake. At this point, you have roughly 1 – 2 minutes before the batter sets. I use that time to make the pancakes uniform and round, tucking in the edges with the outside of my spoon. But you know, I’m a bit anal that way.

Once the bottom of the pancakes is browned and crisp (about 2 minutes—you’ll see the edges start to brown), flip the pancakes and cook for another 2 minutes. Optionally, flip once more and cook for a minute. Set pancakes aside and allow them to blot on paper napkins or brown paper bags.

After you’ve made the first batch of pancakes, remove the pan from heat. Taste the pancakes and adjust for thickness (bean liquid), spiciness (kimchi liquid), or other flavor (salt, fish sauce). The pancakes are by far the best when they’ve just come from the pan. They should be crisp on the outside, but not overly browned. The inside should be cooked, but tender. If they’re high and cakey, you’ll want to add more liquid.

Once you’re done futzing, heat the pan, adding more oil if necessary, and make the next batch of 4. I often make twice this recipe or more, so once I’ve got the batter dialed in, the frying goes very quickly. Cook the rest of the pancakes. This recipe yields 15 – 20 pancakes 3″ in diameter and about 1/2″ high.

Adaptation for meatitarians:

This dish is often made with pork. Make no mistake: it is very good with pork. However, that does take a bit more work, and I tend to be lazy/rushed/perfectly satisfied with the pescatarian version. If you must have pork, I don’t recommend doing what some recipes suggest, which is to add ground pork to the batter. My mom and I have each tried that technique, and agree that the flavor of the pork gets diluted in batter and doesn’t add much.

My mom boils about a pound of pork shoulder in water seasoned with ginger, garlic and soy sauce. When the meat is tender, she slices it thinly and adds coin-sized pieces of sliced pork to the pancake just after the batter has hit the pan. Alternatively, you could season the slices of cooked pork lightly with yang nyum soy sauce immediately before adding to the pancake.

Serve immediately, or let people eat as you go. I calibrate the amount of kimchi liquid so that they are perfectly delicious without any sauce. However, they are also commonly served with yang nyum soy sauce or any variety of soy dipping sauces. Substitute tamari if you want to keep it gluten-free.

Like I said, I tend to make a lot of these pancakes, which refrigerate and freeze well. When reheating, you can pan-fry them, which will restore the crisp exterior. They are also perfectly fine (albeit softer/soggier) microwaved.[/one_half]

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Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Korean Meats Seafood

Bo ssäm (roasted pork butt wrapped in lettuce)

[one_half][I] grew up eating a fair amount of salad. Not that I particularly liked it back then. The way my mom always made it, it had tons of raw onion, which was a bit overwhelming for my kid palate. But salad was a fact of life in our household. My father once said, in his characteristically unselfconscious way, It’s like greeeease for the body. (Thanks, Dad.) But there were times when my mom, rather than make a salad, would simply set out a plate of romaine lettuce alongside what my sister and I refer to as “ghetto salad dressing,” or soy sauce mixed with mayonnaise.

We would most simply dip the lettuce in one of the sauces and have at it. Other times (and this was particularly the case when we had a leafier lettuce, like red leaf lettuce) we would get all fancy and stuff the lettuce with rice, meat and kimchi before slathering on some ssäm jang and sending it down the hatch.

I always thought my mom just did this, as she sometimes admitted, because she was too lazy to make salad dressing. (Hell, sometimes she couldn’t even be bothered to put the soy sauce in.) I had no idea that the thing we were eating had a name, that it would one day become one of the most fashionable dishes in New York, and that it was called ssäm.

* * * * *

My sister was recently in town, and was flying solo for the first time in years. As much as I love my two nieces and brother-in-law, I was eager to have some alone time with my big sis. In particular, I was tremendously excited to think about what might go down in our kitchen during Daisy’s visit. In the past, she’s always taken the lead with cooking. And people who know what’s good for them generally let that happen. Like the classic play drawn up by Doug Collins: Just give the ball to Michael, and everyone else get the f**k outta the way. But this being Daisy’s first visit to SF since the genesis of Babychili, we naturally discussed who might be the alpha cook during her stay. In particular, I had planned to host a dinner party for my sister and her Bay Area friends, as well a few of my foodie locals. We diplomatically agreed that it would be a collaboration, but for whatever reason (Boredom? Fatigue? Morbid curiosity?), Daisy more or less handed me the reins.

By now, you know that I can’t take a shit without going off on how great David Chang is. Ever since reading about it in asian jewish deli, I had really been wanting to try the Momofuku bo ssäm, and predicted (accurately) that it would be an uncontroversial choice for our dinner party. Non-Koreans, Non-New Yorkers, and those unfamiliar with the cult of Chang may fairly ask: What the fuck is a bo ssäm? As I mentioned above, ssäm refers to food that’s wrapped in something, usually lettuce. Bo ssäm is a popular dish in Korea that consists of lettuce wrapped around boiled or steamed pork belly, kimchi, and inexpensive oysters (sometimes spiced to mask their dodginess). It is typically consumed with some cheap-ass beer and some cheap-ass, freezer-cold soju. (In Korea, craft alcoholic beverages are best left to others—the Japanese, for instance.) Make no mistake. Bo ssäm is some delicious-ass anju, or drinkin’ food.

Tip: grapefruit masks cheap liquor.

Leave it to Chang to seriously dress up this classic bar-food dish by stepping up the quality of all of the ingredients: Slow-roasted pork shoulder instead of boiled belly. Oysters suitable for a raw bar. Sauces tweaked to be richer and bolder. Heck, you can even forgo the cheap booze and rock a nice riesling. If you’re in NYC, you can reserve this much sought after dinner for 6 – 10 people at Ssäm Bar for $200. Or, you can (quite easily) make it yourself. And that’s what we did.

* * * * *

DINNER

First course was a classic ceviche that I started the previous night (at about 10PM, intending to have a late-ish dinner and forgetting that it needed 4 hours to marinate).

The second course was also a bit of a bonus: I had asked for volunteers to supply oysters, and our good friend Caleb was more than happy to oblige. The thing is, I never told him how many to bring. Another beautiful thing about preparing this meal at home: At Momofuku, the bo ssäm dinner comes with a dozen oysters. For the same number of people, we had four dozen.

Oysters were purchased from legendary SF fishmonger, Sun Fat Seafood. Their home page charmingly reads:

*** Good news for Oyster Lovers.  We are currently had a varieties of oysters.

Yes, u haz! Caleb brought a dozen of each:

Beau Soleil (CAN)
Kumamoto (CA)
Hama Hama (WA)
Coromandel Bay (NZ)

We shucked and ate the first 2 dozen, and left the remaining oysters for our main.

Daisy was in charge of the third course, which consisted of 50 of her ridiculously delicious pan-fried mandu. We at this with David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce, which, as many of us agree, makes virtually everything taste better.

Then came The Main Event. A 7-pound pork shoulder from Magruder Ranch that I slow-roasted and served with bibb lettuce, rice, and four garnishes: kimchi (that I bought from First Korean Market), puréed kimchi (a first for me), ssäm jang, and, of course, ginger scallion sauce. What really put this over the top, however, was the oysters. To demonstrate, I carefully loaded a lettuce leaf with rice, pork, and a sprinkling of each condiment. As I readied a meaty, teardrop-shaped, Hama Hama oyster belly, our friend Cecil exclaimed:

You put that on TOP of the pork?
Yes.
Oh, DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!

A silence fell over the room, soon to be replaced by sounds of lip-smacking and swooning. The assembled bo ssäm was an insane marriage of umami and acid, creaminess and crunch, sweetness and salt. People actually stressed over whether there would be enough pork (there was, barely). To call this “the best bo ssäm of my life” doesn’t do it justice. This was flat-out the tastiest dish I’d eaten in a long, long time. My sister called me a “genius” for the overall success of the dish. I wish I could take credit for it, but the truth is that it’s absurdly simple to make.

* * * * *

Bo ssäm
from Momofuku

the pork
1 whole 8- to 10-lb bone-in Boston pork butt (skin off)
1 C granulated sugar
1 C plus 1 T kosher salt
7 T light brown sugar

In a roasting pan that snugly fits the pork shoulder, rub a mixture of the sugar + 1 C of salt all over the meat. (If you’re into this sort of thing, you can see footage of Martha Stewart getting really into rubbing down a pork butt.) Discard any excess sugar and salt, cover meat loosely with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but ideally overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F. Pour off any liquid that has accumulated around the pork, and cook the meat, fat side up, for around 6 hours until fork-tender (it took mine 8 hours to reach this state). During cooking, baste the meat with pan drippings every hour. When done, remove pork from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Immediately before serving, rub pork all over with the brown sugar + 1 T salt and cook in a 500F oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized and formed a beautiful, pig-candy glaze. Serve pork with

the accompaniments
at least 1 (but possibly 2 – 4) dozen raw oysters, shucked
1 C kimchi
1 C coursely puréed kimchi
1 C ginger scallion sauce
1 C ssäm sauce
2 C high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice, cooked
2 or 3 heads of Bibb lettuce

ssäm sauce
1 T ssäm jang*
1/2 T gochujang*
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed oil

*Ssäm jang is a relatively thick paste that (along with gochujang) can be purchased at any Korean market. Typically, this paste is diluted with water or oil. Chang’s version of the sauce gives it added heat and acidity.

Eating instructions: Grab a lettuce leaf. Wrap around any combination of meat and accompaniments. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Dessert was strawberries with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. (Thanks, Cecil!)

* * * * *[/one_half]

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(Yes; Caleb is wearing a SpongeBob band-aid.)

The fabulous Miss Akua.

riceandwheat shrinks from the paparazzi.

Her husband, however,

… does not.

Food sis and food bro.

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Categories
Guest Post Index Korean Poultry

Guest post: Korean mandu for an American kitchen

[one_half]THE EVOLUTION OF MANDU

[U]ntil my brother made me write this blog entry, I always made a long apology whenever I prepared Korean food. Depending on what I was serving, my apology would include some version of the following statements: It’s not the way my mom made it. Koreans usually don’t serve x with y. If my mom tasted this she’d smack me. This is definitely not authentic, but…. Naturally, I made similar statements in my early drafts. And my brother, who is by far my biggest fan and my strongest supporter, kept shooting my drafts back to me. Not sure it’s there. And, worse: Good start!

Bewildering, I thought. Why is this hard? Is it because I’ve never written about cooking? Have I lost my touch? If it weren’t Ben, I might have flaked on this assignment and quietly pretended my insecurities never came up. But it’s Ben. So I found myself, over the past several weeks—thinking more about mandu and more about how I think about mandu—than I ever have in my life.

See, when it comes to mandu, I know how it’s supposed to be done. I’ve seen my mom prepare a hundred or so every month ever since I can remember. She begins with a pound of beef tenderloin, which she chops finely with a meat cleaver. She seasons this with fresh garlic, black pepper, soy sauce and salt (because they both season meat differently). Next, she takes a hunk of handmade tofu (I think she used to make it herself when we were really little kids) and squeezes all the water out of it with a linen bag that she sewed up specifically for this purpose. (Cheesecloth doesn’t work.) She seasons the crumpled tofu with sesame oil and salt. She lets the tofu and the meat sit in separate bowls, absorbing seasonings at room temperature, while she approaches the vegetables. It’s a different vegetable every time because mom cooks seasonally, but my favorite mandu vegetable was always Korean squash from her garden. This she juliennes, salts, drains, and seasons. Then she chops a small handful of her own kimchee, which she’s always made with less salt (doesn’t last as long, but it tastes fresher), onions, ginger, and sweet shrimp. When the moment feels right to her, she mixes everything in a large bowl, binds it with one or two egg yolks, and then sits at the table to stuff the mandu.

When we were really really little, she made the dough for mandu too, by mixing flour, water and salt. I don’t remember this myself, but my dad, who prefers homemade dough, tells me about it repeatedly on mandu making days.

Mandu is the only dish that my mom ever bothered acting humble and polite about, because she knows flat out that she makes the best. I tried to follow the legacy, and throughout my adulthood, I fixed mandu all the time. Of course, I’d try some shortcuts. I hate dishwashing, so I’d try to season everything in the same bowl (why not? It all ends up in the same bowl anyway). I’d use store-bought kimchee. I always bought meat that was ground in the store. None of my shortcuts worked. My mandu tasted flat, watery, or muddy.

So I gave up and started trying to make mandu the way my mom did. I asked the Korean market to call me on tofu delivery days. I made sure my mom made kimchee for me whenever she came to visit. And when I finally thought I might be able to make it the way it was supposed to be done, I prepared mandu for my parents. That afternoon, the butcher handed me a package that he ground up himself right then and there. “That there’s tenderloin with some prime rib thrown in,” he said. “Your momma’s gonna love that.” I even made the dough, which made my dad sigh as he watched me flatten and stuff each little round. Mom ate my mandu with a completely neutral look in her eyes. “How is it? Is it the way it’s supposed to be done?” I asked. “Sure,” she said flatly. “Delicious.”

I was missing something, and it drove me crazy. Like so many foods I tried to replicate from our childhood, my mandu just wasn’t there. It was boring. It was an occupant on the table that added nothing to the meal. I had the right ratios of crunchy, savory, sweet, and salt. What did it lack? Whenever our church prepared a meal, cooks always asked my mom to taste and correct every dish before it was served. Like her mother before her, our mom was Chef to five neighborhoods. But when I asked her to test my mandu, she shrugged. “It’s good. It’s fine.”

So I sat down with my dad, the theorist. (It doesn’t make sense to talk to my mom about theories.) And together, we came up with a few mandu principles that seemed to be Pretty Good Truths.

  • Meat plus tofu. If you’re Korean, the meat is likely very lean, grass-fed beef. Tofu serves to moisten the texture of the beef, by softening it and adding a marrow-like consistency that ostensibly adds richness. By removing some of the water from the tofu, and seasoning it with sesame oil, tofu can mimic fat and gelatin.
  • Vegetables. If you’re my mother, the only reason to add vegetables is for Good Health. If you’re my father, you believe the vegetables are there to add texture, flavor, and color.
  • Kimchee. We’re Korean. That’s reason enough.
  • Mandu dough. Here’s where my mom and dad take surprising turns. Mom buys organic Nasoya wonton wraps from Safeway, or “good ones” from the Korean market. Same difference. Why? Because it’s easier, and it tastes great. My dad remembers handmade dough and just can’t get past its incomparable, light texture. He’s right. I’m sure I’ll start making this again when my children stop wanting to play with wasp nests and fire.

Here are the problems I had with these principles:

  • Meat plus tofu. As nice as my dad’s theory sounds, tofu just doesn’t replace marrow, fat or gelatin. And despite what everyone says, tofu has a strong soybean flavor, and it doesn’t, as some may assume, simply absorb the flavor of beef. It tends to take in initial flavors and retain them. It also has a high water content and a tendency to toughen into grainy crumbles when crushed and cooked at a higher temperature. If you mix tofu into ground beef in the same way that folks create meatloaf mixtures, what you get is a soggy mixture that retains the metallic tang of raw blood, even after it’s cooked.
    This is why my mom drained and seasoned the tofu separately, and tossed it gently into the beef, so that there were small lentil-sized pieces of beef mixed with small lentil-sized pieces of sesame oil-flavored creamy tofu. But even with gentle tossing, you still get some odd texture/flavor challenges.
  • Finely chopped (but not ground) vegetables and kimchee follow mom’s approach of preserving the integrity of individual flavors. I think this is a great principle, as long as the flavors work together to present a glorious whole. Otherwise, you just have a bunch of disparate stuff. I’ve tasted mandu made with various leftover stuff from the fridge, and this random approach, mixed with the raw blood problem above, can produce the impression of garbage.
  • Mandu dough. I could probably make time to make these, but right now in my life I know I don’t want to.

Given the above, this is what I did:

  • Ground chicken. Store-bought, hormone-free, vegetarian, free-range chicken that has been ground by your butcher offers the right texture, flavor and fat content. We use dark meat. (My BF makes mandu with ground pork, and that’s also fabulous.) The minute I went with a higher fat content meat with a naturally tender texture, I challenged the whole idea of individual nuggets of flavors, and went instead for what I perceived to be the ultimate goal of meat + tofu: richness, tenderness, subtler meat flavor. To shift away from ground meat’s tendency to get rubbery or bouncy, I also added a small amount of fine white breadcrumbs.
  • Good quality frozen spinach. There are a lot of situations where fresh blanched spinach is so superior to frozen spinach leaves that it’s appropriate to sneer when frozen is suggested. This is not one of them. I chose spinach because there is something lovely that happens when wilted spinach leaves are entangled in the golden, garlicky chicken. Kind of the same way that there is something lovely between pork and caramelized cabbage. Another bonus is that the frozen leaves won’t go bad if I decide on too many last minute tickle fights or soccer games.
  • No kimchee. I know: freaky. I know this means I might get my Korean card taken away, but there you have it. I like kimchee when it’s stewed, and I like it fresh. I’m just not crazy about it when it’s lightly steamed inside a nugget of meat. To me, that bright, spicey, tart flavor just kind of goes limp and sour in there. (So how did my mom do it so well? I don’t know. Possibly magic.)
  • Yangnyum soy sauce. Yangnyum, usually used as a dipping sauce, creates deeper flavor in meat that is essentially just steamed. Yangnyum cuts the grittiness of spinach, brings out the round savory capability of chicken, and supports the caramelizing of the mandu.
  • Mandu skins. See above.

And from all this thinking and rewriting arose some personal discoveries:

  • Be the mandu. Mom makes amazing mandu, and trying to achieve greatness in mandu is a worthy journey. But maybe trying to exactly replicate her inimitable style doesn’t make sense. Whatever happens in her kitchen, with her tools, and her magical touch is as particular as her thumbprint. Maybe knowing how mandu is supposed to be done is going to come down to how I apprehend, understand, and interpret the mandu I was brought up knowing. I don’t have a sunny, cement-walled backyard where Korean squash and shepherd’s purse grow rampant with sharp, sweet green onions. I don’t use the same warped wooden cutting board, or make the same musical cutting sounds with my knife. Maybe that’s why mom treats me like I’m stupid every time I tried to make them exactly the way she does. It’s her way of pushing me out into the culinary world and saying, Take what you know … and then go get ‘em honey.
  • Deliciousness can come at any price. Or rather, as my brother quoted from Momofoku, “… deliciousness by any means.” Ground chicken and frozen spinach are lowly ingredients, and it feels somehow unglamorous not to be using something exotic or difficult. But put them together, seasoned properly, in mandu, and something glorious happens. Browned in a pan, they come out golden, rich, complex, and full of umami. I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t try to eat at least of dozen of these in one sitting. Have I tried making them with lobster or oyster mushrooms, or chestnuts? Yes. Are they as delicious as the chicken ones? No.
  • Time is an issue. Like my brother, I have never been afraid of taking time to make good food. Make my own condiments? Drive across town for a single ingredient? Practice pulling noodles by hand? All good things that I have done and loved. But once children came into my life, cooking moved to occupy a lesser portion of my daily life. So, also like my brother, I focused on creating uncomplicated dishes efficiently and well. With this approach to mandu, I can make 50 yummy mandu in about 20 minutes. That’s important to me.

So what does this all mean? Well after having written this blog several times over, I think the bottom line is that mandu—like all dishes—is supposed to move gracefully through time and generations. (I say gracefully because as open as I try to be, there are still ingredients that I feel might take mandu to a bad place, like cheese spread or ketchup.) Edification can be a form of cherishing, but it can also restrict natural evolutions that take place from kitchen to kitchen. So no more apologies. Right?

Right. Still, the real test came when my parents were visiting us, and we found ourselves having to slap together a fast meal. Mom foraged around and found a bag of my quickie rogue chicken mandu in my freezer. Despite myself, I had a quiet anxiety attack. She’s going to know I cheated. She’s going to think I’m an unfit mother because I can’t make mandu the real way while still keeping my children safe and engaged in fun algebra exercises. Instead, for the first time in my life, my supertaster, critical, talented mom gave me unqualified praise. “WOW delicious!” she exclaimed, totally surprised. “Tell me how you made this! Write it down! I want to make that for Esme!”

* * * * *

HOW I MADE THAT MANDU
(according to my BF Leeann, who watched me, and then wrote it down for me, and my 6-year-old daughter Jinju, who took the above picture)

Mandu (Korean dumplings)
1 T dark brown sugar
1 tsp fresh crushed garlic (I use a mortar and pestle)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 C finely minced scallions, sautéed until bright and fragrant, cooled to room temperature
1/2 tsp fresh ginger juice
2 T toasted sesame oil
1/5 C (scant) soy sauce
1 extra large egg, separated
5 oz frozen, good quality spinach leaves, thawed, lightly drained (don’t squeeze it so much that all you have left is fiber)
plain, fine white breadcrumbs
1 lb ground chicken
1 package wonton or gyoza wrappers
olive oil or grapeseed oil*
water

Yangnyum dipping sauce
1 T dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 T minced scallions
2 T toasted sesame oil
1 T ground, toasted sesame seeds
1/4 C soy sauce

*My mom and I use these two oils for Korean cooking. Mom never uses canola or soybean oils because she thinks they taste nasty (I think they are fine). I never add sesame oil to my cooking oil because I think that intense, direct heat adversely changes the flavor (Mom thinks I’m crazy to think so). Olive oil adds a lovely richness to Korean cooking. Grapeseed oil preserves clarity. Those two we agree on.

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the first 6 ingredients. Mix in the ground meat and spinach. Add egg yolk to bind, and mix (reserving egg white in a separate bowl). As my BF puts it: add bread crumbs until moisture is something you can only sense (and hear) in the mixture rather than see.

The wonton wrapper will have one side that looks more floured than the other. Drape half of the wonton wrapper across the top of the egg white so that only half of the floured side is moistened. Place about a teaspoon and a half of the filling mixture in the center of the wonton wrapper on the moistened side. Fold wrapper in half over the mixture. Seal the edges and gently flatten the filling to press out air bubbles and allow for more even cooking. It takes a little practice to figure out the proper amount of filling to use, but once you do, the assembly moves fairly quickly. I usually place the assembled mandu on a large piece of waxed paper. Repeat until filling mixture is gone. Makes about 50.

At this point, you can freeze them, on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, as long as the mandu are not touching each other and the skins are not too damp (if you find yourself making damp ones, just sprinkle cornstarch on the wax paper). After they are frozen solid, you can store them in a large zippered bag until you’re ready to cook. Never defrost frozen mandu. Simply follow the directions below, which are the same for fresh or frozen.

To make yaki mandu (potsticker style) heat about 2 T of oil over medium heat in a nonstick frying pan. Place mandu in the frying pan (leaving enough space between them so they can breathe, which means you will have to cook them in batches). When the mandu starts making a tchka tchka tchka sound, add a few tablespoons to 1/4 C of water to the pan and cover until the top of the mandu are steamed through, slightly translucent and wrinkly. The filling should feel firm to the touch. Bottoms should be golden brown. Transfer to serving plate, and repeat until all are cooked. Serve with dipping sauce.

These are also yummy in soup. Bring homemade stock or broth to a light boil, and season soup with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of freshly crushed garlic. Cook mandu until they float up to the top, and then finish with minced scallions and a few dots of sesame oil. Warm until the scallions are bright green and the sesame oil is fragrant.

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open mandu with filling

closing mandu

uncooked mandu on cutting board

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Categories
Desserts Index Korean Vegan

Yakbap (steamed sweet rice cake with nuts and golden raisins)

[one_half][I]’m no dummy. When I see David Chang getting flak for not including more desserts in his book Momofuku, I know better than to make the same mistake. Consider this entry Dessert #1. (Now I just need to open a white-hot NYC restaurant, and I’ll be in business …)

Yakbap literally translates to “medicine rice,” though this dish is a far cry from the foul concoctions my mother had me drink as an ill child (which, on at least one occasion, included red potato juice.  Don’t try it.). Rather, yakbap is among the many varieties of dduk, each of which I was likely to sample one, two, perhaps seven times after church every week when I was growing up. The post-sermon release of food was always a major highlight of my week. Sometimes we had donuts, other times kimbap, and on certain occasions, bowls of yuk gae jang. But the gauntlet of dduk remained a welcoming constant. Those unfamiliar with dduk may recognize some of its other forms: “New Year’s cake” in Chinese cuisine; or Mochi ice cream, a staple of Trader Joe’s frozen confections. What they all have in common is glutinous rice (also called sweet rice) as the dominant component. This results in a decadently starchy texture that would cause any God-fearing Atkins dieter to recoil in horror.

I’ve always been a big fan of this dish. A couple years ago, I was tempted to buy some at the dduk counter at our local Korean grocery. My mother waved me off.

Don’t get that. I’ll make it when we get home.
Oh, for real? How do you make it?
You just put the rice in. Cook it.
I see …

I had to bug my Mom to make this several times, and she kept not getting around to it. So I consulted my trusty guide, Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, and found a recipe that looked to be a royal pain in the ass. It involved cooking the sweet rice first, tossing it in the seasoning, and then resteaming it in a makeshift double-boiler consisting of a breadpan and a dutch oven. This could not possibly be what Mom does. Indeed, when confronted with this information, she admitted that she basically does everything in a covered pot, carefully listening at the stove for when the rice is done. That also didn’t sound appealing to me. Sensing this, my Mom looked over at my rice cooker and suggested the brilliant.

Why don’t you just put everything in there and turn it on?

I did, and the yakbap came out perfectly. I’ve read other recipes online that involve the double-boiler method, pressure cookers, microwaves, etc. But in my mind, nothing beats being able to take an ordinary piece of equipment, set it, and forget it.

* * * * *

Yakbap (steamed sweet rice cake with nuts and golden raisins)
adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook

2 C sweet rice
1 T soy sauce
2 T corn syrup, honey
or molasses
**
2 T rice wine or vermouth
1 T sesame oil (label bedragoned)
1 C walnuts, skinned; or chestnuts, cooked, shelled and skinned
1 C pitted jujubes (dates) or 1/2 C raisins
2 T pine nuts
1/2 C brown sugar
1 T ground cinnamon

A few notes on the ingredients:

  • Make sure you use sweet rice (glutinous rice, pictured above). You need the high amylopectin content of this type of rice. Other types of rice (which include a normal percentage of amylose) won’t be sticky, and will therefore not make dduk.
  • Many Asian markets now carry roasted, shelled chestnuts packaged in foil or mylar (pictured above). They are perfectly fine for this recipe, and for $1.19, the value of not having to roast/steam and shell chestnuts yourself can’t be beat. I thought my Mom’s head was going to explode the first time she saw these. She took about 10 packs back with her to LA.
  • For the dried fruit component, jujubes are more traditional, but I don’t prefer to use them because the peels have a tough texture. Raisins are a common alternative, and I used about half the amount recommended in the book. My wife doesn’t like raisins, so I have tried using currants before. They are wonderfully tart, but do not hold their shape when steamed. So they do get a bit messy.
  • Though they are significantly more expensive, I use pine nuts of European origin, lest I once again make my thesis co-advisor’s wife suffer from the dreaded “pine mouth” (sorry, Heidi).
  • **Update 24 October, 2010. I spoke with my mom about this post, and one tip she added was to use molasses instead of corn syrup or honey. This secret she carefully guarded for years, feeling that molasses was an ingredient that gave her dish a familiar flavor that other versions could not capture. I suspect that she used molasses as a proxy for maltose or rice syrup, which was not commonly available when she immigrated here. Any particular kind of molasses? The one with the rabbit on it. I tried this and found that it’s definitely not as sweet if you use only molasses. I’ll probably try molasses + honey next time.

* * * * *

Soak rice in lukewarm water for at least 1 hour. Rinse rice thoroughly about 3 – 5 times in cold water. With all types of rice, my Mom often says to rinse until the water is clear, but even she will acknowledge that this will not happen for a very long time. You can safely stop at 5. If you have a rice cooker, combine all ingredients, and add just enough water to cover. Press the button. 30 minutes, and one delicious-smelling house later, you’re done!

Serving I think it tastes best warm, and because it’s so dense, ramekins are a good serving vessel. Commonly, people will pack the cooked rice into a baking dish (grease it with a bit of sesame oil first), let it cool, and then cut into brownie-sized squares. It will keep nicely in the fridge for about a week, but I always nuke it for 10 – 20 secs to get it nice and warm before eating.

Additional tips This recipe makes a lot of yakbap. If you’re not going to a potluck, you can halve the recipe, as I did when making it for this post. However, keep in mind that with a medium or large rice cooker, a relatively thin layer of rice at the bottom of the insert is more likely to scorch or cook unevenly. Your alternatives are to use a small cooker, or cook on the stovetop in a smaller pan with low heat. The latter is the way my Mom does it, but this method requires a bit more attention to make sure you don’t burn the bottom. If you don’t feel that you added enough water during cooking (or if it dried out in the refrigerator), simply add a small amount of water and zap it for about a minute on medium.

* * * * *

The Esme rating I told her that I made special rice. She eyed it, suspicously.

I don’t want it.
Try it. It’s sweet.
I don’t want to try it. I don’t like it.
[takes bite] I like it. I like sugar. What’s this, daddy? It’s a chestnut.
Chess-nut. It looks like a little bit like chocolate. It tastes like chocolate, too. It’s a little bit like chocolate, Daddy.
Do you like chestnuts?
Yeah. I don’t want this anymore.

* * * * *

And now, a moment of bliss … [/one_half]

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sweet rice

korean yakbap in spoons

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian Soups Vegetarian

Inaugural post: Kong Namul Guk (soybean sprout soup)

[one_half][I]f you’ve read my About page or been over to our house for the dinner hour, you know that my 2-year-old daughter Esme is what our pediatrician calls a “small eater.” We’ve been reassured several times that she’s getting plenty of nutrition, is just showing age-typical behavior, yada yada. Whatever. As a parent, all I can do is wonder where my daughter summons the energy to do anything when she barely eats. I try to keep things in perspective, but it definitely stresses me out. I can’t help it—it’s the Asian mom in me. So imagine my delight when Esme, after eating the solids from a soybean sprout soup that my mother made, picked up the bowl and drank the broth. I had to get her more of this stuff.

Energized by my new I’m-going-to-be-a-great-Dad-and-start-cooking-for-my-family-so-watch-out attitude, I picked up the phone and asked my Mom for the recipe. “Just boil it!” was her reply. True to her Korean roots, my Mom’s not so much into recipes. She pokes fun at me for measuring things, and shoots me suspicious glances if she senses that her actions at the stove are being mentally recorded.

“You just want to measure it!”
“I’m just trying to determine, when you say ‘add x,’ whether you mean 1 tablespoon or 100. I know it doesn’t have to be exact.”
“Just taste it! You’ll know!”
etc.

So I did a little digging, and found that making this soup is a bit more complicated that just boiling the sprouts. Fortunately for me, it’s not much more complicated. So I offer my take on it below. Just so I don’t get dirty looks at daycare from my friend Amy over at Kimchi Mom, I’ll tell you up front that I don’t cook a ton of Korean food.Yet.

* * * * *

The first important thing to know about making soybean sprout soup is that it’s made with soybean sprouts, and not the visually similar and more readily available mung bean sprouts. They are typically available at Korean grocery stores (though, oddly, not at Park’s Farmer’s Market in the Inner Sunset, where I live). Occasionally, I will see them at Chinese markets, so if you live near one, it’s worth a look.

At the market, inspect the sprouts for freshness. They should be clean-looking and crisp. The heads should be evenly yellow and the shoots silvery-white. If they look at all dodgy, then forget it. Try again next time. You can’t recover from bad produce, and the next step will take far too long. If they look good, then you’re in business. You’ll need about a pound for this recipe. Keep in mind that they have a very short shelf life, so be sure to cook them on the same day.

The first step is to clean the sprouts. This is by far the most time consuming step. Rinse them several times in cold water. Go through and pick out any obviously bad/rotten ones (there are bound to be a few). Trust your instincts here. If you see browning or liquifying of the shoot, dump it. Here are some groddy-looking ones that I picked out, as well as what they should look like when clean:

You’ll notice that the clean, unbroken sprouts still have a thin root attached to the end of each shoot. I’m told that some people snip those off. Hey, if you’ve got that kind of time, more power to you. I leave them on, and my Mom claims “that’s where all the vitamins are.” There will also be a lot of yellow heads that have broken off and accumulated at the bottom of your bowl. I usually toss these, as well. I don’t like getting a spoonful of just heads, and they don’t look as good in the soup. At first I was self-conscious about wasting them, but remember that you’ve paid about $1 for all of those sprouts. You can let the loose heads go.

* * * * *

The one major decision you’ll want to make is whether to used canned or homemade stock for your soup. This soup works very well with chicken, beef or anchovy stock. (I’ve never tried using vegetable stock, but presumably that would also be OK. **Update 24 October, 2010: Made this with pea shell consommé, and can confirm that it still rocks.) You may be familiar with Michael Ruhlman’s rant against canned stock, in which he famously encouraged people to use water instead. While I admire Michael’s culinary purism, I’ll warn you that this dish does fall into the 10% of cases where canned stock is probably better than water. It used to be that you could make this soup with water, but with mass agriculture the way it is, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have soybean sprouts with enough flavor to carry the soup by themselves. So to summarize, with this soup:

homemade stock > canned stock >> water

Fortunately for you, stock is ridiculously easy to make. Many of you are aware of this, but still resist. So to prove my point:

Chicken Stock
5-6 lbs meaty chicken parts (not just the necks and backs—dark meat works best, or a whole chicken)
3-4 quarts of water (to cover)
1 carrot, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1 rib of celery, cut into 4 pieces
1 large yellow onion, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 bay leaf
2 sprigs parsley
1 tsp kosher salt

Rinse the chicken. Put the ingredients in a stock pot that holds at least 8 quarts. Start warming the pot on the stove while preheating the oven to 180-200 degrees. When the pot has barely reached a simmer, put the pot into the oven. Take it out in 3 hours. Strain it very well. Cool it down. Remove the fat (you can skim it, but it’s easiest to wait until it’s refrigerated, and remove the solid fat from the top).

That’s it. I used to make it on the stove, monitoring the heat with a thermometer, but Ruhlman’s tip on using the oven makes it super easy. Don’t have all the ingredients? Doesn’t matter! The most important parts are the chicken, water and salt. You can more or less improvise the rest of it without doing much harm. Want to get crazy? Don’t put the vegetables in until the last hour. That’s honestly as complicated as it gets, and using your own stock will drastically improve your soup. Oh yeah, and don’t throw away the chicken meat. I usually remove the skin (which has become rubbery and gross) and eat the wings right away with a little bit of salt. The rest of the meat is great on salads, or dipped in yangnyum soy sauce, which I’ll tell you how to make below.

Still not convinced? OK, use low-sodium chicken stock from a box. But you’ll always wonder… (**Update 21 February, 2011: Though it can’t compete with homemade stock, I do find Imagine Chicken Cooking Stock—NOT the Chicken Broth, which is disgusting—to be usable, in a pinch.)

* * * * *

Now that you’ve sourced your sprouts and made your amazing stock, the rest is relatively easy. In a large stock pot, saute 2 cloves of freshly minced garlic in 1 T of sesame oil for about a minute. Which sesame oil? The one with the dragons on it, says my Mom. That’s the good sesame oil.

Add the sprouts  (1 – 1.5 lb), toss them a bit in the oil, and then add 6 – 8 cups of stock. Cover the pot and turn the stove to medium-high heat. When it has become clear that the stock is boiling (steam shooting out from beneath the lid), allow the contents to boil with the lid on for 3 – 5 minutes. It is important not to uncover the pot, because, by some unknown mechanism, prematurely uncovering the pot will impart an off-flavor to the beans. I have not done a rigorously controlled experiment to verify this, but it suffices to say that it’s very easy to just leave the lid on, so I do it.

Once this crucial time has passed, it is safe to uncover the pot and lower the heat. Taste the soup and correct the seasoning (salt). The sprouts should still be slightly crunchy, but if you’d like them cooked longer, cook them longer. The soup is basically done. At this point, I usually prepare a dressing to make a salad with half of the cooked sprouts. Whether you want to do this is completely up to you. You may like the ratio of sprouts to liquid as is, which is fine. I like cooking with a lot of sprouts because they flavor the soup, but I end up putting a lot of liquid in the bowls, so if I don’t do something else with them, I’m left with a lot of sprouts at the end.

* * * * *

Again, the following step is completely optional, but you may find the recipe useful. Kong namul is a classic banchan, or side dish. If you want to make the salad without the soup, boil the sprouts in 1/2 C of water instead of stock.

Kong Namul (seasoned soybean sprouts)
adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook

roughly half of the sprouts from the soup you made above
1/2 T soy sauce
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 T sesame oil (pref. from a bottle adorned with dragons)
1 green onion, chopped
sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds
black pepper to taste (opt.)
red pepper flakes to taste (opt.)

At some point (e.g., while you’re waiting for the soup to boil), add the above ingredients, minus the sprouts, to a medium-sized mixing bowl. When the soup is done, remove about half of the sprouts and drain thoroughly, reserving the broth to return to the soup. Add the sprouts to the bowl, toss, and refrigerate.

Note that the dressing for this recipe is essentially yangnyum ganjang, or seasoned soy sauce. This is a wonderful dipping sauce, which I use on pa jon and muk, as well as leftover chicken from stock, leftover beef shanks from stock, leftover brisket from stock, etc.

* * * * *

Now you’re ready to serve the soup. I like to garnish the bowl with some chopped green onion, and season with black or red pepper. I particularly like the red pepper flakes typically found in Japanese noodle shops—S&B Ichimi or Nanami Togarashi. Here they both are, nestled among my various red spices in the fridge. If you look closely, you can see a small ziploc bag of Korean kochu karu peeking out from behind them (Yes; I am a traitor).

So there you have it. Not only is this dish a big hit with by daughter, but with barely more effort than boiling water, I can now recreate one of my favorite dishes from childhood. It’s both comforting and light, and (I’m told) a mean cure for hangovers.[/one_half]

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soybean sprout bag
Yes
mung bean sprout bag
No
funky, rotten soybean sprouts
compost
cleaned soybean sprouts
keep

sesame oil with dragons

kong namul ingredients

kong namul mixing

kong namul plating

togarashi and other red pepper
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