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Desserts Index Korean Meats Vegan

Retrospect

[one_half][I] viewed a lot of my world through the dusty window of a green, 1973 Chevy Impala. This was the first car I knew, and the one our family drove for almost ten years. I still remember those six, giant, rectangular brake lights. Parking whiskers that scraped the curb with a dull, grinding murmur. And that engine. A 350 small-block V-8. My sister and I recognized the sound of that engine from indoors. Hearing it approach, then halt, punctuated by the quick ratchet of the emergency brake, meant only one thing:

Mom and Dad home. Quick … Turn off the TV!

In addition to being a harbinger of parental authority, our car was a private boat in which we sailed off to exotic places through night and day. Places far beyond the sun-drenched concrete of Hawthorne, California. Hot Springs, where my mom sought relief for her arthritic joints. Sacramento, where we occasionally visited a family friend named Rena, whom I knew as “American Grandma.” And once in a long while, Oregon, where our cousins Ty and Trinda lived. It was on one of these trips that I first saw a deer and snow.

Dad was driving late into the night, and my sister and I tried to find comfortable ways to lie across the back seat without hitting our heads on the window crank. We were eating cold pieces of fried chicken fished from the darkness of a brown shopping bag, when Mom gasped. We all saw it, staring straight at us, like a ghost pausing in the middle of the road. The snowflakes outside were larger than I expected. Everything looked monochrome in our headlights. And a few seconds later, it was gone.

On all those trips, we ate the food that Mom packed. It was usually something relatively healthy, like kimbap, barley tea and fruit. It was food we were accustomed to. Comforting, perhaps, but sometimes flirting with boring. Above all, it was what we could afford. I would sometimes stare longingly at the fast food joints we passed on the road: Shakey’s Pizza, Carl’s Jr., Pioneer Chicken … These were the places my cousins and classmates would certainly stop for a meal, in their luxurious, wood-paneled station wagons.

As I grew older, the road trips got longer. Indiana. Illinois. Wisconsin. I was becoming more conscious of how modestly we lived, and understood that we regularly drove distances people would ordinarily fly. And I resented it. I grew tired of sticking out, living in our messy, half-unpacked house, being stuck for what seemed like forever in the backseat of that car, listening to my parents bicker in a language I only half-understood. I carried that with me for a long time. And when it came time to go away to school, I chose New York, the farthest away I could possibly be. My dad wanted to drive there with me. In a decision I regret to this day, I told him no. I wanted to fly. And I wanted to do it on my own.

As a parent, I can now begin to appreciate how my father must have felt. I’ve since gotten to know both of my parents as people; flawed, but human. And I’ve repeatedly wondered what it would have been like to be on the road for those few days, spending all my waking hours with my father, whom I was accustomed to seeing for maybe an hour a day. The old man’s still around, but he’s not one for long drives anymore. I wish we had taken that trip together. This is the food I would like to have made.

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SIGUMCHI NAMUL (Seasoned spinach)

This classic banchan (side dish) is always waiting for me at my parents’ dinner table in LA.

2 lbs spinach leaves, trimmed and cleaned
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
1 T distilled white vinegar
1 thinly sliced scallion
kochukaru (Korean red pepper flakes), to taste (opt.)
1 T toasted sesame seeds

In a large stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and blanch spinach leaves until bright green, no longer than 10 seconds. Immediately shock the leaves in icewater, and drain. Squeeze out excess water, and blot with paper towels. It’s not necessary to get it completely dry, just not dripping wet. Mix soy sauce, salt, sugar and vinegar in a large bowl and toss with wilted spinach leaves (your hands are the best tools here). Add scallion, kochukaru and sesame seeds and toss once more. Optionally, you can chop the resulting mass of spinach into roughly bite sized chunks.

Notes. 2 lbs of raw spinach looks like a frighteningly large amount. Don’t worry. It will compact to the size of a softball with this recipe. You will, however, need a very large bowl for cleaning and shocking. To get the best color, it’s important not to overcook the leaves. Do this in batches, if necessary.

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KIMBAP

Unquestionably, kimbap is the canonical Korean picnic food. Similar in form to futomaki, kimbap is served at room temperature, eaten with the hands, and, due the acidity of the rice, keeps for at least a day. I never tried Japanese sushi rolls until college, but I must have eaten hundreds of kimbap as a child. I filled these with spinach, takuan, fried egg, and Spam. Other typical fillings include bulgogi, kamaboko, sauteed carrots, and kimchi. Ideally, one wants fillings that complement one another in color, texture, and flavor.

On Spam. I see you non-Asians out there, raising your eyebrows at the choice of Spam. All I can say is that, in my experience, the people most vocal in their disgust for Spam have never actually tried it. Their loss. Suffice to say, Hawaiians know what they’re doing. Mark my words: Spam will be the next bacon. Whether you choose to face that reality is a decision only you can make. To address its possibly unappetizing texture or appearance, give the Spam a nice sear before deploying.

Seasoned Rice
Adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen

2 1/2 cups high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice
4 T rice vinegar or distilled white vingear
1/2 T sugar
kosher salt
1 T rice wine or vermouth
1 T sesame oil

Cook the rice, preferably in a rice cooker. The rice is easier to work with if it’s overly not soft/mushy, so limit the amount of water added to about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 times the volume of the dry rice. While the rice is cooking, combine vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Briefly simmer under low heat until sugar and salt are dissolved. Allow the solution to cool, then add rice wine and sesame oil, mixing well.

When the rice has finished cooking, transfer to a large bowl and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Drizzle in seasoning and mix well. Keep the rice covered and work with it while slightly warm.

Egg ribbons

vegetable oil
6 large eggs
kosher salt
black pepper

Cover the bottom of a 10″ skillet with vegetable oil and place over medium heat. Beat 3 of the eggs until blended and add a pinch of salt and 1 – 2 turns of freshly cracked black pepper. When the pan is hot, add the eggs and cook, pancake-style, for about 2 minutes, moving the pan if necessary to heat evenly. Flip the pancake (you may need 2 spatulas to do this) and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and set egg pancake on a paper towel to cool and drain. Add a bit more oil and cook the other 3 eggs the same way. Cut into slices about 1/4″ wide. If they turn out too thin, you can always double them up when assembling your roll.

Kimbap

8 – 10 sheets of kim (also called nori, or laver), roughly 8 inches square
seasoned rice
8 – 10 strips of takuan, about 8″ long and 1/4″ wide
egg ribbons
1 can Spam, cut into 1/4″ wide strips and seared
sigumchi namul
sesame oil

highly recommended tool: a bamboo mat called a makisu or a pal.

There are many tutorials available online for rolling kimbap and maki rolls. I reviewed this one and this one before making mine. I also enjoyed watching this woman, a beast at the kimbap station who doesn’t even need a bamboo mat! My first kimbap always turn out a bit gnarly-looking, but as with any new technique, things gets better with practice. To fill each roll, I used one strip of takuan, two strips of egg ribbon, two strips of Spam (arranged end to end), and a small line of cut spinach.

Notes. I am often guilty of overstuffing rolled foods, so I make a conscious effort to start with less rice than I think I need, adjusting up if necessary. Keep a bowl of water handy to keep rice from sticking to your fingers. Brush the outside of the roll with sesame oil and cut into 1/2″ slices. Wipe down and wet your knife regularly.

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JANG JORIM (soy sauce braised beef)

This side dish is a practical choice for packed lunches because it is essentially preserved, staying fresh for months in the refrigerator. The use of beef is auspicious, due to its historical scarcity. Small portions are advised due its intense flavor. A wonderful recipe can be found at my friend Amy’s website.

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KONG NAMUL (seasoned soybean sprouts)

Soybean sprouts are ubiquitous in Korean cuisine, and this banchan is a another childhood favorite. A recipe can be found elsewhere on my website.

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BORI CHA (roasted barley tea)
Adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen

Growing up, I was always offered my choice of beverage: water or barley tea.

1/2 C unhulled barley
1 quart water

If the barley has not already been roasted, you may pan-toast it for 3 minutes over medium-low heat, until fragrant. Add barley to water, bring to a boil (preferably in a ceramic or enamel-lined pan) and reduce to a simmer. Brew for 1 hour, and strain. Can be served hot or cold.

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YAKBAP (sweet rice cake)

My mom likes to remind me that I was such a picky eater as a kid that I would mysteriously get a stomach ache every day at meal time. Which was miraculously cured when it was time for dessert. This homemade variation of dduk is another perennial picnic favorite. A fail-safe recipe, and by far the quickest you will find, is described in a separate post.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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sweet rice

korean yakbap in spoons

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