Assignment 16: South Korea

Location: East Asia
Population: 51.5 million
Capital: Seoul
Geography: Mostly mountainous, with some plains
Language: Korean
Signature flavours: Sesame, cabbage, rice, pork, beef, scallion, egg, seaweed, hot pepper

The Menu

Five days ahead of South Korea night, Eric got started on kimchi, a signature Korean dish of fermented cabbage with garlic and spices. Each night at 11pm, he opened the jar to release accumulating gases, and to tamp the kimchi down into the brine. No Korean food experience would be complete without a side of kimchi, and our meal would be no exception.

ingred
Eric sets out his ingredients

When Eric was first assigned South Korea, his first thought was of banchan, or the little side dishes that accompany a main meal. When we eat Korean food at restaurants, we always look forward to the mini appetizers that arrive ahead of the main event. Eric opted to try his hand at three banchan, plus kimchi, but had to consider his limited stovetop real estate in choosing his multi-item menu. The main courses were to be a soup, and a noodle, both to his mind essential in conveying the South Korean culinary experience.

Kimchi: Pickled cabbage, fermented in brine with garlic, daikon, and gochugaru (hot pepper flakes). At first, Eric considered buying ready-made kimchi, but wanted to try his hand at this staple.

Total prep and cooking time: 5 days
Difficulty: 3/5

kimchi
Kimchi

Sukju and Sigeumchi Namul: Eric combined two recipes to create a banchan of bean spouts and spinach with sesame.

Total prep and cooking time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: 2/5

Gyeran Mari: A folded Korean omelette filled with bell pepper and scallion.

Total prep and cooking time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: 2/5

Korean Potatoes: Stir fried potatoes in soy sauce, with sesame, garlic, and onion.

Total prep and cooking time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: 2/5

banchan
Banchan: (From top) Korean Potatoes, sukju and sigeumchi namul, gyeran mari, and kimchi.

Tteokguk: An eggy rice cake soup with beef (veggie beef for us), leek, scallion, and fish sauce, topped with hot peppers, nori, and more egg. Tteokguk is usually served for the Korean lunar new year in February, so Eric’s timing was perfect!

Total prep and cooking time: 60 minutes
Difficulty: 2/5

Japchae: Sweet potato noodles stir fried with shiitake mushrooms, spinach, carrot, and sesame.

Total prep and cooking time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: 2/5

The Shopping List

Eric relied on the newly opened and superbly stocked H Mart in downtown Toronto for all his Korean shopping needs, including rice cake, shiitake mushrooms, glass noodles, gochugaru, napa cabbage, and daikon.

The Meal

Eric’s efforts and resulting meal blew me away. Our table was scattered with banchan and set with heaping portions of glass noodles and smaller servings of soup. Korean food is beautiful to look at, with a myriad of colours and textures. The first thing I tried was the Korean potatoes. I love potatoes, and am easily won over by any dish that contains them, and these were no exception. They were tender and garlick-y, salty and sesame-y. The sukju/sigeumchi namul combination came about because Eric wanted to make the bean sprout banchan but also wanted more green on our table, so he opted to mix the two.

noodles
Japchae

The kimchi was very spicy and garlick-y. We topped our omelette with kimchi (the omelette had a mild flavour of its own, and while it is usually served rolled, Eric ended up doing a more Canadian-style flat omelette), and mixed it into our japchae noodles. My love of potatoes extends to sweet potato — or glass — noodles, which are possibly my favourite kind of noodles. They had a sweet flavour, an al dente texture, and were delicious alongside shiitake mushroom (my favourite mushroom), and julienned carrots in the japchae. The tteokguk was thick and eggy, very savoury with the veggie beef and leek and scallion. The rice cake had a satisfying stickiness that was very nice in the soup.

soupy
Tteokguk

I have to say that this was my favourite assignment so far (as the eater and not the cooker). I love Korean food, and given the choice, will always go for soup and noodles over other options, so tonight was absolutely in my wheelhouse.

Links
https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/tteokguk
http://www.mjandhungryman.com/vegetarian-japchae-korean-stir-fried-sweet-potato-noodles/
https://www.mnn.com/food/recipes/stories/how-to-make-kimchi-in-5-easy-steps
https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-easy-kimchi-at-home-189390
https://www.koreanbapsang.com/2012/03/sukju-namul-seasoned-mung-bean-sprouts.html
https://www.koreanbapsang.com/2011/02/sigeumchi-namul-korean-spinach-side.html
https://www.koreanbapsang.com/2012/04/gyeran-mari-korean-rolled-omelette.html
http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/korean-potatoes-340851#activity-feed

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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