I grew up eating a fairly wide range of cuisines – apart from the obvious Japanese home food (oyako donburi, teriyaki chicken, gyoza, etc.) we also ate a lot of Chinese food and typical “Canadian” food (meatloaf, pork chops, roast chicken, etc). My aunt is Italian and we learned to make Italian food which I still find incredibly exciting. Periodically we’d make forays into Russian cuisine thanks to our Russian neighbours; Mrs. Tikinoff made amazing borscht (in February issue) and blueberry tarts which were served with a dollop of sour cream – to die for. The neighbours on our other side were Chinese via Fiji, and they introduced us to curries and chapatis, introduced to them by their Indian neighbours. I love it when cuisines bump into each other like that!
In the 1990s we started exploring more Asian cuisines – Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian restaurants started popping up in Vancouver and we were intrigued by the mysterious herbs and thrilled by the juxtapositions of savory, sweet, spicy and fresh and of course we had to make it for ourselves. Neighbours from the Philippines brought pancit and chicken adobo to potlucks and taught us novel ways to cut up a mango. Friends who had lived in Seoul introduced us to Korean food, another surprise. At first this struck me as Japanese food made wrongly with extra, pungent ingredients (Chili! Garlic! Something else I couldn’t identify!) but it grew on me and now I’m devoted to this delicious and exciting cuisine and therefore – after this long introduction – Korean food is our focus this month.
This is a delicious treatment for thinly sliced beef, either top sirloin or flank steak.
3 T shoyu
2 T brown sugar
1 T honey
2 T sake
1 T sesame oil
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 or more cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 T toasted sesame seeds
1 green onion, finely chopped
2 T pear puree (optional)
1 onion, sliced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
Garnish: more chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds – in fact, if you’re going to be making Korean food, toast a lot of sesame seeds because we’re sprinkling them on everything! (How do you toast sesame seeds? Carefully! In a frying pan, over medium heat, shaking a lot and taking them off when they get just lightly golden and start clumping together and smelling brown and toasty.)
Combine marinade ingredients, add beef, mix well and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Drain on paper towel before cooking.
Saute onion and mushrooms in a little oil on high heat, remove. Heat more oil, quickly sear the beef in batches – don’t let it boil! – and then throw it all together and garnish with green onion and sesame seeds. Serve with rice and another vegetable dish for balance.
Every cuisine has its iconic noodle dish and this is Korea’s pancit/pad thai/yakisoba/chow mein.
300g dangmyun (Korean yam noodles)
Boil noodles for about 5-6 minutes (check packet for instructions, don’t take our word for it), drain well, rinse with cold water to stop cooking and drain well again. Cut into manageable lengths, toss with a teaspoon of oil. Set aside.
200g thinly sliced or slivered beef sirloin
1 T shoyu
½ T sugar
½ T honey
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 t sesame oil
½ t black pepper
Marinate beef for at least 30 minutes, then drain on a paper towel before cooking.
1 bag baby spinach
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into slivers
1 red or green pepper, in slivers
1 c shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced (you can also use button mushrooms)
Seasoning for noodles:
4-5 T shoyu
2 T sesame oil
3 T brown sugar
½ T honey
Mix together and have ready.
Steam spinach to cook (I put it in a bowl in the microwave and give it 1 minute) and chop if needed, toss with ¼ t salt and 1 t oil.
In a wok, heat a dash of oil and lightly stir fry the vegetables. Set aside.
Heat another tablespoon or so of oil and cook the meat, in batches if necessary to prevent boiling, which makes the meat tough. When it’s all done, add the vegetables and noodles and the seasoning and toss until it’s all heated through. The noodles will absorb the sauce. Garnish with more chopped green onions and toasted sesame seeds.
These recipes are generally made with beef but you can substitute chicken if you’re trying to cut back on red meat consumption.
Garlic Chili Cucumbers
I first had this simple yet addictive dish in Ippudo, a ramen joint in New York. I couldn’t believe how simple it is, how tasty it is, and that I hadn’t figured it out sooner. It’s easy, refreshing, pungent and very more-ish.
6-8 small crunchy mini cucumbers – regular cucumbers are also fine but not quite as good
2 T sesame oil
½ tsp red pepper flakes or 1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t salt
Combine everything but the cucumbers and let it all soak. If you don’t like the garlic and chili to be strong you can modify by slicing the garlic and chilies and taking them out before adding the cucumber.
Cut cucumbers into ½-inch lengths, either straight on or rolling a quarter turn each time. Toss in the oil dressing and serve. Taste and add more salt if desired. We’ve sprinkled everything else with sesame seeds, and you can do that here as well if you want more garnish.
Note: whenever I buy chilies, I hate to waste the nine left after the one I needed is used. I chop them in a food processor with a handful of peeled garlic cloves and freeze in dollops to be stored in a ziploc bag in the freezer. This mixture has many uses – it’s peperoncino when tossed with butter and pasta, it’s a base for Indian food, Vietnamese food, Thai food, and it’s been a gift when I’ve made these Korean dishes. I used it for a salmon marinade and also for the garlic chilli cucumbers. A Korean salmon marinade is basically teriyaki with garlic, chilli, sesame oil, chopped green onions and sesame seeds added. I make my teriyaki with honey or brown sugar for a darker flavour, and add sake, mirin and ginger to the shoyu.
I don’t have a dessert for you because I don’t know any Korean desserts and sweets aren’t really featured in Korean restaurants. If you know one (that is easy to make), please share!