Entries Tagged as 'South Korea'

Rhubarb Gochujang Jam

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We’re into the third week now, and things are starting to settle in, as they always do right around week three or four. The initial elation of being back in the States has worn off, and reality has struck that, for real, I live in Minnesota. For the first time in thirteen years, all of my possessions are in the same city. I have a car, and it runs, hollaa! I’m getting used to driving again, above the speed limit (barely), because everyone’s got places to go, and I’m the Road Tortoise with her hands at ten and two. I have one piece of furniture, my grandma’s old piano, that hasn’t been touched in years. My harmonicas, cookbooks, and spices are all within reach. In the odd in-betweenness of my old life and new, these details are keeping me sane.

It is not easy to move abroad, but so far it’s been harder to move back home. The sensation is closest to grief–like losing a cherished thing, except this thing is more than you can hold, and therefore, difficult to let go. In order to walk one way, you must leave something behind, and the more you’ve invested, the harder this is to do. Risky business, this going all in, but so far I can’t tell if there’s any other way. Sometimes I am resentful to be starting over again. It reminds me of being uprooted as a kid. No place like home to dredge up old insecurities, no matter how much you think you’ve grown. But if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making something from nothing, and here there’s already much more than that.

So here we go.

When I made this jam last week, I burned my wrist, melted a plastic container on the stove, covered Mary Ellen’s counters with stick, swore, cleaned up the mess, cooled the jam, and breathed. All in.

Rhubarb Gochujang Jam (makes about 2 1/2 to 3 pints)

6 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups sugar (increase if you like a jam that’s sweeter than tart)
1/2–1 tablespoon gochujang*
1 lemon, washed well

You might be bone-tired of talking about rhubarb by now, but let’s think of how we’re going to feel in a few months’ time. If you’ve got room for one more rhubarb recipe this season, let it be this one. You’ll have it for months, if you do decide to can it. Or, you could skip the canning process and put the jars straight into the fridge (and then, perhaps, halve the recipe). A spoonful would be dynamite over a piece of grilled pork, though it’s also delicious on a piece of plain toast.

*Gochujang is a thick, sweet, and spicy chili paste from Korea, and it’s become an essential condiment in my fridge. Dong Yang and United Noodles both stock it here in town. You could leave it out if you want, but then you’d have to call this Rhubarb Jam, and there are already enough good recipes around for that, don’t you think?

Add chopped rhubarb to a big non-metallic bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze juice over rhubarb, letting the seeds drop in, too (they’ll add pectin, and help your jam set–you can either fish them out or tie them up in cheesecloth). Add  lemon halves to the bowl, too, then sprinkle with sugar and mix well. Set aside for an hour or more (could go as long as overnight–in that case, store in the fridge).

Pour rhubarb, sugar, and lemon into a pot big enough to contain them, and heat to boiling. Then, turn down the heat so that the sauce simmers, and let it do so for 15-20 minutes. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars and cover with hot, sterilized lids. Screw the rings on, but not too tightly. Then process in a tall pot of boiling water (water should cover the jars by an inch or more) for ten minutes. Remove from hot pot with tongs and let sit at room temperature until lids pop inward to seal.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hye Rae and I met about two years ago. I’ve mentioned her a few times here, sometimes by the name she first introduced herself, which is Helen. (Adopting English names is common practice in Korea, especially for young kids these days who go to English kindergartens or after-school language academies. Why Helen? I once asked her. Helena Christensen, she replied). We started as co-teachers at an English kindergarten and became friends soon after that. But really, she’s like a sister. So many unexpected gifts have risen out of the choice to move to Korea on a whim. Hye Rae is one of them.

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When we started hanging out at her house regulary, she would send me home with a container of kimchi. I almost couldn’t eat it fast enough, and I worried that she’d run out if she kept giving me so much. Later I learned that she never, ever runs out of kimchi because her mother-in-law keeps her stocked. When she’d come to my apartment with our other co-teachers, she’d bring a bag of Korean pantry staples–sesame seeds, gochugaru, doenjang and sesame oil. I didn’t know how to cook any Korean dishes back then, but she sparked a curiosity by gifting me with what was needed to make most typical recipes. And soon, we started teaching each other how to cook.

Before last weekend, I hadn’t met any of Hye Rae’s family besides her husband and her son. She’s told me many stories about them, though, and because there’s always a few of her mother-in-law’s homemade or homegrown elements in whatever she cooks–gochujang, soy sauce, dried seaweed, rice–the stories naturally tumble forth. Her mother-in-law’s soysauce is dark and strong and, of course, made the traditional way with just soybeans, salt and water. Her gochujang is thick and sticky and a deep garnet hue, with a flavor that has ruined me for all store-bought brands. I don’t know if Omoni knew that her gochujang has gone into nearly every Korean dish I’ve ever cooked, and I don’t know if she cares. But as I sat at her tiny kitchen table for two last Sunday, I felt like I had to tell her anyway.

Hye Rae called her thirty minutes before we arrived to tell her we were coming, because otherwise, Hye Rae said, she’d insist we didn’t. Not that Omoni doesn’t want the company, she just doesn’t ever want anyone to go out of their way for her. She must have thrown together a pot of soup with oysters and radish so that we’d have something hot to eat, even though Hye Rae assured her we’d already had dinner.

We’d spent the day bouncing around Gwangju, and after a visit to her sister-in-law’s house, we took a bus to Nokdong at the southern tip of Korea, a small beach town that was once used to quarantine people with leprosy. We stopped at the fish market in the knick of time to select an octopus, a gift, as the last gates were shut and locked. The fish lady pinched our octopus by two tentacles, held it up for Hye Rae’s inspection, and shoved it into a black plastic bag. Omoni greeted us in a floral housecoat, purple pants, and checkered scarf, her cheeks ruddy. Oboji was watching the Olympics in the bedroom on their twin bed, also layered up to his ears. He gestured for me to sit at a warm spot on the floor, and we watched women’s curling while Hye Rae and Omoni caught up in the kitchen. Ten people lived in that two-bedroom home while their children were growing up. Oboji was a farmer, and Omoni’s job, among others, was to keep her family fed. I’d never seen a more spectacularly organized kitchen, or imagined a more selfless kind of life than that of these two. Omoni is over seventy years old, and she still refuses help making the year’s batch of kimchi or cooking elaborate meals for holidays when her house is once again full of people–her daughter and three sons who are grown up with families of their own. That night, we slept in the small second bedroom on the warm floor next to big sacks of rice that Oboji harvested, and though we set our alarm to wake up earlier than Omoni, she still beat us to the kitchen to make breakfast.

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CSA in Korea

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Two Septembers ago, I went on a Slow Food tour in Namyangju, the largest organic farming district in South Korea. At the time, there weren’t any CSA options available in Korea, but a lot of people on that tour vocalized interest. Though I’d love to say I’ve made valiant effort to seek out food that’s been grown responsibly since moving here, the truth is that I’ve let go. I get fruits and vegetables from the woman who sells them across the street, but for all I know, they could be coming from the same supplier that delivers to the bigger groceries across the city. The demand for organic food in Seoul is still pretty low, but interest is steadily growing. We’re about to have the opportunity to be part of a community that supports responsible farming and aims to foster a relationship between farmers and consumers, where both parties share in the risks and rewards of growing and eating clean food. This is the heart of CSA.


In late January, WWOOF Korea will launch the country’s first Community Supported Agriculture initiative, making it possible to purchase fair, organic products from affiliated farms. As part of their launch, they sent sample boxes to a group of cooks for review and asked us each to come up with a recipe using its contents. How cool is that?


With CSA, you get exactly what’s grown locally, which means the stuff in your box is always seasonal, the distance it travels minimal. You order a whole box, but not any specific products. There are opportunities to request specific fruits and vegetables at monthly CSA meetings or by visiting the farm in person, whereby the requests are taken into account for the following season. For me, the surprise of not knowing exactly what’ll arrive, the convenience of doorstep delivery and the assurance that farmers are receiving fair prices and growing food free of chemical pesticides all outweigh the alternative of selecting exactly what I want at the grocery store. My good friend Habiba and I teamed up to cook our way through one of these taster boxes, and had a blast while doing it.


In our box, there were potatoes, apples, garlic, onions, carrots, oyster mushrooms, and lettuce, all wrapped so that we could stick them straight in the fridge if we wanted to. I liked the variety–all very versatile items, but more seasonal and regional fruits and vegetables would have been even better (like pears, persimmons, different kinds of greens and herbs, even beans–things special to Korea).

There were six eggs, two loaves of bread, petite loaves of yuja poundcake, coleslaw, and tofu chips. Since both of us were getting ready to leave for separate vacations, we had to use everything in our recipes or it would have spoiled. And we did. Everything except the coleslaw, tofu chips, and poundcake, that is, which were well gone before the day was over.


While I got to work on the apples and onions for chutney, Habiba stuck the oil-slicked mushrooms in the oven to roast, but not before showering them with salt and cracked pepper. Once they’d browned, she blitzed them with some roasted garlic, doenjang and olive oil until the paste was as smooth as a pâté. And then! We stuck in the last heel of walnut potato bread to toast for breadcrumbs that we’d add to the latkes.

We quickly sautéed all the salad greens from the box in a bit of hot oil and finished them with a squirt of lemon. We set those aside and poached two eggs while toasting sliced bread in the broiler. When our bread was nice and warm, we slathered on a layer of mushroom pâté, curled around leaves of sautéed lettuce next, set a poached egg over that, and grated parmesan cheese and cracked pepper over it all.


Habiba shaved the carrots and potatoes for the latkes and mixed in a couple of eggs, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper. Then she fried them. We stacked trios of warm latkes under mounds of spiced chutney. And we ate.

(Hop over to Habiba’s most inspiring site for the latkes and mushroom pâté recipes!)




For more information about WWOOF CSA Korea, or to place an order for your own box or weekly/monthly share, contact wwoofcsa@wwoofsca.com or visit www.wwoofcsa.com.

Apple and Onion Chutney
5 apples
1 onion
1 tablespoon pickling spice (or mix of peppercorns, mustard seeds, whole cloves, fennel seeds, and cinnamon stick)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
juice squeezed from one orange or 2-3 tangerines
handful of dried cranberries
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup water or more

Add all ingredients to a heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Allow to simmer uncovered for about an hour, while stirring occasionally, until apples have broken apart and gone past the point of soft. Add additional water in small amounts if the liquid evaporates at any point before the chutney is finished. Cool before storing in the fridge, tightly covered, for up to two weeks.

Greens, egg, and mushroom garlic pâté on toast
1 thick slice of bread, toasted
thick spread of garlic mushroom pâté (recipe here)
greens sautéed quickly with lemon and olive oil
1 poached egg

Layer, in the order above, and sprinkle with grated parmesan and cracked black pepper.

*It’s not totally clear to me if a pureed spread of vegetables can rightly be called a pâté, since pâté is defined as a “mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste,” or so says Wikipedia. But if you consider the real thing, and its opposing qualities of minimal aesthetic appeal and total bliss on the tongue, or the unconditionally smooth texture of a pâté made with, I don’t know, duck liver, and if a similar treatment of mushrooms and garlic can yield the same drab gray but silky, pillowy spread, I’m going to go with yes. Yes it can. The addition of doenjang, a fermented soybean paste used widely in Korean cuisine, probably toes the line, but the salty punch of acidity it added was totally worth the risk.




Homemade Sriracha

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How were your holidays? What did you do? I hope you were surrounded by people you love and like at the same time. Christmas brings a mix of emotions for me, as I would guess it does for many of you, too. Flo (my maternal grandma) was always a huge part of the holidays. She had an attic full of decor that she’d put up like a professional, and Christmas hasn’t quite been the same without her and her house. But the passing of old traditions leaves room for the new, and this year was great. I spent it in Hong Kong with my friends Jackie and Doug, their son, Gavin, and Jackie’s mother, Millie. Jackie and I have known each other as teenagers in Ohio, as adults in New York, and now, as adulter adults on this side of the planet. We went to the beach, cooked Christmas Eve dinner in under two hours, and battled holiday traffic for last-minute victuals. We played at least two dozen games of Heads Up after a lot of champagne. On Christmas Eve, Millie had a hankering for chai butternut squash soup, so we dug out Jackie’s immersion blender and made a big pot of it to drink out of tiny glasses with shards of fried sage. It is five days later, and now it’s me with the hankering for chai butternut squash soup. Someday I’ll put the recipe up with Millie’s permission, but today I want to tell you about something else. Homemade srirachaaaaaah, yeow!

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Why would you make a homemade condiment when you can buy it in a bottle? Well, if you’re asking, I probably can’t convince you. I would have the same retort regarding ketchup, and as my loyalty to Heinz runs deep, I will probably never attempt it at home. But this particular condiment makes an excellent gift (New Year’s? A January birthday? Belated holiday? Present for you from you?) and standing by the stove has become a way of staying warm in our cozy but underheated apartment. Also! The color. Just look at that color! Bright enough to inspire a new name for paint: Sriracha Red? Rooster Orange? Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve tasted bottled sriracha, so this endorsement comes without any current authority on the subject. But I have always had luck with recipes from Food52, and that’s where this version came from after Eda of Edamame Eats entered it in a Food52 contest for Best Chili Pepper Recipe. Eda’s rendition calls for palm sugar and red Fresno chilies, but I didn’t have either, so I used brown sugar and Korean red chilies with delicious success. This homemade condiment is a bullseye. Promise.


Homemade Sriracha adapted from Food52 and Edamame-eats

1/2 pound fresh red chilies (in Korea, you can use the same thin long chilies that are dried and ground for gochugaru)
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Roughly chop chilies and combine them with garlic, sea salt, and white vinegar in a jar. Let sit overnight, or for the equivalent. According to the original recipe, this helps soften the spice of the peppers. Don’t worry, heat lovers, the sauce has plenty of it even after the brine. Put the mixture in a saucepan with the sugar, and heat to boiling. Then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Next, blend in batches until smooth. Finally, pour blended mixture in a sieve and push sauce through to catch all the skins and bits of seed. You’ll be left with a gorgeous and silky, fire-hued, vinegary hot sauce that is the perfect cure to the peak of winter when everything feels a little too colorless and cold.

Kohlrabi Soup

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Life an as expat comes with its own share of frustrations, but when I step back and put it all in perspective, this shit seems trivial and unworthy of mention. So I don’t really talk about the annoyances much, but they’re there, and if they do nothing more than remind me of my own character flaws, well then, I guess they’ve done their job.

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Yes, there are things I’m not so good at as an expat. Here’s one: I’m no good at keeping a bright attitude while commuting by metro transit during the peak of rush hour. Christ almighty. If I were a practicing Catholic, this would be prime time to belt out a few Hail Marys. And what blows me away isn’t the volume of people who can stuff together in each car. Or that even with their bodies wedged like canned sardines, most people still manage to finger their phones, arms bent up stiffly like chipmunks. No, what’s more astonishing is that I am always the lone person who is pissed off, the only one with steam shooting out of her ears, shaking her head and muttering obscenities under her breath. Most other people are quiet and composed, even while they’re being pushed and elbowed from all directions, because really, how is freaking out and resisting the inevitable going to make a damn bit of difference? I get it. I look like the asshole. It’s infuriating.


The other day I was commuting on one of the busiest lines, getting ready to transfer along with the rest of Seoul’s mobile population. I could have nibbled the knuckle hair of the man I was spooning without straining my neck, and because his arms were pinned to his sides, he wouldn’t have been able to retaliate. Not by much, anyway. When we got to my stop, I tried to wriggle free. No one else around was getting off, and unless someone was going to raise my ass and pass it above the heads, I was trapped. The doors closed, then opened, then closed again. The old woman to my left could tell I had a problem, and she started sputtering on my behalf, at least I imagined it was for me, and I appreciated that to the high heavens since everyone else was averting their eyes. We made eye contact, that lady and I, and we both smiled. When we reached the next station, I carried her across the threshold, out the exit and onto firm ground, in a flurry of sharp elbows. Not really. I left and she stayed. This soup is for you, sweet lady.


So what does soup have to do with it? Nothing, really, except that soup has a steadfast ability to ground a person, I think. So do gifts of food. Last Sunday my friend Sonja gave me a bag of provisions she wasn’t going to use, including one very handsome kohlrabi, a new favorite winter vegetable and the inspiration for a new recipe, which is yours, Sonja, too. One more thing I’ve got to tell you, don’t go yet. Do you know about adding leftover parmesan rinds to soup? Never throw out a parmesan rind. Here’s why: when you add it to a broth, it melts and infuses the liquid with a rich saltiness, better than salt itself. At one point while making this soup, I thought I smelled pizza, which was confusing until I remembered about the rind that was by then melting into irresistible bits that I kept fishing out to chew, like treasure.


Kohlrabi Soup

1/2 kohlrabi (about 1 1/2 cups, chopped into cubes)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
few stalks of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
stock + water (I used turkey stock, but you could use chicken or vegetable instead)
parmesan rind
salt to taste
olive oil

Into a pot heated with oil, add the onions, garlic, celery, and carrot. Cook until onions have softened, then put into a separate bowl and set aside. Into the same pot, add a bit more oil and the chopped kohlrabi. Sauté for a while, maybe 7-10 minutes. Then add back the other vegetables, mix, and add in the stock plus water to cover. (Since kohlrabi takes longer to cook than the other veggies, it’ll need more time. It probably makes more sense to give the kohlrabi a headstart and cook it first, then just add the other veggies to the same pot. By all means, do that if it sounds right to you. I wrote by the steps that I took). Add the parmesan rind. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Simmer until all the vegetables are fork tender, without any resistance to the tooth, adding more liquid when necessary. Take the soup off the heat, and let it cool. Then, purée in batches or with an immersion blender. Put back on the stove, reheat, and season with more salt if needed. Garnish with whatever you have. Here: dried shallots, sansho pepper, and ribbons of celery leaves.