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Seoul-ful speci alties

Wed., Jan. 19, 2011

Distinctive Korean dishes can pack some punch, even made from home

Warm up your toes, whip a cold, or just get to know a new culture: Korean cooking can do all of that.

Flavors in the more familiar Chinese and Japanese cuisines can pave the way to dishes traditionally served on the Korean peninsula. However, even intrepid cooks can be intimidated by the array of distinctive side dishes served with a traditional Korean meal.

Perhaps the most familiar Korean dish is kimchi, a fermented side dish that is commonly made with Napa cabbage. Korean families make many different kinds of kimchi, with base ingredients as varied as cucumbers, radishes, seafood and other meats. And every family has a different recipe.

The fermenting pots of kimchi were traditionally buried in the yard because of the cool, even temperatures. But families are now more likely to have a kimchi refrigerator, which has temperature controls to help regulate the fermentation process.

Members of the Spokane-Jecheon Sister City Society recently gave a cooking demonstration to introduce people to some of the most popular Korean dishes. They served kimchi; a spinach salad called shigumchi; bulgogi, a marinated and barbecued or stir-fried beef dish; and pae-sook, or Korean poached pears.

“Koreans use a lot of garlic in their food. So if you are not a garlic eater or you don’t like it, you can use onions,” Hyunki Ahn, president of the group, told the audience.

Ahn and Kay Oh, a former home economics teacher, demonstrated the dishes and shared the recipes during the group’s meeting.

“Be generous with the sesame oil, that really gives it a good taste, nutty flavor,” Ahn said of the spinach salad.

Ingredients in a Korean kitchen are viewed as much more than flavoring. Ahn told the group that garlic improves circulation and ginger is good for a cold. It just might be the perfect fare for this time of year when cold germs are circulating.

Ahn and Oh also suggested turning the bulgogi into a one-pot meal by adding a few vegetables while stir-frying. Broccoli and mushrooms are a good addition. The bulgogi can be cooked right away.

“Let it marinate for a few hours and it tastes even better,” Ahn said.

Don’t forget to serve rice with your meal.

Miwah Kim, who owns House of Seoul in Airway Heights with her husband Paul, says some can be intimidated by the liberal use of red pepper powder in Korean cooking.

“Korean hot pepper is not as hot as you think,” says Kim. It has a slow heat that builds, rather than a biting heat on your tongue.

Kim shared the recipe for a stir-fried noodle dish called Japchae that she says is a popular dish at the restaurant, especially with those who aren’t familiar with Korean food.

The noodles are made from sweet potato starch and have a pleasant, chewy texture when they are done. They can be found at area Asian markets that carry Korean ingredients (see listings in the information box on page C1).

“This is a dish for the royal families in the court,” Kim says. “Traditionally, people see this is a palace type of food so we don’t eat it every day.”

The Spokane-Jecheon Sister City Society served delicious poached pears to end the meal. In Korea, the dish is made with Asian pears, but Ahn suggests using more common Bartlett or d’Anjou pears.

Kimchi (Korean Pickled Cabbage)

From the Spokane-Jecheon Sister City Society

1 medium-sized head Napa cabbage

3 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon red pepper powder, medium or mild hotness, depending on preference

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ginger, minced

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

4 green onions chopped

Cut the base off the Napa cabbage and cut it lengthwise into four long sections. Then, cut each of those crosswise into four or five pieces. Put all the cabbage in a large bowl. Put the salt in 1/2 cup water and sprinkle it over the cabbage and then let the cabbage wilt.

After 30 minutes to one hour, rinse the cabbage in cold water. Then add the other ingredients, mix it gently by hand, put it in a jar and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours and then refrigerate. (The kimchi will expand, so don’t fill the jar too full or it will overflow.)

The kimchi will keep several days in the refrigerator.

It also is possible to eat it immediately as a salad after mixing it, rather than waiting 24 hours. In that case, mix in 1 tablespoon sesame oil. However, don’t add the sesame oil if you plan to refrigerate it.

Optional: Add some thin slices of Asian pear when preparing it.

Yield: 4-6 servings


From the Spokane-Jecheon Sister City Society

2 bunches fresh spinach, roots trimmed

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced ( 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder can be substituted)

1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Fill a medium-sized pan half full of water and put on to boil. While it is heating, wash the spinach. When the water is boiling vigorously, immerse the spinach in the boiling water for about one minute, while stirring.

Remove the spinach from the water and rinse it three times under cold water in a colander. The last time, squeeze out the water by hand. Caution: Be sure the spinach is cold.

Put the spinach in a serving bowl and loosen the ball of leaves, then add the other ingredients and mix by hand.

Eat cold with rice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings


From Miwah Kim, House of Seoul Korean restaurant, Airway Heights

5 shitake mushrooms or Chinese black mushrooms

4 ounces beef

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1-2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

Pinch black pepper

1 carrot

1 onion

1/3 pound spinach

Pinch salt

1 egg

12 ounces dang myun noodles (see note)

5 tablespoons oil

Pinch sesame seeds

Soak mushrooms in water for 15 minutes. Cut off stems then cut the caps into thin strips.

Cut beef into thin strips and marinate it with the mushrooms in a seasoning of soy sauce, sugar, minced garlic, sesame oil, chopped green onions and a pinch of ground pepper.

Cut carrot and onion into thin strips (julienne).

Cook spinach in boiling water for about two minutes. Cool spinach in running water. Squeeze the water out of the spinach. Season the spinach slightly with salt and sesame oil.

Beat and fry the egg in a pan with a pinch of salt. Once cooked and cooled, cut the egg into thin slices.

Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 2 to 4 minutes or until soft (you may want to cut the noodles in half beforehand if they are too long). Rinse in cold water and drain.

Start cooking the beef and mushrooms with a bit of oil.

When beef is cooked, add carrot, onion, spinach and noodles and stir-fry.

When vegetables are cooked, add the sliced egg and use salt and soy sauce to season the dish to your taste.

Put it all in a dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds for the final touch.

Can be served hot or cold.

Note: Dang myun noodles are Korean glass noodles that are made from sweet potato starch. They can be found at Korean and Asian markets.

Yield: 6 servings

Bulgogi (Korean Barbecued Beef)

From the Spokane-Jecheon Sister City Society

2 pounds thinly sliced beef (see note)

4 tablespoons soy sauce

4 cloves garlic, minced (see note)

4 tablespoons wine (see note)

1 teaspoon minced ginger ( 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger)

4 tablespoons sugar

1 medium onion, chopped

4 green onions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons sesame oil

Put beef in a large mixing bowl. Add all ingredients except the sesame oil. Mix them into the meat well by hand. Add the sesame oil and hand mix some more. Let the mixture marinate about two hours or even overnight. (If you don’t have time, it can be cooked immediately, but marinating will enhance the flavor.)

It can now be cooked in several ways: Under a broiler, in a frying pan or electric frying pan, or over a barbecue. If you barbecue the meat, use a fine screen to keep the meat from falling through. The thin meat will cook quickly, so you need to watch it to be sure it does not burn.

Cook meat to taste and eat with rice. Cooking the bulgogi in a pan allows you to capture the broth, which tastes great over the rice, too.

Notes: Any beef roast or steak will do. Buy it from a meat counter that has a slicer and ask them to slice it very thin for you. Some meat counters do not have the equipment.

Powdered garlic can be substituted for the fresh garlic. Use 1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic for each teaspoon of the fresh.

Any leftover wine works. It tenderizes and flavors the meat. It may be omitted.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Pae-Sook (Korean Poached Pears)

From the Spokane-Jecheon Sister City Society. Hyunki Ahn, president, says, “Don’t worry about having too much. People will be glad to eat more.”

3 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks, 2 inches long

5 thin slices of fresh ginger

6 pears, ripe but firm, peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into 8 sections

1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup sweet vermouth

Add the cinnamon sticks and ginger to the water, and heat to a boil, then lower to simmer.

Simmer for 40 minutes.

Let it cool before removing the cinnamon sticks and ginger.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the pear sections evenly in a 9-inch square baking dish

Add cranberries

Sprinkle brown sugar over the top

Pour vermouth and cinnamon-ginger liquid over the pears, cranberries and brown sugar.

Bake 1 hour.

Serve pears either hot or cold with the sweet broth. They also go well with vanilla ice cream.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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