19 April 2015

Couscous Tabbouleh Salad

As I ease back into life in Santa Barbara, I'm inspired daily--by the natural beauty of this place, the beckoning hiking trails, the sunshine, and the fresh air--to get out and be active and seek out healthier eating habits. And as springtime warms up, I'm definitely craving flavorful and fresh food that satisfies but requires minimal effort.

This tabbouleh fits right in. Using chewy pearls of Israeli couscous instead of the traditional bulgur, it's a delight for the tastebuds and a breeze to make. You'll love eating this as a refreshing side dish to juicy grilled steaks, sausages, chicken, or fish, or simply as a vegetarian main dish all on its own.

Based mostly on veggies and protein-rich legumes, this salad is oh-so-good for you. And it's a great dish to make ahead! Munching on leftovers the next day, the flavors had melded, and it was so delicious to tuck in spoonful after spoonful. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Couscous Tabbouleh Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main

1/2 cup dry Israeli couscous
1 cup (packed) shredded cabbage
1 cup (packed) finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
1 cup shelled edamame
2 Tbs. minced Spanish (or red) onion
3 medium tomatoes, diced
Salt and pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil to taste

Cook the couscous according to package directions, then let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, gently combine the couscous with the cabbage, herbs, edamame, onion, and tomato (along with any tomato juice released during dicing). Season to taste with salt and pepper and a few dashes of lemon juice and olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Can be made 1 day ahead; gently stir to redistribute any collected juices before serving.

14 April 2015

Introducing 蓮霧, or Wax Apples

Exactly a year ago, I was in Taiwan with my brother and a group of friends, enjoying a week's vacation together in one of my favorite spots on Earth. The warm spring weather was perfect for all of our site-seeing in and around Taipei, including an excursion out to Danshui, touring the geopark at Yehliu, indulging in Beitou's hot springs, hiking up Elephant Mountain, and visiting the National Palace Museum. And, we ate and ate and ate...from delicious restaurant fare, like Din Tai Fung's xiǎo lóngbāo (soup dumplings) and a seafood feast in Yehliu, to more humble but still crazy-delicious street food like Hot Star's giant crispy fried chicken, ô-á-chian (oyster omelet), niú ròumiàn (beef and noodle soup) and, even, Seven-Eleven's Hokkaido milk soft serve ice cream. (Sigh, now that was some soft serve!)

The cuisine of Taiwan is incomparable, and so is the fresh produce! I think it's no secret that my favorite fruits of Taiwan are the super sweet mango as well as the crisp and delicately-flavored wax apple, called , that is, lián. Despite the name, this fruit is actually a part of the myrtle tree family Myrtaceae. And, it so happens that the Eugenia hedges so popular for landscaping in my hometown and indeed, surrounding my own front yard, also belong to this family of plants! When I was a little girl, I loved going out into the garden and collecting and nibbling on the little oval, purply-red Eugenia berries. They were so juicy and tart, with a lovely flavor unlike any other fruit I knew, I just couldn't keep away from them (though my parents would schimpf me about it).

So when I first had lián in Taiwan (was it just cut up in a bag with toothpicks at a night market one evening?), it was with great surprise that I realized it was the same taste as from my childhood! It made sense: the lián fruits, though significantly larger, seedless, and more pear-shaped than Eugenia berries, do have blossom ends of similar appearance and that same great taste.

The texture is actually not nearly as dense as that of a traditional apple, yet it's still crispy and juicy without being spongy. It's really a delicate fruit, so unfortunately lián is not so easy to find outside of its growing districts. If you ever have a chance to go to Taiwan or southeast Asia, this is a must-eat! The good news for those of us stuck in California for now, though, is that there is at least one farmer in southern California working on establishing lián here on the West Coast. I am fervently hoping for his success and that we'll all soon be able to enjoy these goodies Stateside.

07 April 2015

Gosari Namul (Seasoned Fernbracken)

One of my all-time favorite Korean side dishes is gosari namul (고사리 나물), or Seasoned Fernbracken. It's something I could just keep nibbling on all throughout a meal, and it's the special ingredient that makes a bibimbap complete for me. Made from young fern shoots, this side dish has a deep savory flavor and delightful texture (perhaps likened to that of very thin asparagus) thanks to the traditional method of using young fern shoots that have been dried, rehydrated, and then simmered in soy sauce and other seasonings.

Though the modern food trend is to focus on fresh ingredients straight from the farm or garden, the technique of drying fernbracken--obviously a necessary method of food storage long ago--wonderfully transforms the flavor and texture of the young shoots. I sometimes wonder if drying/rehydrating might not deserve more consideration in our battery of culinary techniques today.

Namuls, a popular side dish (banchan, 반찬) in Korean meals, consist of some type of blanched vegetable seasoned simply with minced garlic, salt, and sesame oil. Besides gosari namul, classic namuls are also made with sigeumchi (spinach), kong (soybean sprouts), and other vegetables, and they are all fairly typical components of bibimbap. Though it might sound a bit exotic, the good news is that gosari namul is pretty easy to make, and you can find dried gosari in most any Korean market or purchase it online.

My Korean friends each have their own recipes, with the ingredient list varying slightly. I've made this particular recipe using dried anchovies and garlic to improve the depth of flavor, and I've gotten rave reviews from Koreans and non-Koreans alike.

If you're not planning on making a full-on multi-course Korean meal or bibimbap, of which this namul would be just a small component, there are still many ways to enjoy it! Try making a simple rice bowl with the gosari namul, sauteed greens, and a fried egg, or use it as an ingredient in kimbap and sushi rolls. Or, try mixing it up in a fusion meal, for example substituting it for sauteed mushrooms as an accompaniment to your next steak or pasta dish! What other ways do you like to eat gosari namul?


Gosari Namul

4 oz. (115 g) dried gosari (건 고사리)
6 small dried anchovies (마른 멸치), heads & black innards removed
6 Tbs. Korean soy sauce (간장)
3 large cloves garlic (마늘), minced
1 Tbs. roasted sesame oil (참기름)

Place the dried gosari in a 4 quart pot and fill pot with water.  Cover pot and bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes, then turn off heat and let gosari soak for a few hours.  At this point you will have about 750 g (1 ½ pounds) of rehydrated gosari.  Drain gosari, then cut into 3 to 4-inch long pieces and set aside.

Place 6 anchovies and 2 cups water in the pot and boil until reduced to ½ cup of liquid.  Discard anchovies.  Reduce heat and add the Korean soy sauce, minced garlic, and sesame oil.  Next, add the rehydrated gosari and simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes, gently mixing to combine all ingredients thoroughly and to allow the flavors to blend.  Cool gosari and serve as a side dish or as a delicious component to bibimbap.

01 April 2015

Springtime Salad and Happy Easter!

Having been living in Korea and traipsing to, from, and around East Asia for nearly the past three years, it feels really good to be at rest in Santa Barbara among family for Holy Week this year. It's the kind of restful feeling where your heart squeezes with gladness and then peace unfurls down to your fingertips and toes.

During this time, I've enjoyed some glorious music, from performances by the London Symphony Orchestra and Gil Shaham in Santa Barbara's own Granada Theater, to my mother simply practicing on her violin at home. I've also been indulging in homey little tasks like pulling weeds and trimming our lavender shrubs, tidying the linen drawer, moving a pile of rocks for the garden wall my father is building, cleaning the coffee maker, and finally working up the resolve to toss notebooks and course readers stashed away since my undergrad years. Now and then, I step outside, barefoot, to pick kumquats from the back patio for a quick snack. Or I head out front to check on the progress our roses are making. Or I head out for a walk in the foothills, with all of Santa Barbara spread out below me, the waters of the Channel glittering and sparkling in the distance, islands on the horizon, fresh air filling my lungs, and the fragrance of the chaparral reminding me how good it is to be alive.

Fresh herbs and salad greens in abundance and variety is something I'd taken for granted growing up in California. And as much as I was fascinated by the greens and mountain vegetables of Korea, I sure have been missing the flavors and textures of home. So this salad is all that I could possibly want this Spring: crisp, flavorful lettuces and fresh garden herbs, topped with juicy chunks of rosemary-roasted salmon and sprouted lentils and peas.

Rediscovering and experiencing once again the many joys of life that I'd left behind me in California has been a precious gift. And yet this pales in comparison with the even greater gift we get to celebrate this Easter season. Happy Easter, dear readers!

06 March 2014

Roasted Basil Brown Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes

This was my lunch today.  Super simple, gorgeous, and delicious.

I realize I haven't posted here much, and pulling out my camera, snapping what I pulled out of the oven, and sharing it here with you sure is a delight.  I miss blogging here so much.

Life has been busy that usually I just throw something random together for dinner at the end of the day.  I feel I rarely have something homemade from my kitchen that's blogworthy anymore, and even more rarely do I have a chance to capture it in photos using beautiful natural light.  But today it worked out, and I'm thrilled to share these easy brown rice-stuffed tomatoes with you, scented with onion and basil and roasted to perfection.

The rice peeking out from under the tomato caps got nice and crispy while roasting in the hot oven, while the interior developed a fantastic creaminess reminiscent of risotto.

With fresh tomatoes quite the luxury in winter, and in Korea, period (after all, it's a fruit! and fruit is expensive here!), this lunch was a bit of an indulgence, but it also was a creative way for me to use up some leftover brown rice that I'd cooked a few days before.

Let me share with you my (approximate) recipe!

Roasted Basil Brown Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes
Makes 2-4 servings

4 medium-large tomatoes
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked sprouted brown rice
1 teaspoon dried basil flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
Freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C (350F).

Cut caps off the top of the tomatoes and scoop out the centers to create tomato "cups," saving all the juices and flesh in a bowl.  Chop up any of the larger pieces of flesh into fine dice.  Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper into the tomato cups and set aside.

Over medium heat, sweat the onions for about 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Add the rice, tomato flesh and juices, basil, salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine thoroughly.  Bring to a gentle boil and cook 5-10 minutes, stirring, until juices are mostly absorbed (if your tomatoes weren't super juicy, add a few tablespoons of water during cooking to help the seasonings to distribute and meld with the rice).

Divide the rice mixture between the tomato cups, pressing lightly to compact the filling and mounding it high on each tomato.  Top with the tomato caps and roast in the preheated oven for about 1 hour, until tomatoes are meltingly tender and the edges of the rice become golden and crispy.  Serve warm.

27 November 2013

Korean Sweet Potato Breakfast Bread

Inspired by a luscious-looking cake over on Smitten Kitchen, I finally went and bought my first baking pan since moving to Korea over a year ago.  Can you believe it?  I haven't hardly baked in over year!

Yes, life has been busy.  And ingredients and equipment have been lacking.  But finally, on Thanksgiving Eve, thinking of how many of my family and friends back home are probably madly at work in their kitchens, I pulled it together and exerted a little extra work myself, celebrating (or commiserating? hehe...) with them in spirit.  Starting with a dreamy-looking cake recipe, I decided to make it a bit healthier (since after all, I'll be the only one eating this over the next couple of days), and I ended up with a yummy scone-like delight that I have dubbed "Korean Sweet Potato Breakfast Bread."  Thanks to the name, as well as the slimmed-down ingredients, I definitely have fewer qualms about indulging in this morning, noon, or night!

Though I don't have access to the yams and sweet potatoes that are plentiful throughout the USA, I do have the distinct pleasure of being able to buy these more petite-sized goguma (고구마), or Korean sweet potatoes, any time I want.  Here in Korea, they're a beloved street snack, roasted over coals in portable ovens on the back of a mini-truck or on hand-pulled carts.  They're warm and cozy treats to hold in your hands on a cold winter day, and they're delicious in texture and naturally sweet.  If you've never had goguma before, I heartily recommend heading to your nearest Korean market and roasting them up for a simple, unadorned snack!  (For my Santa Barbara readers, Tri County Produce was actually stocking these regularly back in 2012; anyone know if they've continued stocking them?)

This breakfast bread is quite simple to make, being that I have few fancy gadgets on hand here.  You just need an oven, a baking pan, a bowl, a whisk, a spatula, a blender, and a grater, though you could use an electric hand mixer and a potato ricer, as in the Smitten Kitchen version.  I also found that leaving some of the goguma roughly cubed, rather than having it all completely grated, is marvelous thing, creating soft nuggets of extra sweetness here and there in the bread.

Wishing all my US readers a very happy Thanksgiving!
Korean Sweet Potato Breakfast Bread
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

3 small eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup plain yogurt
¼ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ packed cups cooked, grated Korean sweet potato
Sift together dry ingredients (first 6 ingredients listed) in large mixing bowl.  Next, blend together the wet ingredients (eggs, oil, yogurt, sugar, vanilla) in blender until light and frothy.

Pour the blended mixture into the dry ingredients in the large mixing bowl and crumble the grated sweet potato over.  Gently mix the ingredients together with a spatula, using as few strokes as possible to incorporate them together.

Spread batter in a 7x10-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper.  Bake in a 175 C (350 F) preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Serve immediately.  (Leftovers taste best when reheated and toasted!)

31 July 2013

A Summertime Snack: Mul Naengmyeon (물냉면)

Mul Naengmyeon Portrait

Mul naengmyeon is so refreshing during the summertime heat.  An icy cold, vinegary, sweet and savory broth.  Chewy buckwheat noodles (for boba fans, think "Q"!) and crunchy fresh vegetables.  A bit of salty, crispy dried seaweed.  Some protein on top.

It's thirst-quenching and nourishing, and it's just the right amount for a light meal or snack.  I've been eating a lot of this stuff the past few weeks, sometimes with more veggies, sometimes with a dab of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste).  Any which way, it's so so good!  Make some today if you need relief from the summer heat!

Mul Naengmyeon Bowl

Mul Naengmyeon (물냉면)
Recipe adapted from Maangchi
1 serving

1 1/2 cups very cold broth (recipe below)
75 g buckwheat noodles (memil mulnaengmyeon/메밀물냉면)
1/4 cup julienned cucumber
1/4 cup julienned Asian pear (배)
hard-boiled egg
julienned kim (sesame and salt-seasoned seaweed laver), to taste
about 1/2 cup crushed ice

Bring a saucepan of water to boil, then add the buckwheat noodles and cook according to package directions (3-4 minutes).  Drain noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water until thoroughly cooled (this helps to improve the chewy texture).  During rinsing, use the running water to help untangle the noodles, and then wrap the serving of noodles into a tight spool.  Place the noodles into an individual serving bowl and set aside in the refrigerator to chill.

Prepare the julienned cucumber and Asian pear, along with the hard-boiled egg and kim.

To assemble, pour the prepared cold broth over the noodles, add the crushed ice around the noodles, and arrange the cucumber, pear, egg, and kim on top.  Serve with extra vinegar and salt (and kim!), as desired.

For the Mul Naengmyeon Broth
8 cups water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms (표고버섯)
4 1-inch pieces dried kelp (dashima/다시마)
8 dried anchovies, heads and guts removed (마른멸치)
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. salt
2 1/2 Tbs. vinegar

Place water, mushrooms, kelp, and anchovies in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Strain out and discard the solids, then whisk in the sugar and salt until dissolved.  Let broth cool to room temperature, then add the vinegar.  Transfer broth to a non-reactive container and refrigerate until very cold.  (Keeps for one week, refrigerated.)