28 August 2010

Doenjang jjigae: intensely good

Here is a delicious stew--perfect for summer when mixed up with a green salad, and warm and spicy for when the days get cooler.  I'm not Korean, but I have certainly fallen in love with the cooking of Korea, and I'm so excited to share this dish with you!  Ever since my college roommate Steph started buzzing about doenjang jjigae (say: dwen-jang jee-gay), I have been on a quest to figure out what it tastes like and to learn how to make it.  This is a real home-style Korean stew that gets its name (and its primary flavor) from the gloriously savory and salty fermented soybean paste doenjang.

Cooked in the tasty broth are chunks of tofu, potatoes, zucchini, and onions, plus shiitake mushrooms and a little bit of seafood.  The first time I had this, I tried the version made by the ajumma at my local Korean market, who uses clams and adds dried whole red chilies. Served over rice and with a green salad and kimchi alongside, this was a beautiful meal with a rainbow of colors, textures, and flavors.

Now another way you can serve this--and which I recommend--is serving it up a la Maangchi, by putting your serving of rice, jjigae, and salad all together in a big bowl and mixing it together.  Then drizzle it liberally with cho-gochujang (a sweet and sour chili sauce which normally is served with bibimbap, but which I find works really well here).  I know it might sound a bit strange to mix the salad in with the warm rice and stew, but trust me, it is really really good.
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Of course, as with any home-style recipe, there are many variations for this doenjang jjigae recipe, and here I use a combination of anchovies and shrimp and get a subtler heat from de-seeded jalapeno.  I was pretty excited, though, how the overall flavor of mine was quite similar to that of my Korean shopkeeper's version.  This recipe is great--with it you'll see how easy it can be to cook up authentic flavors of Korea in your own kitchen!

But is the doenjang flavor generally too intense for non-Koreans?  This was a question Steph posed and that initially got me curious to see if I could handle, nay, enjoy doenjang.  After my culinary explorations, my personal palate says this stuff is delicious.  What do you say?

Doenjang jjigae 된장 찌개
(Korean Soybean Paste Stew, Serves 4)

6 Tbs. fermented soybean paste (doenjang, 된장)
2 cups cubed potato
2 cups cubed zucchini
1 cup sliced yellow onion
1 jalapeno, seeds and ribbing removed, julienned
8 dried or frozen anchovies (mareun myeolchi, 마른멸치), heads and backbone removed
5 large raw shrimp
1 ounce (about one cup) dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
14 oz. (396 g) firm tofu, cubed
4 green onions, chopped

Steamed Rice
Green Salad (recipe follows)
Cho-Gochujang (Chili Paste Sauce, recipe follows)

In a medium- to large-sized pot, whisk the doenjang into a cup of water.  Add the potato, zucchini, onion, and jalapeno.  Finely mince the anchovies and shrimp and add to the pot, along with the shiitake mushrooms.  Add more water to barely cover the ingredients, then gently mix the ingredients.

Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork-tender.  Gently stir in the tofu and green onions and continue cooking until tofu has heated through.

To serve, place a scoop of rice in a bowl and spoon the doenjang jjigae over.  If desired, add green salad straight to the bowl and mix together, drizzling with cho-gochujang to taste.

Green Salad

8 cups mixed greens, torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 a large English cucumber, sliced into half-moons
1 green onion, chopped
1/4 yellow onion
3 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. rice (or apple cider) vinegar
1 Tbs. roasted sesame oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds
Salt to taste

In a large bowl, toss together the greens, cucumber, and green onion.  Finely grate the yellow onion over the salad, adding both the grated onion and the onion juice.  Whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil, then sprinkle over the greens along with the sesame seeds and toss.  Season to taste with more salt.

Cho-Gochujang (초 고추장)
(Sweet and Sour Korean Chili Paste Sauce)

3 Tbs. Korean red chili paste (gochujang, 고추장)
2 Tbs. superfine sugar (or honey)
2 Tbs. rice (or apple cider) vinegar
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. roasted sesame oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  A delicious condiment used traditionally for bibimbap, this sauce is great on almost anything!  Store any leftover sauce in the refrigerator for later use.

18 August 2010

My go-to kimchi

When I embarked on my self-improvement course of learning how to cook Korean food, I knew that one of the first things I needed to learn was how to make a good kimchi.  Kimchi, one of the hallmarks of Korean cuisine, is served with almost everything!

After reading a bunch of recipes and experimenting a few times at home, I've finally come up with a green cabbage kimchi that is now my go-to recipe.  It makes a great contrast to rich and hearty foods, cleansing the palate with its vegetable base and stimulating the appetite with its spice and savory brine.  All that said, though, I still think my favorite way to eat it is simply with a bowl of steamed rice.  The cool, pungent, spicy cabbage and carrots over soft, hot steamed rice is such an amazing combination--it's total comfort food.

Since I like my kimchi on the less-fermented end of the spectrum, I am totally happy eating it after letting the cabbage marinate in its fish sauce brine for just an hour.  With this recipe, you can enjoy a tasty, easy-to-make kimchi in a hurry!  Of course, if you want yours more fermented, as traditional kimchi is, just let it sit out at room temperature for a day or two.

From what I hear, kimchi is generally prepared in large batches, as it is one of the most common side dishes served at a Korean meal and families can eat through a lot of it in a few days.  However, since I don't make traditional Korean meals all that frequently, I've scaled this down to size that will last me for just about a week.  Here it is...green cabbage kimchi!  Yum!

Easy Yangbaechu Kimchi (양배추 김치)
Green Cabbage Kimchi
Makes about 6 cups

1 lb. green cabbage, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
1 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds
1 whole carrot, julienned (cut into 2-inch matchsticks)
1 Tbs. finely minced garlic
1 Tbs. finely minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 Tbs. Korean red chili powder (gochugaru,고추가루)
1/4 cup fish sauce

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil, then add the julienned carrot and blanch for 30 seconds.  Immediately drain carrots and rinse in cold water until thoroughly cooled.

Place cabbage and carrot in a large non-reactive bowl and sprinkle the rest of the ingredients over.  Toss to coat all pieces evenly with the seasonings, then let the flavors meld for about an hour or so at room temperature (or 1-2 days, for a more fermented flavor).  Store any leftover in the refrigerator.

12 August 2010

Summer in a crostata

I'm kind of excited about this crostata.  Why?  Because it features red-ripe tomatoes and herbs picked out from the garden.  Such a good combination of fresh ingredients, with Mediterranean flavors saying "it's summer."

Sunshine, warmth, scents of things growing, relaxation, visits to Europe to visit family--these are just some of the hallmarks of my summer memories.  And I think this Tomato and Feta Crostata fits in with the whole picture.

Starting with a pastry crust blended with fresh basil, I added a filling of salty feta and soft cottage cheese and then topped it with layers of tomatoes.  And tucked between the cheese and tomatoes is a sprinkling of savory fresh oregano.

I think this crostata, accompanied by a green salad, would make the perfect centerpiece for a simple summery supper or brunch.  Or, serve it as a side along with your favorite grilled steak!


Savory Tomato and Feta Crostata
Serves 4-6

1 cup (packed) basil leaves
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
2-3 Tbs. ice cold water

Feta Filling
8 oz. low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta (drained in a fine-mesh strainer for one hour to overnight)
4 oz. light feta cheese, finely crumbled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

1 Tbs. fresh oregano, finely minced
3 to 4 ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Cracked sea salt, to taste

To prepare the crust: Chop the basil leaves, then add them to a small bowl of a food processor and pulse until thoroughly minced.  Set aside.  In the large bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and butter and pulse until butter is the size of peas.  Add minced basil and continue to pulse until basil is uniformly distributed and dough just begins to show signs of sticking together.  With machine running, add ice water, one tablespoonful at a time, until dough clumps together.  The dough should take on a uniform green color as the basil is moistened and incorporated into the dough.  Gather dough together and wrap in plastic wrap, flattening it into a 1/2-inch thick disc.  Chill dough for 30 minutes.

Roll dough out between layers of plastic wrap, then transfer to a glass or ceramic baking dish, crimping edges decoratively.  Bake for 8 minutes at 450 F.  Check during baking to press down any air bubbles that might form under the crust.  Let crust cool (about 15 minutes), and reduce oven temperature to 400 F.

While the crust is cooling, prepare the feta filling by mixing together the cottage cheese, feta, egg, and freshly-ground black pepper.  Slice the tomatoes, sprinkle the slices with salt, and let them sit for a few minutes to draw out some of the moisture.  Pat tomato slices dry with paper toweling.

Spread feta mixture evenly over the crust, then sprinkle with oregano.  Layer tomato slices in concentric circles, starting at the outside edge, and then sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt.  Bake at 400 F for approximately 30 minutes.  Let crostata cool slightly (about 30 minutes) to let juices redistribute and the cheese filling to set before slicing and serving.

07 August 2010

ddeok, not duck

One of my recent absolutely favorite comfort foods has been ddeokbokki, that is, 떡볶이.  (Yes, that's me typing in Hangul!)  Anyway, ddeokbokki (the "eo" is pronounced "aw") is a popular street food snack in Korea, and after watching multiple k-drama scenes of people wanting, ordering, talking about, or actually eating ddeokbokki, I got pretty curious as to what the hype was all about.  If ddeokbokki, ("spicy rice cakes" according to some translations) is all that good, I needed to get in on this tastiness.

I have always loved sticky glutinous rice flour cakes, like ddeok, ever since I first had a savory nián gāo dish at a Chinese restaurant way back in my sophomore year of college.  These little "cakes" have a delightfully chewy consistency, sticking pleasantly to your teeth as you chew, and the starch released from the cooking rice cakes tends to make whatever broth it's cooked in into a sticky, creamy sauce.

In traditional ddeokbokki, this sauce is made from a seaweed-anchovy broth, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and sugar, and the ddeok is cooked together with slices of flat fish cakes and onions and sometimes other veggies and meat.  While there are a plethora of recipes out there on the internet with step-by-step instructions, photos, and videos on how to make ddeokbokki, I'd never eaten an authentic version before, and I was wishing somehow or another to get the flavor profile in mind before attempting to make it myself.

Fortunately, when I went to my local Korean market, the shopkeeper lady was not only super friendly and helpful in describing exactly which ingredients I'd need to make the dish but she also launched into something along the lines of the following:  "You like ddeokbokki?  I make you ddeokbokki.  Ah, come back on Monday and I make you the ddeokbokki.  You give me your cell phone number okay?"  And sure enough, the next Monday I got a call from her saying that my ddeokbokki was ready.  Ohh was it ever good!

Since eating her ddeokbokki, I've gotten another craving for it, so I made myself a big batch the other day.  It's kind of addicting!  Maybe it is a special grace to my figure that there aren't ddeokbokki street stalls around here.  My shopkeeper lady made her ddeokbokki simply, just with ddeok, water, gochujang, sugar, yellow onion slices, fish cake, and beef bouillon (and included a hard-boiled egg with each serving), but I decided to go all out and make the traditional seafood stock as the base for mine.

Which brings me to the ingredients.  First of all, there's gochujang, the Korean red chili paste used in this dish, pictured below.  Ahhh!

You will definitely need a box of this stuff.  Go look for it in your nearest Korean market!

During my shopping trip, I found it really helpful to have not just the pronunciation guide for these ingredients (Romanization of the Korean words) but also the visual guide of the Korean script (Hangul), so I'm including both in the list of ingredients for some of the key items.  And Hangul, being a phonetic script system, is pretty fun to pick up, so if you have some extra time and interest, you should learn it!  Since my first Korean marketing experience, I've gotten more adept at reading Hangul, and I have to tell you, it really adds another layer of enjoyment to the shopping and cooking process!  Well, maybe that's just because it feeds my nerdy love for languages...

And now, for your eating pleasure, the recipe.

Ddeokbokki (Korean Spicy Rice Cakes)
Makes 6 servings

4 1/2 cups water
10 dried or frozen anchovies (mareun myeolchi, 마른멸치)
4-inch square piece of dried sea kelp (dashima, 다시마)
4-5 Tbs. Korean red chili paste (gochujang, 고추장)
3 Tbs. sugar
2 pounds (900g) Korean rice cake (ddeok, 떡), thawed, soaked and rinsed in warm water to remove oil coating
1/4 head cabbage, diced
1/2 yellow onion, sliced in strips
4 slices (5 oz. or 140g) flat fish cakes (eomuk, 어묵), cut roughly into 1-inch pieces
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Place water, anchovies, and dried kelp in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove and discard the anchovies and kelp.

Add the gochujang and sugar and whisk to dissolve, then add the ddeok, cabbage, and yellow onion.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook (uncovered) until cabbage is soft.  Add the fish cake and stir carefully to incorporate into the sauce.  (I'd recommend using a rounded-edge utensil like a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to avoid cutting the softened ddeok as you stir.)  Continue to cook until the sauce is nice and thick, coating the ddeok and fish cakes.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with sliced green onions to garnish.  Eat with chopsticks and a spoon!  (You'll want to scrape out every last bit of that delicious sauce!)