30 March 2011

Kkakdugi (깍두기) Korean daikon kimchi

I'm excited to introduce one of my favorite banchan to you today!  There are so many banchan (roughly translated as "side dishes") in the repertoire of Korean cuisine, and the kaleidescope of flavors, colors, and textures found in any given array of banchan (Korean meals are served with 3, 5, 7, 9, or 12, depending on how formal the occasion and how large the group) is at once a delight and a mystery to me.

I've been taking on banchan one at a time, slowly building my portfolio of recipes, and this one is totally a keeper.  Crisp and fresh cubes of Korean daikon (known as mu, 무) are dressed with Korean red chili powder, fresh ginger, garlic, green onion, and fish sauce, and then slightly fermented.

It's called kkakdugi (깍두기), so-called because of the cube cut of the vegetable.  How I first learned about it, I cannot remember, but it sure is great to nibble on!  And the daikon radish, especially when fermented, is reputed to aid in digestion (often being served alongside meaty stews such as seolleongtang or kalbitang), making it a healthy addition to any table.

From what I've read, traditional Korean cooks claim that mu, the large, round green-tinged Korean daikon radish, is superior to the all-white, long and thin regular daikon.

Korean daikon, or mu, image from Maangchi.com

Curious as to the validity of this claim, I did a side-by-side comparison, preparing both mu and daikon with the same seasoning on the same day.  Freshly seasoned, they had similar flavor and were both crisp, but the regular daikon seemed more watery in content when I bit into it.  After a day or two of fermentation, the difference was quite apparent; while the mu held up in crunchiness and texture, the regular daikon was becoming limp and unappetizing.  So, my verdict?  Definitely go with mu if you can find it.  But if you can't, make this up with regular daikon and eat immediately.

Kkakdugi 깍두기 (Korean Daikon Kimchi)
Makes 8 cups, recipe adapted from various sources

2.5 pounds Korean daikon (, mu)
1 Tbs. finely grated ginger
1 ½ Tbs. finely minced garlic
1 green onion, finely sliced
½ tsp. superfine sugar
4 tsp. Korean red chili powder (고추가루, gochugaru)
¼ cup fish sauce (recommend “3 Crabs” brand)

Peel the mu and cut into approximately 1-inch cubes.  Place the cubed mu in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over and then toss the mu with your hands, massaging each piece to coat well.  (Tip: wearing kitchen gloves will keep your hands from getting stained by the red pepper powder.)

If prefer your kkakdugi unfermented, eat fresh and immediately store any leftovers in the refrigerator.  Alternatively, if you would like the fermented kkakdugi flavor, let age at room temperature 1-2 days, then enjoy!  Store any remaining kkakdugi in the refrigerator.  I usually eat up the batch within a week, so I am not certain how long it would otherwise keep!

Note: Your stored kkakdugi will release liquid over time.  Save this liquid--it is great for use in stews!  (More to come on this later...)

24 March 2011

Breakfast of champions


It’s hard to get a better, good-for-you kind of baked breakfast treat than these oatmeal berry muffins.  I couldn’t believe that something made without any white flour would come out this tasty, but believe me; you’ll really enjoy these guys, especially when you know what goes into them.

Just look at the list of ingredients, and you can feel good about eating these muffins.  They’re made with oats and whole wheat flour, plus oat bran, wheat germ, apples, and berries.  You’ll get plenty of soluble fiber and nutrients here!  I made a few adaptations from a bakery recipe, using low-fat buttermilk and substituting homemade applesauce for the oil.  Gasp, yes, there are still apples hanging on my tree since last Fall, but, they’re actually still in prime condition!


These muffins turn out soft and fluffy, but since I love getting the pecans nice and crunchy and deepening the caramelized flavor of all the toasted edges with extra crispiness, I take them an extra step, eating them split and toasted.  They’re great plain, with a cup of tea or a glass of milk, or dressed up with a dollop of plain yogurt and applesauce.  I bet they’d be great with some clotted cream or a smear of cream cheese too.


A fun Wiki fact to munch on: “Oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain, resulting in slower digestion and an extended sensation of fullness.  Here’s to a good start to the day with these breakfast muffins!

Oatmeal Berry Muffins
Adapted from Tazzaria in Visalia
Makes 8 - 18 muffins, depending on size of pan

Vegetable oil or spray for greasing muffin tins (or muffin cup liners)
2 ¼ cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup coarsely-chopped pecans
½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
¼ cup white, granulated sugar
2 tablespoons oat bran
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
½ cup (homemade) applesauce
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups frozen mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries), thawed and drained

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Grease 8 large muffin cups (1-cup capacity) or 18 standard muffin cups (1/3-cup capacity) with vegetable oil or nonstick spray.  (Note: If you want a “muffin-top” look to your muffins, make fewer muffins and increase the amount of batter you portion out per muffin.  In this case, however, I highly recommend using muffin cup liners to ensure that your muffins will release from the pan!  I found that it is nearly impossible to get them out intact unless you run a knife around them to release them from the sides of the pans.)

Whisk oats and next 9 ingredients in large bowl. Add buttermilk, applesauce, egg, and vanilla; stir until dry ingredients are barely moistened, then gently fold in berries.  (Note: Be careful not to over-work the batter, otherwise your muffins will come out rubbery.)

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups and bake muffins until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 28 minutes for large muffins and 20 minutes for standard muffins.  Cool 10 minutes. Turn muffins out onto rack; cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Leftovers are delicious sliced open and toasted!

P.S. Photos today are brought to you courtesy of my new camera!

18 March 2011

I just keep making this Bolognese

One of the happy, unexpected outcomes of food-blogging for me has been learning how to take better photographs.  While I humbly acknowledge I'm still a newbie at this (hey I'm still just using a point-and-shoot digital camera here!), there are a few things that I've learned that have taken things from "eeek" to "yum."  First, turn off the flash!  Second, use only natural light.  Third, choose your angle well (angle between light, food, and camera).  Of course, this can pose problems if you have an exquisite night-time dinner you want to capture, but thankfully there are the weekends for leisurely lunches enjoyed during daylight hours that are prime foodography material.

For example, the Sunday lunch.

In my family, we have the Italian tradition of Sunday dinner, a midday meal of pasta.  Usually, we top our pasta off with meatballs and sausage that have been simmered for hours in a rich, red tomato sauce, but sometimes we go with a bolognese or carbonara sauce.

Since some friends were recently asking me about a good bolognese recipe, and since I enjoy this dish so much, I wanted to repost my all-time favorite bolognese sauce.  Being the descendant of Neapolitans, I sadly have no family recipe for this dish hailing from the more northern region of Emilia-Romagna.  However, many years ago I came across a fantastic recipe from Williams and Sonoma that I keep on using every time I want a great bolognese.  To get the right depth of flavor, you need a combination of pork and beef, as well as a lot of time.  You see, the magic happens sometime in the process of several hours of cooking (the more the better), yielding a rich sauce of tomato and parmesan cheese melded together with bits of pancetta and beef.

So, same recipe here as before, but this time with some updated photos!  I got a kick out of comparing these photos with my earlier post.

Spaghetti Bolognese
Serves 4-6

4 oz. pancetta, finely diced
1/2 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 tsp. salt
6 oz. tomato paste
1/3 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano
1 cup milk
ground black pepper

1 lb. spaghetti
Minced Italian parsley or whole fresh basil, for garnish
Extra parmigiano reggiano for the table

Saute pancetta in a large pot over medium heat, until fat is rendered and pancetta is crisp.  Drain pancetta on paper towels and wipe out pot.  Return pancetta to pot and add diced onions, continuing to cook until onions are soft.  Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, then add ground beef and sprinkle with salt.

Cook ground beef, breaking up lumps, until meat is no longer pink.  Add tomato paste, grated cheese, and milk, and stir to combine.  Cover sauce and simmer on low heat 2 hours.  Skim off fat, and then, for the best sauce, continue to simmer 2-4 more hours.  Check seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook spaghetti until al dente.  Scoop spaghetti from boiling water and add to bolognese sauce, adding cooking water from the pasta pot as needed to loosen the sauce.  Stir to coat spaghetti strands with sauce.

To serve, mound spaghetti into wide bowls, scoop extra meat over, and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or garnish with a sprig of basil.  Pass extra parmigiano and black pepper at the table.

08 March 2011

A different sort of namul

Okay, I give you fair warning: this is absolutely addictive.  But then, “kale namul” is so good for you that it won’t matter if you end up eating a whole batch in one sitting.  Can you ever get an overdose on green vegetables?

One of my all-time favorite banchan (“side dishes” in Korean) is sigeumchi namul (pronounced sheegumchee nahmool): blanched spinach seasoned with a little garlic, soy sauce, and sesame.  When I walked into my local produce store (I love you Tri-County!!) and saw a load of organic kale on sale, I knew I wanted to go and try dressing it up as namul.  And honestly, I think this kale namul is edging out sigeumchi namul in my affections.

Though I love spinach, it often leaves a slight chalky feeling in my mouth (regardless of whether it’s raw or cooked).  Does anyone else ever experience that?  I’m not sure why that is, but it isn’t the nicest way to come away from eating such initially tasty morsels.  With kale, however, I never get that chalky feeling.  Gold star for kale!

The fragrance of this dish is amazing.  There’s a heavenly aroma of sesame oil and soy sauce, followed by hints of the earthy kale and savory onion.  And the texture of the wilted kale (that in raw form is so crinkly) is really fun in the mouth.

As kale is a heartier green than spinach, you’ll want to cook the greens a few minutes longer than indicated in most sigeumchi namul recipes to get to the luscious wilted state.  And you’ll be amazed at how the greens cook down.  Next time, I think I’ll probably double the recipe and keep the leftovers on hand for a second occasion (or not…it might just get finished on the first go-around here!).

Kale namul 케일나물 (Korean Seasoned Kale)
Makes 2 cups
1 pound kale
1 green onion
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. roasted sesame oil
½ tsp. roasted sesame seeds
Salt, to taste

Wash kale and remove stems.  (This is easily done by holding the stem firmly with one hand and tearing the crinkly lobes of the leaves off the stem.)  Cut any large pieces so that the kale is in 1 to 2-inch size pieces.  Since the kale is so crinkly, you will probably end up with a volume of about 16 cups.

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, then add the kale.  Stir to submerge the kale, and return water to a boil, then cook about 4 minutes more until kale is tender and has lost its “raw” flavor but is still bright green.

Drain kale in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  Gently squeeze the kale to remove as much water as possible, then fluff up the kale with your fingers to loosen the pieces from each other.

Place the kale in a bowl and sprinkle all of the remaining ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, over the kale.  Toss with your hands to thoroughly mix the ingredients, and season with salt to taste.  Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds for garnish, serving the kale namul cool or at room temperature.

01 March 2011

In which an "oops" turns into "pie"

I’ve seen recipes like this one before, and I always had a private little snicker.  Who ever has so much cooked spaghetti or capellini lying around?  What home cook, experienced in feeding their families, would ever end up with so much leftover pasta?  Well, I found myself among the ranks of the guilty, though not entirely by my own fault.  You see, I was following a recipe that I realized—only too late—had not been properly edited.  But that’s another story.

Anyway, there I was with about a quart of angel hair pasta that had been tossed with a light dressing of simple tomato sauce.  And as many of you know, capellini sure sticks together well—it clumps up right away if you don’t dress it properly, causing serving woes, frustrated diners, etc.  But in the recipe I want to share with you here today, that clumping tendency is leveraged to good advantage, keeping the pasta together to form a nice griddle pie.


Golden and crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, and studded throughout with yummy chunks of black olive--this is a great pie, served in big wedges with a green salad as a simple lunch or supper or even as a part of a brunch!  Another fun idea would be to top with your favorite pizza toppings and finish it off under the broiler for a pasta-pizza-pie.  Let your imagination run!

So for a great, straightforward use of leftover angel hair pasta, look no further than this capellini olive pie.

Capellini Olive Pie
Serves 2-4

4 cups cooked capellini lightly coated with tomato sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup sliced black olives
Sea salt and red pepper flakes, to taste
1-2 tsp. vegetable oil
Parmesan cheese and extra tomato sauce, for serving (optional)

In a large bowl toss together the capellini, eggs, and olives until well combined, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Place a large (12 to 14-inch diameter) non-stick skillet over high heat.  When skillet is hot, add a teaspoon of vegetable oil and tilt pan to coat evenly (oil will not cover the entire surface, but we only need a little oil here).

Pour the capellini mixture into the skillet and use a spatula to press it down into an even and compact pancake that fills the skillet.

Cook until golden brown and crispy underneath, then slide onto a plate.  Add a little more oil to pan, if desired, then flip pancake back into the pan and continue to cook until the second side is also golden brown and crispy.

Slide pancake onto a large cutting board and slice into four wedges with a pizza cutter.  Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese and warm tomato sauce, if desired.