25 August 2011

A cup of happiness

Taiwan is the place to go for fruit.  Really good fruit.  The pineapples, the mangoes, so much sweeter and flavorful than anything I've had before.  The passionfruit and lychees so fresh.  The wax apples (蓮霧, lián) and guava (芭樂, ).  The gigantic watermelons (seriously, the size of two huge American watermelons put together).

And with so much good fruit, it naturally follows that there are amazing fruit drinks.  Fresh-pressed juices and fruit-infused teas at shops two to every block.  Stop in and for 25 to 35 NTD (about $1 USD) you get a huge 24-ounce cup of happiness, tucked into a small handled plastic bag along with a straw.

These fruit drinks--and the people I was with when enjoying them--are something I miss terribly.  Don't you love how happy times with friends brings out the best flavor in life?  Thankfully, even when life takes away your lemons and you can't make lemonade, you can still at least make papaya milk...or something like that!  ^^  Papaya milk (木瓜牛乳 mù​guā niúrǔ, or 木瓜牛奶 mùguā niúnǎi) is a popular Taiwanese drink, essentially consisting of blended fruit and milk.  I remember the first time I had this...I was hanging out at the Dream Mall, East Asia's largest mall, which just so happens to be located right in my summer hometown of Kaohsiung.  After wandering through countless floors and corridors in this huge mall, the papaya milk was a perfect refreshment, such a smooth and creamy fruit drink that slid down so easily!

Now if you're a purist, you could just go for the fruit and milk combination.  But depending on how sweet your papaya is to begin with (and on how sweet you like your drinks), you might want to add a little simple syrup.  I know the papayas here in Santa Barbara are not as sweet as the ones in Taiwan!  Those drinks are mighty good, and besides the great fruit, it's my suspicion that they use whole-fat milk in Taiwan.  Nothing wrong with whole milk, but if you're like me and want a healthier version, you'll be happy to know that low-fat milk will also yield a wonderful velvety finish.

I'm just so glad that even back here in Santa Barbara, when I take a very ripe papaya and blend it up, close my eyes and take a sip, I'm back in Taiwan for a few minutes.  Yum.  Really, for your own sake, go find a papaya and some milk and treat yourself right.

Papaya Milk (木瓜牛乳, mù​guā niúrǔ)
Makes one serving

150 ml (5 fluid oz.) puree of fresh, ripe papaya
150 ml (5 fluid oz.) milk
2 Tbs. simple syrup or water

Before starting, make sure all ingredients are well-chilled.  (To make a simple syrup, dissolve 1 part sugar in 2 parts warm water, then chill well.)

Blend papaya puree and milk together in a blender until smooth and creamy.  With blender running, add simple syrup or water until desired sweetness and consistency is reached.  Serve while still nice and cool.

20 August 2011

Hello again.


So, I'm officially back from my travels in Asia, at home in Santa Barbara (though my time abroad has me questioning the whole concept of what "home" is), and I think I'm finally over jet lag (wow, it was really tough this time, coming eastward!).

With all the new food experiences I've had, I'm filled with inspiration and excited to be back around my kitchen--and my good camera, which was a little too bulky to come along for the ride this summer.  All this to say, I think you'll be hearing from me a little more often these days, and I'm really looking forward to getting to share some of the things I've come to love during my time overseas.

My parents were so sweet and threw me a welcome home party, and they served up a great Italian-themed menu.  One of the appetizers, these olive-mushroom crostini, really stood out to me.  Super in taste and simplicity, just some olives and mushrooms thrown together and served over little slices of baguette.

They make a great snack or even the better part of a light meal.  You'll love the savory combination of olives and mushrooms, each bite fragrant with oregano and olive oil.

Olive-Mushroom Crostini 

10 black olives
10 green olives
2 large white mushrooms
2 Tbs. olive oil
¼ tsp. dried oregano
Sliced baguette

Finely chop olives and mushrooms and place in a medium-sized bowl.  Sprinkle with olive oil and oregano and toss to thoroughly combine.  (Make ahead note: keeps up to several days, refrigerated.)

Top thin slices of baguette with a tablespoon of the olive mixture and serve immediately.

16 August 2011

From a Korean kitchen: Gungjung ddeokbokki (궁중떡볶이)

If you were to ask me what ddeokbokki is, my first reaction would be to describe a dish of wonderfully chewy rice cakes coated with red, spicy gochujang sauce.  However, this kind of ddeokbokki, now a delicious and popular street snack in Korea, is actually a newer version of the original gungjung ddeokbokki.

While I was in Korea this summer, I had the opportunity to learn how to make gungjung ddeokbokki from a friend in Seoul.  Gungjung ddeokbokki, or "Palace ddeokbokki," is a non-spicy dish of chewy rice cakes cooked with assorted vegetables and beef, originating from the royal court cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty.


Rice cakes (떡, ddeok) come in various shapes and sizes, and on this day my friend Ashley introduced me to 조랭이떡 (joraengi ddeok), cute little rice cakes shaped liked unshelled peanuts or twisted cocoons, a specialty of the Kaesong region in present-day North Korea.  Another ingredient I learned about for the first time was 부추 (buchu), which translates to "Korean leek."  It looks like chives, but after sampling some raw stems, I found the onion flavor is actually quite faint.  I'm still pondering what might be a suitable substitution for buchu, now that I'm back in California and don't have ready access to fresh Korean produce!  I suppose spring onions or chives would be a good alternative, but given their stronger flavor, you may want to cut back on the amount you use.

If you are curious about Korean cuisine but are not a fan of spicy food, this would be a great dish to try.  Ashley shared that this gungjung ddeokbokki is a popular snack (or even a meal) for little kids since they're not as comfortable with the spicy version.  Plus, it is a great way to feed kids their vegetables!  You'll notice that this is a vegetarian version (we didn't have beef in the house on the day we made this), but I've included directions for how to easily incorporate the beef if you like.  Using leftover 불고기 (bulgogi) would be delicious here!

Palace ddeokbokki (궁중떡볶이, gungjung ddeokbokki)
Recipe courtesy Ashley Seo
Makes about 8 snack portions

500g Korean rice cake (떡, ddeok)  (조랭이 or other shape)
1-2 Tbs. minced garlic
4 Tbs. soy sauce (양조간장, yangjo kanjang) plus more
2 Tbs. sugar or corn syrup
freshly-ground black pepper
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 medium onion (양파, yangpa), sliced into strips
2 sweet bell peppers (paprika), cut into strips
2 whole king oyster mushrooms (새송이버섯, saesongi beoseot), sliced
2 cups Korean leeks (부추, buchu), cut into 3-inch pieces
2 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds

If using frozen ddeok, rinse it a couple times and let it sit submerged in water to thaw.  Meanwhile, mix together the garlic, soy sauce, sugar, black pepper, and sesame oil in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and saute onion for a few minutes.  Add bell pepper slices and continue to saute a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 1/2 cup water and cook until vegetables are soft.

Next, add drained ddeok to the pan along with 1-2 cups water and the prepared sauce.  (If you like, at this point you could also add about 1/2 cup of cooked ground beef as well.)  Cook until ddeok is soft and chewy (cooking time will depend on your ddeok).  A few minutes before ddeok is done, stir in mushrooms.  Check seasoning and add more soy sauce and freshly-ground black pepper as needed.  Stir in 1 tablespoon sesame seeds and remove from heat.

Divide ddeokbokki among plates and sprinkle each serving with a little of the remaining sesame seeds.

10 August 2011

Hanguk-eumshik makes me happy!

Well friends, I did it.  I've gone and been to Korea!  And thanks to some wonderful people there, I got hooked up with the most amazing Korean food (한국 음식/hanguk eumshik) and can die happy now.  Except I need to go eat some more before that!

A few highlights from the trip:

1. My camera died on the first day (this just about killed me...so all photos here are courtesy of my friends.)
2. I discovered 순대 (sundae), and I absolutely love it!!
3. I was reassured that yes, my doenjangjjigae and kimchi do taste like the "real" thing.
4. I ate so much.  But I could've kept eating.
5. I learned how to eat 게장 (kejang, a.k.a. raw crab...it is SO good, salty and reminds me of uni), sampled 머리고기편육 (meorikogi pyeonyook, a.k.a. pressed pig's head that's sliced and eaten cold dipped in ssamjang...and wouldn't you know you actually eat the bone running through the meorikogi pyeonyook?!), but I drew the line at eating 번데기 (beondegi)
6. I bought myself a pair of Hyun Bin socks (if Gil Ra Im liked Oska enough to wear Oska socks, I should at least get some Hyun Bin socks, right?  Anyone seen Secret Garden and understand what I'm talking about?)
7. I had the most delicious 육회 (yook-hoe, raw beef) and the most soft and tender 낙지볶음 (nakji bokkeum, stir-fried octopus in gochujang sauce) ever, a credit to the chefs at the Blue Ribbon-winning 역전회관 Restaurant in Seoul.
8. I got to spend time with some really special people.
9. I dipped my toes into Cheonggyecheon.
10. One hot afternoon, while browsing through a traditional market, I had some really refreshing 식혜 (sikhye, a sweet rice drink).
11. I got to wear a hanbok and frolic about the Korean Folk Village.
12. I ate a meal where there were more banchan than I could possibly have imagined could fit on the table.
13. I got to eat kimchi at every meal of the day!!
14. I realized I seriously need to learn Korean--my food vocabulary is a good start, but it just doesn't cut it!

And now, dear readers, a few glimpses of the food....

Lunch at 사리원 (Sa-ri-won) Restaurant:

만두전골 (mandu jeon-gol = Korean dumpling stew, "before" pictured above)
깍두기 (kkakdugi)
열무김치 (yeolmu kimchi = green radish tops with hot green pepper slices in juice and shaved ice over the top)

만두전골 (mandu jeon-gol) looking about ready to eat....

Dinner at Hanbang Samgyetang Restaurant:

삼계탕 (samgyetang)

Lunch at 두부마을 (Tofu Village):

콩국수 (kong-guksu = noodles in a cold soybean milk). This milk was specially made from dark soybeans, giving it a grey/blue color.

김치두부 (kimchi tofu)

Lunch in Yongin (restaurant name unknown):

토종순대 (to-jong sun-dae = traditional-style sundae)

In this dish (which turned out to be one of my favorite new eats from this trip), casings of pig intestine are stuffed with cabbage, kkaenip (perilla leaves), 당면 (dangmyeon/starch noodles), and blood, then steamed (I think) and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It has such a soft and luscious texture, a rich and satisfying flavor, and with all the iron in this dish, the Korean girls I was eating with explained that it is great for people with anemia! Delicious and good for you too!

The food was amazing, and I know I'll have to go back.  Korean food has got to be some of the best food in the world!