27 April 2015

Oisobagi (오이 소박이): Stuffed Cucumbers Kimchi

Kimchi. Some people are wild fans, whereas others...let's say they just don't realize it, but one day they will love it! It has a deep and pungent flavor and is often (but not always) spicy, qualities that make it so addictive. Chances are, most Americans have tried the traditional Napa cabbage kimchi if they've had kimchi at all before, but there is an endless number of delicious varieties like daikon kimchis, radish-tops kimchis, green onion kimchis, and the cucumber kimchis I'm showing you here.  And like any country's beloved dish, the recipes for each of these styles vary from region to region and household to household.

This version, in which small cucumbers are stuffed with Korean red pepper and vegetables, is called oisobagi (오이 소박이). Flavorful and refreshing, it goes well with simple soups and porridges, or as one of many side dishes in a larger meal setting. Start by cutting and salting the cucumbers, and as the water is drawn from them, prepare the delicious stuffing of carrots, green onions, and Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru).


Traditional oisobagi uses a combination of green onions and buchu (a Korean herb like chives but much more delicately flavored), but lacking buchu, substitute with more green onions.

There are so many ways to enjoy kimchi. Korean style, it could be served in combination with any of your favorite Korean side dishes, or (especially with the cabbage variety) chopped up and incorporated into fried rice, as a part of a stew (great use for more aged kimchi!), or simply over a bowl of steamed white rice. Or try incorporating it into Western dishes. These oisobagi, for example, when chopped, would be a great new topping to try out on hotdogs or hamburgers--think a spicy cross of pickle and sauerkraut!

Oisobagi 오이 소박이 Stuffed Cucumbers Kimchi

2 lbs. small seedless cucumbers (about 12)
2 Tbs. koshering or coarse grained salt
½ cup shredded/julienned carrot
2 cups buchu (Korean chives) or green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces and shredded
¼ cup fish sauce
½ cup Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
1 ½ Tbs. (2 cloves) minced garlic
1 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs. sugar

Wash cucumbers and cut cross-wise slits down the length of the cucumbers, leaving sections attached at one end of the cucumber. Rub all surfaces of the cut cucumbers with salt and let drain 30 minutes. Thoroughly rinse off salt from the cucumbers under running water and drain cucumbers well, patting dry.

Mix together the fish sauce, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and sugar to form a paste, then stir in the carrots and green onions. Working with gloved hands (to avoid staining them with the pepper paste), stuff each cucumber with some of the filling. Enjoy right away or store away in an airtight container, refrigerated, for later use. When serving, you might want to cut each cucumbers cross-wise once or twice with kitchen scissors to make smaller pieces.

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!