Category Archives: Asian Cuisine

Quick and Easy Kimchi Fried Rice for New Moms

"New mom kimchi fried rice." Using precut frozen peas + carrots as veg. Also has some finely chopped onion (optional) as well as cabbage kimchi (not as optional). Less than 15 min to make if u have the rice ready in a rice cooker.

This kimchi fried rice is in no way “authentic.” I’m Korean, but I’m going to bet that there are non-Koreans who can cook more “authentic” fried rice than this particular recipe. But it’s just the way I make kimchi fried rice, especially now that I’ve a newborn. Also, it’s got vegetables in it. Pre-chopped frozen vegetables, so you don’t have to chop stuff up. Vegetables are important. If you can only get one meal a day together, it might as well have vegetables.

Before you start–spoon out some rice from rice cooker. It’s best if you use some cold cooked rice from the day previous, but if you can’t have that, take the rice out of the rice cooker and put it in a large bowl to let off some steam and cool off before you fire up the wok/frying pan. Take out quite a big spoonfuls–like, as much cooked rice you could hold in your hands and then some.

And then…here’s the recipe

INGREDIENTS (you will need a big wok or the biggest nonstick frying pan you’ve got–if it’s a deep frying pan, all the better):

  • Big heaping pile of cooled, cooked rice. 5-6 cups, cooked.
  • 2-4 tablespoons cooking oil (corn/canola is fine)
  • handful of chopped pancetta (optional)
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1 onion finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 package (about 1 lb) of frozen pre-chopped vegetables like peas + carrots. Or peas + carrots + corn. Whatever you like.
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • about a cup of cabbage kimchi + juice

DIRECTIONS:
Mix eggs. You don’t have to whip it up a lot. Just make sure the eggs are mixed.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in the frying pan/wok.

(If you want to get fancy, you can saute pre-chopped pancetta and use the oil from the pancetta to scramble the eggs and fry the rice–if so: fry pancetta, then set pancetta aside and use the pancetta fat to cook things. then add pancetta back at the end).

Scramble the eggs lightly (not all the way cooked, but mostly cooked). Put the mostly-cooked eggs in a small bowl (can be the same bowl in which you whisked them), set aside.

In the frying pan/wok, heat up the remaining oil. Put heat on high. Add onions (optional). Sauté until onions are softened and golden. Add package of frozen veg. Sauté until vegetables are softened.

Add rice to mixture in pan. Mix + Saute for about 5-10 minutes until rice is coated in oil and “sizzling.”

Add the lightly scrambled eggs. (If you’ve cooked pancetta, add the pancetta now). Make sure they get a bit “chopped up” with your wooden spoon or spoonula, or whatever you are using to move stuff around in the pan.

With the heat still up on high, add a splash of soy sauce. Drizzle some sesame oil for flavor.

Add the chopped kimchi + kimchi juice.

Enjoy.

(you an also serve with a lightly fried egg on top).

Miyuk Gook aka Seaweed Soup aka Korean Postpartum Soup aka Birthday Soup

Miyuk gook/seaweed soup!

I like to imagine the first time someone looked at a bunch of kelp on a beach and decided to boil a big pot of soup with said clump of seaweed. Maybe someone really hungry. Or someone really creative. Or totally broke. Or all of the above. And rejoicing in its deliciousness and reveling in its health benefits, converting all others to do the same.

Over the years, this soup has taken on different variations (made with fish stock, beef stock, chicken stock, anchovies, with tofu or not, etc), but it’s had a central role in celebrating milestones in Korean lives. And over the years, I’ve often been found eyeing a clump of seaweed on a California beach and thinking about taking it home to eat. Ha.

High in vitamin A, C, iron, and calcium, miyuk gook is served to women after giving birth. It is *the* Korean postpartum food, and you’re supposed to eat it, and only it, for 3-4 straight weeks. So it’s basically your first birthday food, because your birth mom has  theoretically had some on your birthday. My mom has always served me noodles for long life on my birthdays, but many other Korean kids eat miyuk gook on their birthday, too.

I’ve always loved this soup; I’ve never needed the excuse of pregnancy or a birthday to down a nice bowl of seaweed and broth. But here I am–cooking up large batches of the stuff now that I’m due anyday.

You can buy the kelp in either dried or fresh format. I usually buy the dried kind (if you buy the wet kind in the refrigerated section, you’ll want to wash and drain it so that it’s not so salty). Pictured here is a bag of dried kelp:

Dried seaweed

A little seaweed goes a long way. You’ll want to grab a handful and reconstitute it in water, where it will expand and rehydrate into a large mass of seaweed. You’ll also want to cut it up with scissors or chop it with a knife into more wieldy pieces so that when you go to eat the seaweed soup, you won’t have to chew on a seaweed piece the size of your face.

See the bowl of seaweed below? That was about a handful of dried seaweed before soaking in water for about 10-15 minutes. I’m not kidding about how much it expands.

Prepped

Like I said, there are various meats and stocks you can use. In the past, I’ve used dried anchovies, but my favorite is to use a few short ribs. Because uh, I love short ribs. You’ll see that I’ve scored the short ribs. Better to eat with, my dear!

Also good to add are garlic and green onions. And if you’re so inclined, some sliced tofu.

For the record, my favorite tofu is Pulmuone brand, which I’ve only been able to find in Korean stores. If I can’t find Pulmuone, I tend to pass on the tofu as an ingredient in this soup.

My Fave tofu

After prepping your ingredients, heat up a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or soup pot. And add the garlic and green onions until they soften. Then add your meat until it browns (if you’re using dried anchovies, no need to brown the anchovies).

Sauté

Then add water. About 6-9 cups. Or whatever your soup pot’s capacity might be. Add the rehydrated seaweed and optional tofu.

Bring to a boil and then simmer.

Add a teaspoon of sesame oil (if you don’t have it, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s a nice flavor). Add a tablespoon of soy sauce (if you don’t have soy sauce, you can add some salt–but be careful not to over salt the soup).

This is what the soup looks like after about half an hour of simmering:

Miyuk gook after 30 min of simmering.

Add some black pepper. Serve with rice. Live long and prosper.

Recipe after the jump…

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Gyoza!!

IMG_9711We are blessed to have an amazing and awesome houseguest who is staying with us for several weeks. Hooray! It is a great thing to have someone who likes to cook, living with us and cooking in our kitchen! Last night she introduced us to the joy of gyoza, aka potstickers. This is something I would NEVER have attempted on my own, but she demystified the process and showed us how very fun and easy (and delicious) they could be.

There were no measurements or written recipe, so I just soaked up this info while watching:

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined and chopped up (we used the easy-peasy frozen kind)
  • chopped up can of water chestnuts
  • chopped up green onions (3-4??)
  • little bit of sesame oil
  • minced garlic
  • minced ginger
  • little bit soy sauce?
  • wonton wrappers

Mix up all ingredients.  Put teaspoon? of mixture in half of wonton wrapper (they’re round). Seal with water and make a little pocket. Line up on tray. When you have a few dozen, put a little bit of oil in bottom of nonstick pan. Add gyoza and cook until they are browned on the bottom. Add a little bit of water and cover to steam cook the rest of the way. Probably takes about 5-8 minutes per batch. Eat. ENJOY!

KCCEB’s kimchi making class/series: kimchi, de-mystified.

montage of kimchi-making class

(pictures from our kimchi making class, from left to right…top row: quartered napa cabbage, and brined, quartered napa cabbage ready for pogi kimchi assembly…red hot pepper…shrimp and anchovy sauce for kimchi.  middle row: brined quartered napa cabbage…pogi kimchi filling…pogi kimchi filling.  bottom row: pogi kimchi assembly…pogi kimchi assembly line….bottled pogi kimchi ready to ferment!)

My mom would, upon sitting down at a Korean restaurant, immediately gravitate towards the kimchi. “You can tell if they cook well by how their kimchi tastes,” meaning that if their kimchi sucked, their food wasn’t going to be good. Inevitably, that was true.

Despite the fact that my mom makes miserable Western food (e.g., raw celery in barely simmered tomatoes making for what she unveiled as “spaghetti sauce”), she is a terrific Korean cook. Even when I look up a Korean recipe in a cookbook, I will adapt the recipe inevitably, to match the tastes of my mom’s cooking.  Her food is my gold standard for Korean food.

You’ll hear “my mom’s kimchi is the best” echoed all around the community: people get really picky/emotional about their favorite kimchi (we Koreans have deep emotional ties to our favorite kimchi–a certain balance of tang, heat, salt, and sweet can feel like a mother’s embrace in childhood, and if your mother has long passed on, that very taste can bring her back to you even for that one split second), and I’ve found that there is never one exact standard recipe for kimchi…only guidelines. These guidelines exist because the size of the ingredients (cabbage, radish, cucumber, what have you) are inexact, and because people hold on very dearly to their family’s secret kimchi recipes.

There are “secret ingredients” ranging from salted shrimp to a rice flour paste to anchovies to oysters…but they exist. Yes, kimchi often contains shellfish: my orthodox rabbi once reassured me, “kimchi is kosher.” Whoops. At the time, I didn’t realize kimchi contained shellfish. Whoops.

So anyway, this is all to say that despite my knowing how to cook various Korean dishes, and despite all my years of cooking…I don’t know how to make a decent kimchi.  And until I can make a good kimchi, I’ll never consider myself a good Korean cook.  Because I believe my mom’s measure of a Korean cook.

So when a friend of mine forwarded me an email about the Korean Community Center of the East Bay’s kimchi making class, asking me if I was interested…I immediately said yes. (well to be exact: YES!)

It’s a grassroots organized class, held in a private home, taught by a volunteer. You pay $50 for a 3 hour class.  But in return you get to learn how to make kimchi, get some hands on experience with kimchi making, you get a free lunch…annnnd you get to take home a small container of kimchi made in that very class.

You don’t have to speak Korean to take the class, because it is conducted in English, but you may want some familiarity with Korean food ingredients because ingredient names are thrown about very casually: the class today was comprised of all Korean American women, all of us who, for one reason or another, never learned to make kimchi, but had grown up eating the stuff and oftentimes watching our moms make the stuff.

Even if you don’t have that intrinsic experience, you’ll still be okay.

It was tremendous fun to be shown how to make kimchi (today we made “pogi kimchi,” a kimchi that involves pickling entire quartered portions of napa cabbage, one of the more challenging kimchi to make…but it wasn’t overly challenging at all). It was a tremendous relief to have kimchi de-mystified.

The next KCCEB Kimchi-Making Class will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2009…from 11am-2pm.  Cost is again $50, and the venue TBD.   Cost includes ingredients for kimchi and…lunch (this is a very good deal).  If you’re interested, you can leave a comment here…or contact annrmenzie AT kcceb DOT org  (remember the “r” in ann r menzie’s email address).  The class FILLS UP FAST (within a day or two–and this class was announced earlier this week), so don’t delay, if you’re interested.

The next class will tackle a different kind of kimchi, and I’m probably going to attend (every kimchi is different).  I look forward to seeing you there!

Stretching a Chicken: do chua and banh mi

banh mi

The economy’s faltering and my doctor just told me to lower my sodium intake–bleah. The two situations sum up to more home cooking: save money, avoid sodium. Very pragmatic. Hrm. Prag.mat.ic. Prac.tic.al. I met the decision with a sigh. No more chip snacks, no more ramen, no more going out to eat on a whim, and no more avoiding cooking dinner by going out to eat…! The point being that I can’t monitor my sodium intake if I eat out regularly.

I don’t know about you, but even though I LOVE to cook, I hate to do it when it becomes a mandate. And here I am, facing a mandate of eating in. I say bleah!

But having no choice in the matter, I decided to find a way to motivate myself. I could…make this a fun culinary adventure. I could…maybe…take a chicken and see how much I can stretch it over meals! Make it a “how to eat more cheaply in the new economy” project. Making this mandate into a challenge has made the experience a bit more fun. And I imagine it will expand my cooking repertoire (and increase the blog posts on Muffin Top to boost).

Earlier this week, I made chicken soup with a whole chicken. In my case, I made a North Korean chicken soup. But you could just as easily make a consomme, your family chicken soup or Jewish chicken soup (one of our household favorites). Whatever involves poaching a chicken. (Phase 1…and I guess you could also roast a chicken just as easily as Phase 1)

When you make the soup, just be sure to set aside some of the chicken to save for later. In the case of the North Korean chicken soup, I only shredded half the chicken, and set aside the other side (not shredded) for future meals.

Enjoy the soup! And eye the saved meat and dream of future meals.

My point here is that you can still eat gourmet and stretch that chicken. An organic whole chicken (3-5 pounds) from Rosie’s is about $14 (cheaper if you’re eating a Foster Farms chicken).

Phase 2–how to use that cooked chicken (whether it’s poached or roasted). You can put it on top of a salad..you can make it into a regular sandwich…but my point is that you can still eat adventurously with leftovers…

I was on the brink of making chicken enchiladas with the leftover chicken, but then I saw Tea’s post on do chua, and I became determined to make a banh mi at home.

Banh Mi is an extraordinarily delicious Vietnamese sandwich, made from spiced pork, or liverwurst or chicken. It is the ultimate fusion food (French-Vietnamese) blending the two culinary traditions: French bread and the concept of a sandwich and Vietnamese flavor and spices. But despite what filling you choose to eat (pork, chicken, liverwurst)…every sandwich has some jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and the awesome do chua.

Tea has a great post on do chua–and in short it is a sweet and vinegary pickled mixture that is the signature of banh mi sandwiches.

If you’ve already got chicken, the do chua is the only other thing you’ll have to prepare in order to make this sandwich. Carrot and daikon radish are very inexpensive ingredients and the other sandwich ingredients include cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and mayonaise. Oh, and the bread: a french bread.

I was excited about assembling the sandwich and I couldn’t BELIEVE HOW EASY IT COULD BE. WHO KNEW IT COULD BE SO EASY?! I mean, my banh mi did not beat the magnificence of a banh mi sandwich from Saigon Sandwiches in San Francisco (on Turk and Larkin–and btw, they price the sandwiches super cheap! Way cheaper than Subway $5 sandwiches–the sandwiches at Saigon Sandwiches hover at a cost of about $3.50/each) but I love that I can now make one at home.

Annnd…I found a way to stretch that chicken.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Gosari Namul

Dried gosari namul (fernbracken)

Half a year ago Awhile back, I decided to cook all the recipes out of a Korean cookbook–a way for me to learn to cook my favorite Korean foods and a way for me to make use of all the Korean cookbooks on my shelf.

I collect Korean cookbooks (ones written in English). I remember the days, only fifteen years ago, when English language Korean cookbooks felt so rare and were impossibly hard to find. The first Korean cookbook I found was the one by Copeland Marks, the one despite its comprehensive list of dishes, was without any illustration and recipes that didn’t necessarily work…but I was so grateful for that cookbook. Years went by before I found another Korean cookbook.  I bought that one. And whenever I saw a Korean cookbook, I’d buy that one too. I buy them in the U.S., I buy them when I go to the Seoul Selection bookstore in Korea, I buy them in London.

Even though cookbooks of cuisines from other parts of the world, such as India or Japan or Thai or Italy, well outnumber those detailing Korean cuisine…the number of Korean cookbooks is steadily on the rise (I should know this). But–they still feel rare to me. And I have amassed a healthy collection. And I have, shamefully, not actually utilized them.  They’re just sitting like trophies on my shelf, only occasionally viewed (by me).

But that is about to change! After six months of procrastination, I’ve embarked on the “start cooking recipes out of my Korean cookbooks” journey!  Sure, I’ve mastered a good handful of recipes already, but I want to learn as many as possible. It’s like a culinary “Roots” project.  Learning to cook the foods of my ancestors and the foods of my childhood.  I don’t want to rely on going to Korean restaurants to get all I need.

First off: Gosari Namul…aka fernbracken. I don’t know what fernbracken is. Okay, I sort of do know: they’re the fiddleheads of ferns. Haha…now what are fiddleheads?! (they’re the unfurled fern leaves).

It is SERIOUSLY like this when it comes to the Korean greens of my youth.

I don’t know what half the Korean greens that I’ve eaten in my mother’s kitchen are. And when I get the Korean words translated into English, all I get is a word so obscure (“fernbracken”) that well, what is the point of it being in English?

All I know is that fernbracken is tasty.

Other Korean greens include “go gu ma” (potato leaves) and “chui namul,” both enigmas to me. I have NO idea what the English word for chui namul is…only that I have chui namul seeds from my father’s garden and it’s TASTY. I’ve seen an English description for “chui-namul” and it is “edible green leaf.” Gee Thank You. So Helpful!

But really, do you need to know what it is in English in order to enjoy the thing? No.

And so I proceeded on my conquest to cook Korean foods. First up: gosari namul. I love all kinds of Korean “namul” (which roughly translated is sauteed greens–various greens–whether they be “fernbracken” or “edible green leaves”). A bowl of rice, some namul, and some kimchi–and I’m a happy camper.

Gosari namul is rarely found fresh. You’ll more likely find it in dried form–either in a factory packaged bag or maybe a little handwrapped package (as pictured above at the top of this post).

dried gosari namul

Rehydrating the fernbracken takes awhile. You’ll want to put them in water and then boil them for at least 40 minutes. And then boil them some MORE. Maybe another 30 minutes, until they’re pliable but not downright mushy (mushy is bad).

Gosari namul, rehydrating

Rinse and rinse them until the water runs clear.

Oh? And guess what? After rehydrating them in the boiling water, soak them in cold water again! For another three hours (or as long as overnight). By this point, 3 ounces of dried fernbracken will weigh about a pound. And be at least three times their original size.

Gosari namul, rehydrated

After the cold water soaking, you’ll want to cut them so the stems are generally about 4 inches long. Wrap them in a paper towel and squeeze dry.

Then heat up some oil, add some chopped garlic (don’t be chintzy! we’re talking at least 6 cloves of garlic here!) and saute. Add the fernbracken, some minced green onion, and about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and saute some more about 7 minutes. Add a splash of sesame oil. Toss and either put in the fridge to eat later, or serve.

Gosari namul is a side dish, so you serve it at the table along with other side dishes. Orrr…you can mix it into rice with a fried egg and hot sauce and you’ve got bibimbap. :)

Gosari Namul

Eating Silkworms

My friend, Cathy, the adventurous eater behind the Gastronomy Blog and the Vietnam entries on Serious Eats is leaving HCMC for points north (China for the Olympics) and west (Los Angeles). So for her final week of eating, she put together a food tour listing possible meals, so that we, her friends, could join in some of the chosen gastronomic delights. When I looked at the excel spreadsheet, my eyes alighted on the Wednesday entry: silkworms.


So, on a fine HCMC morning, I  arrived a few minutes early to a cơm trưa restaurant. With my rudimentary Vietnamese, I was able to convey that I was meeting friends. And sure enough, within minutes, Cathy and Vernon arrived via motorbike.

A northern Vietnamese dish it is interesting to note that the proprietess of the cơm trưa said that silkworms die after they finish making silk, so what we eat is their dead carcasses. Waste not, want not.


Cathy wisely ordered (only) one serving of fried con nhộng (silkworms) and rice for us to share.

Hmm, to describe the taste? It tastes a little like the dried shrimp used in Vietnamese cooking. Not, offensive, but not pleasurable. The hard part was the after texture that is, ah …unexpected. Like eating the texture of dried glue.

Cathy made me laugh at a comment she said in VN that was something akin to: “I can eat it, but I don’t really want to do it again…”

Exactly.

So, after consuming approximately 4 pieces, I can proudly say I’ve eaten silkworms.