Monthly Archives: October 2007

Perilla Pesto

Kkaennip Pesto (aka Korean Perilla pesto)

I have a ton of Korean perilla in my vegetable garden. A downright surplus.

Korean perilla is one of the plants that the gopher did not touch, and with each passing week, the patch of perilla plants has loomed taller, leafed green, and cast its peculiar minty scent. Delighted with their initial growth, I’d refused to thin them early in their germination…and then, when they grew taller, I found it wasteful (there’s even a particular Korean word for this–“ahk goh wah”) to thin them further. And so, in the last few months, they have grown, a clump of crowded forest in the gopher-ravaged garden.

And thus, the surplus of Korean perilla leaves (or “ggaenip or kkaenip”).

Perilla Leaves

What to do with all of the leaves? If you’re Korean or Korean American, you’ll recognize these leaves–they’re used to wrap rice, and pickled/marinated as a side dish (ban chan), a common ingredient in Korean cooking. But it’s not like I have a family of fifteen to feed–and I just could not keep up with the plants’ production.

No matter how much I picked more leaves would sprout from the dense Perilla Forest. I used them to wrap around rice and bulgogi in a “ssam,” and I investigated ways to marinate and pickle them. My favorite method of cooking perilla leaves was tempura frying, by far.

Tempura frying them is a delicious idea, one that results in crispy, almost translucent leaves that remind me of stained glass windows, the green between the veins of the leaves were so clear and beautiful. Oh, and the crunch! Oh, and the taste. They taste marvelous, just the right balance between the minty/licorice flavor of the leaves and the savory tempura coating.

tempura perilla leaves

But tempura frying then and marinating/pickling them can only get you so far. For one, frying is not something to do in volume.

So, what to do? What to do with these beautiful, heart shaped leaves? Their edges are serrated and look as if they were cut out of craft paper with one of those special craft scissors with the peculiar serration.

Korean perilla is similar to Japanese shiso, but from what I’ve read, are not the same thing, despite their similar appearance. My experience is that Korean perilla is much more pungent, while Japanese shiso is milder–enough so that I agree that they are not good substitutes for each other in cooking.

Observe. Aren’t they beautiful?

Korean perilla leaves

The other week, I gave a bunch of perilla leaves to a friend–and was again, at a lack for recipes. I wanted to at least provide her with suggestions on how to eat them!

But then I came across the idea of Korean Perilla pesto on Evil Jungle Prince’s flickr photostream while browsing Korean perilla pictures on flickr. Of COURSE. It made total sense–just the other day, I was explaining to a friend that they were a blend of mint and basil, and one could possibly do some fusion style cooking by substituting the perilla for basil in recipes. Duh. Pesto!

And so I forged on, using my basil pesto recipe…using olive oil, salt, roasted pine nuts, and garlic. To remarkable, tasty results. The garlic and pine nuts almost overpowered the flavor of the perilla so that it was very similar to basil pesto. But the undercurrent of perilla’s licorice/mint flavor was still there, enough to make it clear that this was something different, something new…something fusion.

I’m delighted by this fusion factor–and am now eyeing other traditional Korean ingredients to see what can be done with them. It’s a whole new world out there.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Ushering the Lunar year (or ahem, Autumn) in with a bowl of soup

Korean rice dumpling soup

Many Koreans prepare and eat “dduk gook,” (also spelled ddukguk, ย tteok guk, or tteok gook) or rice cake soup, on Lunar New Year–in fact, I have been trying to post about Korean dduk gook since the past Lunar Year, a number of months ago. I had a Lunar New Year graphic and everything. But alas, for various reasons, I never got around to the post.

And now it’s October. The brown leaves are falling and hitting the ground not with a chlorophyll heavy thud but a high pitched scrape. When the wind blows, it is accompanied by a crinkling sound that resembles crumpled tissue paper. The air has a slight chill to it, the sun a weak and beautiful golden glow. Even when daytime temperatures struggle into the 70s or upper 60s, nighttime temperatures drop. And while the Lunar New Year might be the holiday platform for this soup, I say Fall is another excellent setting.

Who could say no to this soup? The smooth, yet chewy rice cakes, the rich and mild broth? As a child, I loved the oval rice cakes in this soup, used to feel sad to chew and destroy their perfect shapes and texture, so perfect did they feel in my mouth. The consistency of the rice cakes is something the cook can control–simmer them longer for ovalettes that are soft and near disintegration or cook them for fifteen minutes for firm rice cakes that will take some chewing. I myself like the cakes very soft, and the broth milky.

rice dumplings for dduk gook

In the “olden days,” rice cakes were made by hand, making this soup labor intensive and one reserved for a festive holiday like the New Year. A cook would form a cylinder, and then slice them cross wise at an angle, into ovalettes. But nowadays, they’re readily available at the Korean grocery store, whether they’re handmade by your purveyor, or factory produced. Above is a bag I picked up from the store (Koreana Plaza on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, if you must ask).

You can freeze the bag and use the rice cakes in batches, or you can freeze them upfront knowing that this soup is in your future. Eventually, they’ll find their way to the first step of making this soup: a nice water bath.

rice dumplings soaking

Before you start making the soup, dunk the rice cakes into a bowl of water, let them sit and rest and soften for thirty minutes.

Given that the rice cakes are traditionally the most difficult step to take in making this soup, rest assured that the soup itself is quite simple to make. There are variations on what kind of beef to use, what kind of broth to use and such, but the steps are quite straightforward. Just combine and boil!

I like to use a short rib for the meat, simply because the bone and the beef lend a richness to the soup. Also, I like to use plain water instead of broth. And I like to add some sea kelp (miyuk) to the soup, while others only ask for toasted seaweed (gim, or wakame seaweed used for sushi).

I posted this recipe before on my old blog, but I took it down, so I thought I’d share again. Enjoy.

A side note: I am a huge fan of soup–whether this is because my father insisted on a bowl of soup with every meal, or because the soups themselves are so satisfying, or because my mother liked to make me lots of soup so that I wouldn’t eat too much of the “fattening stuff,” soup has become a great source of comfort to me. It is ingrained in my culinary memory. Here are some other Korean soups I love, posted on Muffin Top:

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Harvest season

Vegetable Garden 2007

This year, I planted a vegetable garden, a project that had long been germinating in my head. For personal reasons, I had more time than ever this Spring, and a desire need to be inspired by life. My father, an avid gardener, had moved to a desert retirement community, and left me with seeds (of hard to find Korean vegetables and herbs, like Korean bellflower, and chui namul) from his decades-old vegetable garden. They were begging to be planted. And pragmatically speaking, I thought that having my own vegetable and herb garden would yield me so much food, as well as foods that I could not easily find at the grocery store. The possibilities seemed endless!

And so I dragged in 32 bags of planting soil against doctor’s orders, convinced my husband to tier part of the hillside in a neglected part of our property, and embarked on a months-long project that would see me through physical and psychic crisis, become raided by a gopher, entertain my wiener dog no end (she likes to dig for gopher), and provide us with physical and psychic sustenance.

wall up, now soil being transported

Over the season, I planted the following: rose geranium (thank you to a friend who gave me a cutting), anise hyssop, Korean eggplant, beets, Korean radish, chamomile, French tarragon, chervil, chives, Korean chives, green onions, parsley, mint (in a separate container of course), French garden sorrel, carrots, Korean perilla, dill, shelling peas, Korean chrysanthemum leaves, basil, brussel sprouts, Korean bellflowers, and Korean chui namul.

Yes, it got a little crowded, but it seemed every week, I would take home a fascinating packet of seeds or a seedling and stick it in the garden somewhere. There had to be room, I wanted to grow so much!

Of course, the gopher who began visiting the garden at its burgeoning height, helped with making space, for better and for worse.

The gopher ate the following plants (in their entirety!), pulling them underground for his dining pleasure: chamomile, French tarragon, chervil, carrots, dill, shelling peas, brussel sprouts, Korean bellflowers, and Korean chui namul.


So you see, he ate half the garden. I bought a ultrasonic emitting “gopher/mole peg” and stuck it into the ground, but apparently, that didn’t deter him. I let my wiener dog into the garden (to her great delight!) and allowed her, every month or two, to root through the ground and dig into his tunnels, leaving her scent and therefore trying to deter him, but to no avail.

I was sad–I didn’t get to see the Korean bellflowers bloom, or taste the Korean chui namul, or even harvest a sprig of French tarragon, or even have one cup of tea with the chamomile–nor did I get to use chervil, and use the fines herbes I’d planted! The gopher ate them all before I could have a taste. He pulled down entire brussel sprout plants before I they even matured! But next year–next year, I’ll plan my garden out right. I’ll plant in containers, or line the garden with something impervious to gophers. Or, because I just don’t have it in my heart to kill the gopher, I might just plant a surplus so maybe there’ll be enough to share.

mrmmm!  says the bee

But I got to eat part of the garden as well. With the basil, I made pesto. And used the sorrel for soup. The herbs finished and garnished a numerous amount of dishes. The anise hyssop was steeped in cream for a licorice flavored creme. I julienned and steamed radish with rice for a quick lunch. I was able to harvest a few pea pods to make a a great pasta dish with leeks, peas, and chives before the gopher devoured the pea plants in their entirety. Oh, and I ate innumerable carrots, uncooked, straight out of the ground, relishing their fresh garden sweetness.

Now it’s harvest season, and the garden has begun to lag–the carrots, beets, green onion, and radish have all been plucked and eaten, and the Korean perilla still stands remarkably tall and robust, but it has begun to flower and go to seed, a road that the anise hyssop took a few weeks ago, its licorice scented flower heads turning into seed pods. I think I’ll tempura fry the perilla leaves for a snack soon. And I won’t forget to collect the seeds so that I can share with friends, and have more to plant next season.

Happy Autumn everyone.

p.s.ย  friends: if you’d like some seeds, let me know.

A butternut squash soup to devour

butternut squash soup with cider cream

I don’t know why I’ve never attempted to make butternut squash soup at home. I know that when I see it on a restaurant menu, I certainly order it and savor the sweet but savory pureed orange soup, and imagine blustery winds, crunchy and vibrant Autumn leaves, and a scarf preventing all but the most severe winds from chilling my neck. Of COURSE I love a soup that conjures up my favorite season of the year!

And add to that what seems like a genetic code that predisposes me to LOVING squash (correct me if I’m wrong but it seems me and all my Korean relatives and friends LOVE squash)…and it becomes very strange that I have never made anything with butternut squash.

Maybe it’s the squash itself–large, heavy, and almost impenetrable. THAT intimidating vegetable becomes soup? Somehow, I tolerate large, heavy, thick skinned melons in the summer, but I’ve weirdly stayed clear of Autumn vegetables with similar qualities.

But no more!

At the market, I bought a butternut squash, on impulse. I looked at the piles of sugar pie pumpkins, and realized they no longer intimidated me–I like to roast them, puree them, and turn them into pumpkin muffins and pumpkin rocks, for starters (oh, and pumpkin pie!). Why not try cooking butternut squash? I grabbed one, and walked around the produce section, secretly proud of my new ambition.

And I knew what I would make. I would make a butternut squash soup. Oh. YES.

I flipped through several butternut squash recipes found on the net and in my cookbooks–and through my own laziness (there were ingredients like leeks that I didn’t have on hand, and that I did not want to go shop for) and preferences (I decided to leave out whipping cream–the soup was DELICIOUS! It didn’t need milk or whipping cream), I ended up adapting a recipe out of epicurious.

butternut squash soup ingredients

You can see all the vegetable ingredients prepped above–can you believe all of this turns into a gorgeous orange puree? You sautee, boil, and puree. And then devour, as we did. It’s rare that I make a soup that we eat in the course of one single day–but we did. My husband and I snuck bowls of it all day, and then when two of our friends came over for dinner, it disappeared.

So glad I took that butternut squash home.

And here’s the other thing–this soup reintroduced me to my immersion blender. I’d bought the thing nearly fifteen years ago in my senior year of college, thinking that an immersion blender might help make cocktails. I couldn’t afford a blender, but I quickly learned that an immersion blender is not a good substitute for a blender. And hence, it has lain dormant ever since.

No more! It has now been used to puree soup (you’re right–I’ve avoided making pureed soups too, all these years–why oh why, I now ask myself).

This soup is going to be made quite often in this household.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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