Lovely local tomatoes.



There is something so juxtaposed about “sweet” and “green” to describe tomatoes in the same sentence.  It is so unexpected that I had to write about it here.

I found these green-hued heirloom-like tomatoes at the local Wednesday market where they sell high quality seasonal produce.  There are plenty of tomatoes of different varieties available in the shops like E-mart in Seoul, but even with their bright matte-red coat, they don’t compare in flavor as they are often too tart and flavorless in the winter.

In contrast, these tomatoes are ultra sweet and have only a slight tart finish.  You can saute dices in a omelette or throw fresh dices in a pasta salad.  Both were in fact on the menu today for breakfast and for lunch, (kinda nice when you don’t have to work on a Thursday… but for the rest of the world) could be a great highlight to a weekend brunch or packed lunch pasta salad.

Keep in mind that these sweet green tomatoes are rather firmer than what you might expect.  That alone would in most cases dismiss these little guys as being under-ripe.  Somehow, though, this is not a bad attribute; the extra firmness helps to retain its shape through cooking. Mushy tomatoes are not exactly a pleasant texture unless it goes totally into sauce.

They are really so unexpectedly delicious that makes you think about where these little guys came from.  After doing a little research, I learned that these tomatoes are from Daejeo (in Busan) and they are just coming into season now.  In fact, there is a Daejeo Tomato Festival in early April.  Ha! Even Korea has its own tomato festival!

If you find these in an open market near you, or perhaps in a department store grocery, try them before they’re gone!  This was the pitch given to me, and I wasn’t disappointed.  They are not cheap but worth it at W10,000 for 10 small tomatoes, each about 2″ in diameter.

Tomato & Broccoli Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 4 small tomatoes, diced
  • 1 head of broccoli
  • about 125g short dried pasta
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • fresh herbs if available

Boil pasta with plenty of salted water until tender as desired, drain and set aside.  I used orecchiette with spinach today from my luggage pantry (i.e. favorite pantry items that I carry from one country to another, this one sourced from home in Toronto).

We have an awesome steamer which can steam the broccoli while the pasta is cooking underneath. Super efficient.  If you don’t have this option, steam broccoli in a separate pot until tender, then cool in ice-cold water, and drain.  Cut into bite sized pieces.

To make dressing, zest about half a lemon and squeeze the juice from the lemon half into a large bowl.  Add grated or minced garlic clove.  Slowly pour a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil while whisking until homogenous.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and fresh chopped herbs if available.

Toss the drained pasta to the dressing to fully coat.  I find this step to be much more efficient at imparting flavour to the pasta rather than sprinkling dressing all the vegetables and pasta at once.  Toss in broccoli and tomatoes, and serve.

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It has been awhile since I’ve posted.  I have a ton of recipes to write about as I’m about to finish my classes from the winter term this week.

The update on pumpkin makgeolli – well, I have to sadly admit, I let this one slide.  It was going well until I didn’t strain the makgeolli at the right time and let it sit for way too long.  In truth, I guess I lost my motivation for awhile.  I learned that good tasting makgeolli isn’t impossible to make but not exactly easy to do it at home unless you have a way to control temperature within 1 or 2 degrees over 2 weeks.  Often it produces a very sour taste that is rather unpleasant, which can be masked by adding sugar or syrup but to me that’s kinda cheating when it comes to making traditional alcohol.  I mean, it would be unthinkable to do to wine, but it is a common practice with industrial makgeolli made now (often aspartame is added).

On our last class on Wednesday, I took a sample of my pumpkin makgeolli to class after learning that we had to showcase something we made at home to the teacher.  I really didn’t want to show it since I knew it had rather significant off-taste which was of course picked up right away.  I need to redeem myself!   I will make another shot at makgeolli at home, or maybe I should try to make rice wine with higher alcohol dose since it’s supposed to be a bit more fail-proof.

In the end, I doubt I’ll be making alcohol all the time at home, but it would be great skill to learn to take back with me to Canada. The ingredients are ridiculously simple, it is only tending to it a little bit each day over 2 weeks.  The starter culture is a crucial ingredient through, and one of these days, I’ll make a posting on making nuruk, which is made by spontaneous fermentation.  The rest of the ingredients are rice and water.  3 ingredients, 2 weeks, and tasty alcohol (or at least with some practice) – not bad.  Simplicity at it’s best but the craft and skill to make it well can’t be understated.

Turnip wrapped fresh vegetable rolls. The thinly sliced Korean turnip is soaked in brine for 30 minutes to get soft, pliable sheets.

Korean Radish Wrapped Fresh Salad Rolls

I love the idea of salad rolls, very similar to fresh thai or vietnamese rolls.  This is a Korean fusion recipe from our alcohol cooking class – this appetizer was matched with sweet pumpkin makgeolli.  I was nearly appalled by the combination of yellow mustard and peanut butter, but in the end, it tasted good.

Serves 4-6

  • 250g Korean radish, large, about 20cm diameter
  • 1/2 of each red, yellow and green sweet bell pepper
  • cucumber, peeled
  • 1/2 pack of sprouts
  • sliced ham

for brine solution:

  • combine 2 cup water, 2 tsp sea salt, 6 Tbsp vinegar, 8 Tbsp sugar.

for peanut dipping sauce:

  • combine 1 1/2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 1/2  Tbsp mayonnaise, 1/3 Tbsp mustard, 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 Tbsp corn syrup, 1/3 Tbsp sugar, 1/3 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds.

Thinly slice the radish, about 0.2cm thickness.  Mandoline would be best tool for this, but we did it by hand.  Soak the sliced turnip in the brine for at least 20 minutes.  Drain, and pat dry.

Cut the vegetables and ham about 0.2cm thickness and 5cm length.

Wrap the vegetable, ham and sprouts with the turnip sheets.  Serve with peanut dipping sauce.

Making sweet pumpkin makgeolli at class. The colour is so intensely yellow, just from the pumpkin.

This is the plastic container of sweet potato makgeolli I took home to ferment. This is day 4 - the clear liquid top layer will get larger and larger as the natural yeast ferments the sugar into alcohol. At this stage you can hear it bubbling like it's alive...it's the CO2 gas being released!

Korean style porridge, called juk, is a simply rice, normally white rice, cooked down with 5 times ratio of water to rice, simmered until the grains are broken down to porridge consistency.  It is like grits or oatmeal in many ways, or very toned down version of Chinese congee.  The dish is all about simple nourishment, especially when one is not feeling well.

I was surprised to learn of so many different kinds of porridges. The only juk I ever had growing up was the plain juk.  Not even salt is added – you can’t get any simpler than that – instead, it is served with a little soy sauce and toasted sesame oil on the side.  To me, it was comfort food, that sometimes I’d want it even when I wasn’t sick, to which my Mom would never approve or just think that I was crazy.

I was introduced to abalone porridge by Maangchi, now famous for her YouTube demos on cooking easy Korean dishes.  I wanted to try it as a way to cook the fresh, live abalone that I always see in shops and fish markets. Frankly, I’m not even aware of any other Korean dish that abalone is used in.  The first time I made it, it was good overall but I couldn’t identify the abalone taste, being it my first time to ever try it.  After making it a few times, I now realize the subtle flavour of abalone, which to me it is reminiscent of seaweed with savoury, umami undertones.

This last version is an adapted recipe based on Maangchi, my Korean friend who likes to cook, and my own minor adaptations, like the brown rice.  Obviously it is healthier to use brown rice over white, but it does change the dish significantly.  Fortunately for me, the darker colour, extra texture and flavour of brown rice doesn’t bother me, actually I prefer it, but if you want to best appreciate the delicate flavour of abalone (which is rather expensive), it might be better to use white.

ABALONE PORRIDGE

Serves 2

  • 2 large abalone, approx. 150g of meat
  • 3/4 cup short-grain brown and white rice, soaked, drained
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery (optional)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • salt to taste
  • 1 L water

1.  Rinse the rice several times, then cover with cold water and let it soak for 2 hours.  Drain.

2.  Clean the abalone by brushing the meat and shell under cold water.  Run a paring knife against the shell, moving your knife back and forth to release the meat around the whole shell.  It’s good to do this on a plate as a lot of juices will come out that should be reserved.  Set aside the greenish-brown entrails, finely chopped.  Cut the meat in slices, then again into small pieces.

2.  Heat a heavy bottom pot on medium heat.  Add sesame oil, then the chopped vegetables and garlic.  Saute for a few minutes, then add the drained rice.  Saute on slightly higher heat to toast the rice until it changes to partly translucent colour, about 5 minutes.  Mix in the brownish-green juices and entrails from the abalone.

3.  Add 1 L cold water to the pot, stir to release bits from the bottom.  Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low.  Cover and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4.  Stir in chopped abalone meat.  Cover, and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until thick, creamy consistency is reached.

5.  Season with fish sauce and salt to taste.  At the very end, finish with just a few drops of toasted sesame oil, and serve.  (Note: can be garnished with chopped green onion or crushed roasted laver).

Abalone meat de-shelled, and the effervescent pearl shells with the entrails.

Abalone meat cut into bite sized pieces.

Abalone juk simmering away...reminds me of making risotto.

I love it when a dish comes together so much easier than it looks.  For the first time, and with guidance from my Mom, I made galbi-jjim, a traditional Korean dish served at special occasions, or rather to me, just really tasty meat on a bone that works as a great accompaniment to steamed rice to soak up the sweet ginger infused soy sauce.

Short ribs are tough cut, so the best way to treat it is to braised or stew over low heat for a long enough time to tenderize the meat.  Tonight, however, without the luxury of hours before dinner, I was surprised to hear that my mom only cooks it for about 45 minutes after treating the meat to a couple of parboiling steps, in order to remove impurities and some fat.

The braising liquid is very simple being primarily soy sauce sweetened with a little sugar and aromatic ginger and garlic.  The vegetables also add more sweetness and depth, and colour and texture contrast to the dish.  My favorite is the Korean turnip, almost as good as the short ribs (!) – I love the mild, sweet flavour inside contrasted by the dark, savory juices soaked up in the outer edges.

There is just something very rustic and homey about throwing things in a pot that come out so delicious.  And not bad for just over an hour cooking time.  The result is short ribs that is pulled away from the bone, but still held together.  Really tasty served up Korean style as a banchan, cut up into little pieces with scissors at the table.

Korean Braised Beef Short Ribs

It’s very important to use high quality ingredients, starting with the short ribs.  The meat should have some marbling without too much fat on the outer edges (this can be trimmed off), and about 1.5″-2″ meat on the bone.  The soy sauce should be the brewed kind, eg. Kikkoman, and vegetables should be fresh.  I used an old carrot in the fridge, and well, it turned out that it tasted just like an old carrot.  You can substitute some of the vegetables for things like sweet potatoes, shittake mushroom and pearl onions, though I have never tried it yet.

The cooking method in this recipe is what my Mom uses, and par-boiling meat and bones is a common technique used in Korean home cooking to remove the impurities and some fat.  As well, it is common to soak the raw meat in cold water for about 20 minutes to remove some of the blood, though it is omitted here.  I think this is a great recipe for the slow cooker, or pressure cooker for even faster preparation, without the parboiling steps, probably resulting in softer, more tender meat.

Serves 3-4

  • 1.5 lbs high quality beef short ribs, about 5-6 pieces
  • 1/4 cup brewed soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • approx. 150g Korean turnip, cut 1.5″-2″ chunks, about 6-8 pieces
  • 1/2 large carrot, cut 1.5″-2″ chunks
  • 7 chestnuts, peeled, whole
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 large chunks of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 6 daechu (also known as jujube or Chinese dates)

1.  Clean the short ribs well by rinsing with cold water several times.  In a large surface pot, place the meat in single layer and cover with cold water.  Cover, and bring to boil on high heat.  Reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain the water, and place the meat back into the pot.

2.  Add cold water again, about 1 L, or till it’s just covering the meat.  Again, bring to boil covered and cook meat for 10 minutes.  Drain off most of the liquid (you can reserve this liquid for other uses), leaving about 1 cup liquid in the pot.

3.  Add soy sauce, brown sugar, whole garlic, ginger chunks, and daechu.  Snug in the turnip and carrot chunks, trying to fit the meat and the large vegetables in one layer.  Simmer on low heat with lid on for about 45 minutes, remembering to add chestnuts about half way into cooking.  The vegetables should be cooked through, and the meat should be tender when pierced with a metal chopstick (or knife, of course).

4.  It is best cool, and place in freezer for a few minutes to skim off the fat.  Then, reheat, and reduce the juices by about 1/2 (or when it thickens slightly and saltiness is just right).  Normally, I do this with the leftovers.  Serve the beef, cut into bite size pieces, and the vegetables on rice with a bit of the juice on top.

Short ribs in water.

Short ribs next day with rice. This was actually a different recipe, made with pureed onion, Korean pear and apple to replace the sugar. Still very tasty, but just not a fan of the texture so best to stick with sugar or fruit juices.

The sweetest sweet potato unveils as you peel away the slightly burnt jacket, bit by bit, revealing the caramelized edges and soft, steaming yellow flesh.  Yum.  It is totally reminiscent of the curb-side sweet potatoes from the wood-burning fire sold on the streets of Seoul on cold, winter days.

So this is why my Mom got excited when she saw this in the supermarket.

This is the best indoor BBQ/oven for the price point: 10,000 won at E-mart, picked up in the fresh produce aisle beside the sweet potatoes.  It acts as a roaster, oven and a grill all at the same time.

Aside from sweet potatoes, it’s great for roasting chestnuts, whole garlic heads, corn on the cob, big rice cake cylinders, and occasionally I also use it to toast bread (very carefully, must add, had a few mishaps with blackened bread…).

It does have it’s limitations, you can only roast dry foods for it to work effectively.  Anything really juicy will be a bit messy, like fish on foil… though it worked to sufficiently cook, it didn’t really add any roasted characteristics.  Chilies and sweet peppers I think would work beautifully though if you quickly char the skin before the juicy drippings start to leech.

Anyway it’s the closest thing we have to an oven.  It doesn’t bake cookies (yet) but sure as hell does a fine job roasting the sweetest sweet potato.

Roasted sweet potatoes, the purple-skinned Korean varieties. I particularly like the bright yellow flesh ones, called "sweet pumpkin" sweet potatoes. Sounds funny in English. In Korean, it's dan-hoe-bak go-gu-ma, which refers to the colour and sweet flavour similar to the sweet pumpkins.

Roasted rice cake cylinders. I think it's nostalgic for my mom- she likes to dip this in honey and soy sauce. The idea was weird to me at first, but I like the charred taste of rice cake

It is made out of the same material as the camping pots, which are light and fast heat conductor (so watch your fingers when it's hot). Inside has a little rack, and the bottom has little raised surfaces where the dry heat enters.

White tteok cake. This is the most simple tteok cake made with rice flour and syrup. It's served at the 100th day birthday to symbolize cleanliness, purity and health for the new baby.

Truffle tteok. Little bite-size tteok rolled in red beans cooked and mashed through a sieve. The tteok is made with glutinous rice and a small, round yellowish grain called su-su, which gives it a slightly nutty flavour.

Little wrinkled dried daechu with pine nut lacquered in a syrup reduction. This is a common garnish as well as a dish made into an elaborate piece for special occasions.

Ma (a root vegetable) coated with honey & rice flour, which is then pan-fried and dusted with finely chopped pine nuts.

Soy-pickled Korean radish. Love the crunchy texture of the fresh baby radish and the sweet, soy flavour. And yes, all those chili peppers give it a mean, spicy kick.

Raw oysters in spicy red chili pepper seasoning. A delicious banchan and not as spicy as it looks.

Making barley kochujang, the 4th kochujang variation learned so far. Kochujang is a fermented red chili paste and is a major seasoning in Korean cooking. I have garlic kochujang and sweet pumpkin kochujang fermenting at home.