Thursday, 24 June 2010


This recipe is not for the fickle palate. An acquired taste, cheonggukjang is a soup made primarily out of heavily fermented soy beans. For those that do like this stinky soup, it is an absolute favorite in the Korean repertoire. I personally eat this dish once or twice a week, however I do not cook it too often at home as we have a specialist restaurant across the street that serves an amazing version of this awesome soup.

What you need:

Cheonggukjang (1 small package)- You will need to get this from a Korean grocer. It comes in a small round package resembling ground beef.

Kimchi (a big handful, cut up)- In most large cities this should not be hard to find. In Korea is available from everywhere (including your neighbours, students, coworkers etc.)

Onions (small handful chopped how you want)

Garlic (around 3 cloves, diced)

A few hot peppers (diced, depending on how how you like it)

Salt, Soy sauce and Pepper to taste

Korean chili flakes (medium handful)

Some Tofu if you want and green onions

What to do:

In a pot at medium heat, put the onion in and let it brown, toss the garlic in and wait a bit. Toss in the Kimchi and the cheonggukjang and mix well making sure the cheonggukjang is coming apart. Toss in the chili flakes and a splash of soy sauce. Turn the heat up and add a bunch of water, add it bit by bit, the goal is to create a thick and hearty soup. Add the Tofu and chopped up green onions. Let it simmer for 4-5 mins and you are done!

As is the case for most korean soups they are quick, simple and can be served with any variety of other food. This dish in normally enjoyed on rice with many side dishes.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Quick Note of Encouragment

This is a short one going out to those who say that don't, can't or aren't good at cooking. As many of you know one of my passions and my almost daily hobby is cooking (hence the blog) and so I want to share a few bits I have learned along the way.

#1 Cooking is not science as many might have you believe. In many cases a recipe is an awesome way to go, but it sure as hell makes it a chore to measure stuff out, second guess yourself and try to time things based on a slip of paper written out by someone else. On this site I will have quite a few recipes, that being said none of my recipes include, as you may have noticed, any real measurements. The hope is for people to check them out for the basic guidelines and to make something that really suits them.

#2 Get some herbs and spices and mess around with them. As mentioned above this is really not a science. As each person has varying tastes, there is no one recipe. If you stock a good supply of the basics (mine are: basil, oregano, good quality pepper, cumin, coriander, and pepper flakes) you can make an amazing variety of foods with wildly differing tastes. This along with having the basic flavour veggies (garlic, onions, ginger) will serve you better than anything I could post on this page.

#3 Cook for others. Having people over to cook with you or just to eat your food is a great way to get you out of a cooking rut. It is also valuable having other people with different tastes to give you honest feedback about how you can improve.

#4 Depth of flavour: by mixing the correct herbs and spices it is possible to have a good depth of flavour without much effort. When I first began to understand depth of flavour is when my cooking really began to take off. The food you are cooking should appeal to all parts of the mouth and should ideally leave a nice after taste. Quick steps to a good depth of flavour are as follows. Use soy sauce anywhere it seems reasonable and places it does not. Any red sauce made by me has at least a splash of soy sauce and a little bit of vinegar. Another ingredient that is amazing (which I only recently discovered) is Korean chili flakes. These are dark red, used for kimchi and to be honest almost all Korean foods. They are not very spicy at all and so can be used by the handful, and they will provide most dishes with an amazing smokey taste (including but not limited to chili, pasta sauce, curry, soups, fried anything, and sauces.)

#5 Taste it, taste it, taste it. If you do not taste as you cook, there is no way to build the meal. if you taste and tweak as you go it is almost impossible to make something that does not taste good. Season as you go and don't be too afraid to add too much. I often add a new spice along with each new ingredient. The real pain for people new to cooking is tasting your food and having no idea how to improve it. When in doubt, add more salt, pepper, and the flavour deepening ingredients above.

#6 Finally start the dish with ingredients that can't fail. Damn near everything I cook begins with onions sauteed in the bottom of my pot or pan, and way more often than not this is followed 1-2 mins after by crushed garlic. If you start with these ingredients a few mins before your other veg. you are guaranteed to have at least some flavour from the get go. In addition to this, cook with fresh vegetables, preferably those that are in season. Shop at small markets over the big supermarkets as their food is normally better quality and less size and shape oriented as has become the norm in North America and Europe.

I hope this has been helpful, please feel free to share you experiences in the kitchen and as always I am looking forward to suggestions on Korean dishes people want to see up here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Japchae - Simple and delicious

Japchae is the ultimate foreigners' dish. I honestly have never met a person in Korea that does not like this one. There are many varieties, however this dish is most often prepared with no meat at all. 

The dish is best made with Korean glass noodles (dang myeon), that are available at most Asian grocers (and every food store in Korea.) If you can't find the noodles, it is possible to use rice noodles, however it is not ideal.

Everything listed here is a mere suggestion, I really believe in cooking seasonally and so much of this might not be available when you are cooking. Choose fresh high quality veg. and you will not be disappointed. Also you will notice that I dislike the use of measurement by cups and spoons, use your judgment and cook to your own taste.
  • A good handful of Glass noodles
  • Splash sesame oil
  • Medium sized onion (Any type)
  • One or Two Carrots
  • A few shoots of Green onions
  • A good couple of handfuls of any type of mushroom (except button, check out an Asian grocer for the gnarliest looking ones as they often taste the best)
  • A few cloves of ground Garlic
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • A handful of Spinach
  • Heavy splash of Soy sauce
  • A bunch of toasted sesame seeds
What to do:
Soak the noodles in hot water for a few minutes (15 or so), cook in boiling water until nice and soft. Test often as this depends on brand and method of production.

Cut up all the veggies into relatively small pieces, the harder veg. like the carrots should be cut quite small or even grated to ensure quick cooking. The only veg to leave out at this point is the spinach. Fry these up in a little bit of oil for 3 or 4 minutes. While still in the pan add a splash of soy sauce, a bit of salt and some hot pepper. Its super important to season each part of your meal.

Quickly stir fry the noodles with the spinach and some salt, pepper, more hot pepper (the ideal on is Korean pepper flakes 'gochu karu' due to the fact that they are not too spicy but add really deep flavour)

Dump the noodles onto a plate, put the precooked veg on top, give it a mix and you're done!

A final note
Be creative here, add green or red pepper, why not stick some sea weed in there? I often add cumin and coriander to the dish to tweak the flavour, alternatively I might toss some vinegar or lemon juice in along with some fresh cilantro. This is a dish that you can play with and be hard pressed to screw up. 

Give it a try and you will not be disappointed.

Monday, 21 June 2010

How to Order Veggie Food in Korean

Alright so a friend has requested I do up a Japchae recipe. You will find this here tomorrow, but in the meantime I am going to list some phrases that can be used in Korea to ensure you are not accidentally ordering meat in your food.

First off I will note the most common and least successful phrase:

Chae shik ju ayo - Vegetarian style or I am vegetarian. (I find most Koreans outside of Seoul do not understand this phrase at all)

_______________ an mogo is very well understood (I don't eat ______)

Fill in the blank with 'Kogi' (meat) Haemul (seafood) Ou You (milk) Cheje (cheese) Gyal (egg)

Also you can order a traditionally meat dish my listing one or all of the above words and the simply saying 'pego' behind it:

'Bibimbap Kogi pego Jusayo'

The grammar is not perfect, but the point is communicated without any added complication.

I hope you found this helpful. Check tomorrow for a Traditional and a western fusion version of the classic Korean Japchae.

Vegan / Vegetarian Korean Food

As Korea tends to be a very meat centered food culture, it might seem like a conundrum blogging about Vegan Korean food. It is however a large part of Hanshik (Korean food) that includes fully vegan and vegetarian elements. As Korea does see tofu as a fully legitimate ingredient, there are many foods that are on the menu in Korea that do not need to be adjusted for our diet.

What follows is a list of the most common Korean foods that are traditionally Vegetarian:

Soon Dubu Jiggae:
This soup is a wonderful traditional Korean stew that is made primarily of uncurdled Tofu. The Vegetarian version is sold as Busot (Mushroom) Soon Dubu. The mix of textures and the wonderful stock is easy to reproduce at home even for those that are not big chefs. I will post my personal Soon Dubu Recipe ASAP.

Bibimbap (or Dul sot Bimimbap)
The general translation is 'mixed rice', however this Korean dish is so much more than the name indicates. The Dulsot version is done in a hot stone pot with rice as the base and cut vegetables (usually only in season) are rested on top in a visually stunning presentation.

Dwenjang Jiggae
A mild soup made of fermented soy bean, this soup is available at most Korean restaurants, including those that only serve meat based Items. The soup is enjoyed by many and has none of the strong flavour that other fermented bean products have.

Chun Guk Jang
Another fermented bean soup, this one may take a bit of getting used to. A definite acquired taste. If this soup is done correctly it is one of the most satisfying meals to be had. With deep flavour and an exciting zing, this soup is most often served with many types of banchan (side dishes).

Kimchi Mandu (dumplings)
As a vegetarian is is necessary to ascertain if the dumplings do contain pork, however traditionally kimchi mandu is most often made with tofu and no meat componants. The delicate flavour and interesting texture makes this a top choice whether it is served in a soup (kimchi mandu guk), steamed, or deep fried.

Japchae (or Japchae bap)
This is a noodle dish served hot or cold, depending on the restaurant but is always a crowd pleaser. The dish is generally made of sweet potato starch noodles, mixed with awesome mushrooms, carrots and green veggies, with a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil. This is one of the most popular dishes amongst the foreigners in Korea as it is not spicy and has some great flavours. It is common to see Japchae sold on top of rice at cheap fast food'ish Korean restaurants.

In addition to this there are many dishes that may be made meat free. I will continue giving advice on this in the weeks to come in addtion to sharing my own recipes for all of the above meals.
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