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Sunday, September 11, 2011

CULTURES - Korea - part 1: FOOD!

Koreans are wild about their food! Mention a Korean dish to them and their eyes will light up and they'll make a sound that is a combination of 'OH', a happy sigh and 'Yes!' It makes you curious to find out what they know.

I chose Korea for several reasons: my elder daughters have been imbibing us all in Korean pop culture for the past year and I realized that I know very little about Korean history, culture, crafts or anything. My daughters are huge fans of the youthful and fun Korean Pop style of singing/performing/dancing (you can't do the one without the other two it seems!) and my 2nd daughter has been learning Korean and watching some very fun Korean variety shows (largely involving popular Korean entertainment stars competing quite amiably and humbly). Thanks to the great world of the internet, I now have access to all sorts of recipes, images, information and videos and I see that researching Korea will be very enlightening...and TASTY!

Last night for dinner we prepared two 'dishes': ssam bap and bin dae duk. Let me start off by saying, that Korean food does not involve a single plate with all of your foods sitting there. Korean food involves assembling bits of this and dips into that for each bite you take.
Ssam bap, for instance, are lettuce wraps, but you put a myriad of separately-provided ingredients into your lettuce leaf; we kept it fairly simple with just hot pepper paste, rice, seasoned meat and soybean paste on our leaves. Then we had some kim chi on the side and and bin dae duk which are Korean pancakes with their own dipping sauce.

I found the recipe for ssam bap on and also used their recipe for bulgogi, the marinade for the meat. Although traditionally made with thin slices of beef, we used chicken and it was delicious!

Bulgogi Marinade
3 Tbsp chopped garlic
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed juice from an Asian pear (we used a standard pear)
1 Tbsp Japanese rice wine (mirin)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
3 scallions, finely chopped (both green and white parts)
1 tsp. pepper
- combine all ingredients until the sugar and honey are dissolved/distributed
- marinate thin slices or strips of meat for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator

Once the meat is all marinated and you have cooked some rice (preferably some rice that sticks together a bit, like sushi rice), ssam bap is easy to assembly:
- take a lettuce leaf (romaine leaves are good as they tend to be longer and thin, so good for rolling up like a wrap)
- spread on a little hot pepper paste (kochujang) and/or soybean paste (daenjang - like hoisin sauce) to taste
- add a tablespoon of rice
- and a tablespoon of the bulgogi meat
- roll up as best you can and, to be authentic, pop the whole thing in your mouth! Yum!

For bin dae duk, I was happy to turn to a favorite health-oriented website that I subscribe to, These pancakes are not made with flour, but the batter is homogenized soaked mung beans and rice. For lack of mung beans here in Germany, we made these with chick peas instead. Although these were a bit tricky to fry out (I suspect our batter was too thick), these had a nice assortment of veggies added and were quite tasty when dipped. Here are some photos of the ingredients and the steps.

I'm looking forward to my next foray into the Korean culture!

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