I’ve been home in Toronto for nearly two weeks now and this prego Korean’s been getting fed like a Shilla dynasty princess with a son in her oven.
My mother’s always been a fantastic cook, but she doesn’t cook all that much anymore, not with her work hours and living alone.
But for my fortnight stay, she’s been pulling out all her culinary tricks. The dishes featured here are the ones my cousin, Jung Hyun Ha, had the foresight to photograph before it disappeared into my belly. There are other dishes like my mom’s fabulous seaweed soup that I dreamed about before getting back home that didn’t make it to the list because I was too busy eating it to photograph it.
Here are some of the highlights:
Place oxtail, one package worth from the local Korean market, in a large stock pot and just cover with water. Bring to boil and strain oxtail and discard blood-scummed water. Tasty. Return oxtail to pot, add a bag of beef bones, fill with a lot of water and love and simmer for eight hours. Serve with sliced king scallions and salt and pepper to taste. You’ll probably have to visit a local Asian market for the king scallions since I’ve never seen it in regular supermarkets.
Stewed Pork Belly
Take a great big sheet of pork belly and cut into palm sized chunks. Place in a large pot with a couple of whole, unpeeled onions, about six whole and unpeeled garlic cloves, water to cover, and soy sauce to give the meat some color. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour or so. The timing is intuitive, cultivated over decades of experience. I figure simmer til cooked and looks tasty.
Strain and discard onions and garlic. Let the meat cool for about fifteen minutes. Slice the still warm meat perpendicular to grain of meat and fat. Serve with lettuce and cho-jang (hot pepper and miso paste, which you can buy at the Korean market).
Slice the cucumber in a shallow diagonal. Slice some carrots and king scallions in the same fashion. Make a dressing with soy sauce, jjee-you (a Japanese soy sauce based sauce that makes everything tastier), crushed hot red peppers, toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil. The amounts are mysterious. Toss with hands and serve as a rice accompaniment.
Baby Spinach Salad
Blanch a Costco sized container of baby spinach in boiling water. Just toss in and strain immediately. Squeeze out excess water. Season with toasted sesame seeds, a little bit of soy sauce and jjee-you (you don’t want too much and darken the brilliant color of the greens), salt, and sesame oil. Toss with hands and serve as a rice accompaniment.
Bahn-chan Direct from Korea
Bahn-chan is a broad culinary category in Korean cuisine that subsumes all manner of savory items meant to accompany a bowl of rice. Above on the left is moo-mal-leng-ee, loosely translated as “seasoned dried Chinese radish”, and on the right is gget-neep, which I’ll describe as seasoned leafy goodness.
You’ll need a loving aunt who knows a woman who can cook old-school-deep-in-the-country-side style like your grandmother. The cook will make the two bahn-chans, package them carefully in thin plastic bag, inside a screw-top plastic container, inside a heavy duty ziplock bag, inside said aunt’s luggage, to survive a twelve hour flight on a Korean Air jumbo jet from Seoul to Toronto.
Unpack and serve with rice.
Blanch a bag of broccoli florets in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Strain and cool immediately with cold water to stop the cooking process. Squeeze out excess water and prepare like the spinach salad.
A Side Note
Typically a dinner will consist of several dishes like the ones listed above in various combination. It’s up to your Korean mother what the items and combination will be.
Aunt Kyung-Hee’s Dduk-Gook
Dduk-gook is rice cake soup. Typically enjoyed in Korea en masse during the Chinese New Year, it’s my sister’s favorite food. We call her the dduk-gook killer. Or with a Korean accent, dduk-gook kee-lah.
My Aunt Kyung-Hee makes it extra special by adding oysters to the broth, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen or tried before. The broth is made of some of the oxtail soup broth my mom made, beef broth, and oysters. It’s a surf ‘n’ turf flavor base. The amounts are mysterious and the broth is time consuming and complicated to prepare. I recommend getting an Aunt Kyung-Hee and just asking her to make it for you rather than attempting it on your own.
Add diagonally sliced rice cakes to boiling broth and then add oysters at the last minute of cooking. This step will go quickly.
Ladle out the dduk-gook into large bowls and top with ribboned whole eggs and egg whites and crushed seasoned nori (My aunt’s trick for this is to crush the nori in a ziplock bag rather than with your bare hands.) Inhale.
My sister made me weigh myself the other day. I’ve gained seven pounds in the first three months of pregnancy. I consider most of that a loving gift from my mother.
Photographs courtesy of Jung-Hyun Ha, except for the last one.