Several basic Korean ingredients hold a place of honor on my condiment shelves: Kim chee, kochujang (fermented red chili paste), gochugaru (ground red chili flakes) and doenjang (fermented bean paste) have transformed my everyday cooking.
These totally distinctive ingredients remind me of our embrace of the best pantry staples from around the world. Where would we be without Italy’s olive oil, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar; or France’s Dijon mustard, truffles and walnut oil; or China’s soy sauce, dark sesame oil and Sichuan peppercorns? Or Mexico’s chipotle chilies, tomatillos and cilantro? Back to bland, I fear.
My love affair with Korean ingredients begins with basic kim chee — crunchy-soft cabbage is my favorite, but I also like kim chee cucumbers, daikon radishes, turnips, bean sprouts and bok choy.
Kim chee packs a punch in soups and stews. I add a spoonful or two to black bean soup, chicken soup and ordinary beef stew for a surprise blast of umami and spice. I’m convinced there’s no better way to ward off a cold or warm up an evening than a quick bowl pork and kim chee stew. I also make a vegetarian version filled with silken tofu and greens. An egg poached in the stew adds extra richness and protein.
For a slightly more involved kim chee combination, I dream of the pancakes enjoyed in Portland, Ore., at a funky corner restaurant called the Cameo Cafe & Steak. A savory pancake made with mung beans, vegetables and kim chee is called Sue Gee’s Pindaettok. It arrives larger than the plate, about 1/2-inch thick, and colorful from shredded vegetables and golden crispy edges.
I’ve been tinkering with a recipe ever since. Rice flour proves the key to a crispy, light textured batter. I use very cold water and an egg yolk for the wet ingredients. Bottled kim chee and vegetables likewise add moisture.
Serve the kim chee pancakes for brunch topped with a pile of baby spinach and a side of sliced tomatoes. Or, serve them cut in wedges as a nibble with beer or iced soju.
Pork and Red Chili Kim Chee Stew
- 1 generous cup (about 8 ounces) hot kim chee
- 1 tablespoon kochujang or New Mexico chili paste or tomato paste mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon doenjang (soybean paste, optional)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons gochugaru red chili flakes or sweet paprika
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 pound lean boneless pork country ribs, halved lengthwise, very thinly sliced
- 3 cups rich broth, such as chicken bone broth or homemade pork or beef broth
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushroom caps
- 1 cup diced (about 6 ounces) firm silken tofu
- 3 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced
- 2 to 3 large eggs (optional)
- Chopped fresh cilantro
Mix kim chee, kochujang, doenjang if using, sugar, chili flakes and onion in a deep, 3-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in pork to coat well. Set pan over high heat and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until everything darkens in color and becomes highly aromatic, about 7 minutes.
Carefully stir in broth. (It will splatter.) Scrape sides and bottom to loosen up and dissolve all the browned bits. Stir in mushrooms. Reduce heat to very low. Simmer, partly covered, stirring often, 15 minutes.
Stir in tofu and green onions. Simmer 3 minutes.
If using, gently crack eggs into a small dish and tip them into the stew. Simmer just long enough to cook whites and softly set yolks, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately in warm bowls, topped with cilantro. Serves: 2 to 3.
Vegetarian variation: Omit pork, substitute vegetable stock and double the amount of mushrooms (cooking time will be shorter). Stir 2 cups baby spinach leaves into the stew just before serving.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 402 calories, 14 g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 42 g carbohydrate, 8 g sugar, 26 g protein, 770 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.
Veggie Noodle and Kim Chee Pancakes
- 2 cups (6 ounces) fresh spiralized zucchini “noodles”
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-1/2 cups very cold water
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup white rice flour
- 1 cup (6 ounces) hot or mild bottled kim chee
- 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) finely shredded carrots or butternut squash noodles
- 1/2 cup (about 1.5 ounces) fresh mung bean sprouts
- 3 green onions, trimmed, very thinly sliced
- Vegetable oil, for pan-frying
- Cilantro, for serving
- >> Dipping sauce:
- 2 tablespoons EACH unsweetened rice vinegar and soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons honey
- 1 teaspoon tahini or finely crushed sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon dark Asian sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground gochugaru (Korean chili powder) or crushed red pepper flakes
Mix zucchini and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a colander and let stand, 10 minutes. Roll between paper towels until very dry.
Whisk together egg yolk and water in large bowl until smooth. Add flours and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until smooth.
Press juice from kim chee into batter with your hands; then chop kim chee and add to batter. Fold in zucchini, carrots, bean sprouts and green onions. Refrigerate 15 minutes to 1 hour.
Combine dipping sauce ingredients in small bowl. (Sauce can be refrigerated up to 1 week; use at room temperature.) Set aside.
Heat 10- or 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high until a drop of water dropped in skillet sizzles vigorously. Add generous swirl of oil. Then add 1/2 cup of batter, and use back of a ladle to spread batter into a 6-inch diameter pancake about 1/2-inch thick. Reduce heat to medium; cook until bottom of the pancake is beautifully crisp and golden and top looks dry, 3 to 4 minutes.
Carefully flip pancake and cook second side until brown, about 2 minutes. Repeat to make remaining pancakes. (Keep warm by setting pancakes on a wire rack over a baking sheet in a 200-degree oven.)
Serve pancakes right away sprinkled with cilantro and drizzled with dipping sauce. Makes 6 to 7 pancakes.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 184 calories, 4 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 26 mg cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrate, 4 g sugar, 5 g protein, 668 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.