Your viewing "Cucumber" (5 posts).

Many of you are already familiar with banchan—the little dishes of food that you can find on any Korean table, whether in a home or at a restaurant.  Some people describe banchan as side dishes, though they are an essential part of any Korean dining experience.  Having many different kinds of banchan means every person at the table can customize every bite of his or her meal.  And in a pinch, rice and banchan make a perfectly acceptable meal.

Although Korean food is ubiquitous in Los Angeles, I'm interested in making my own.  Take banchan.  You can make a lot of it and eat it for days or weeks (months, in the case of kimchi).  And honestly, some of these dishes are so easy to prepare that you can make several in one go.  The other day, I made three types of banchan in under two hours, counting waiting time. 

The one pictured above is oi muchim (oh-ee moo-cheem, "oi" meaning "cucumber" in Korean).  I like to eat oi muchim on hot summer days, though I'll eat it any time with a bit of rice.  Despite my rough English translation, oi muchim is not very spicy and tastes more like a quick pickle with a peppery kick.  Make a lot, and keep it in the fridge.  But don't wait too long to eat it; oi muchim isn't meant to ferment like kimchi.  Like most banchan, serve oi muchim in a small dish, and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.  Everyone eats from the same banchan dish, though there's no rule against giving everyone his or her own.

I tried the recipe from Eating and Living, one of my favorite Korean food blogs.  It came out great.  A tad salty, but good.  Give it a shot!  My only tip is to make sure to use quality cucumbers.  Korean cucumbers or Kirby pickling cucumbers are ideal.  The worst are the flabby, flavorless ones you find at your standard grocery store.

 

I'm on a roll!  Yesterday, it was Mom's Daikon Soup, today it's Cucumber Kimchi.  This isn't what you typically think of as kimchi, i.e. this doesn't require a long fermentation.  It's more like a quick pickle, and a slightly sweet, slightly sour one at that. 

All of these dishes straddle the line between an Asian cuisine (here, Korean, obviously) and fusion.  Stubborn, old me is finding this a good exercise in relaxing my expectations of authentic cuisine.  Do you experience this yourself?  Is there a cuisine or even single dish that you fiercely guard against dilution, misinterpretation, or flat-out heresy?  These recipes are challenging me to ask what makes a cuisine authentic.  What are the essential components or techniques of a dish that make it, say, Korean, or American?  It's one of those questions I ponder often, to no satisfying conclusion.  But I ask it all the same.

On that note, here's Chef Sara Jenkins' article in The Atlantic on Italian food and authenticity.  And I listened to an old Radiolab episode last night on the "self."  It got me thinking about change, how we are fluid beings.

 

I grew up going to potlucks, but it wasn't until the last few years or so that I started to get the knack of bearing something other than alcohol or cookies.  

Wondering what to make for today's journal barbecue, my friend/classmate/partner-in-crime Veronique recommended tabbouleh.  Parsley, she said, and couscous instead of bulgur.  I never knew that tabbouleh was popular in France, and since V is our resident Frenchie, I decided to follow her suggestion.

Labor Day weekend is long gone, which I suppose means fall is imminent.  But considering the heat wave we've been experiencing this past week, it seems LA hasn't gotten the message.  This dish is perfect to eat on a hot day.  All the fresh flavors of mint, scallion, and parsley, combined with crisp cucumber and cherry tomatoes, tossed with couscous soaking in olive oil and lemon juice.  I used a young local olive oil from Santa Barbara County.  I would have used parsley from my patio, but I've neglected it to the point of no return.

I used Ina's recipe (found here), which was nearly perfect.  I did use couscous instead of bulgur, as V suggested, and I added a bit less salt than called for in the recipe.  It seems that the ratio of starch to green can vary greatly, but V says her family tends to use more couscous than parsley.

Oi kimchi.  I made it.  This weekend.  While visiting my parents for Labor Day.

Ok, fine.  My mom made the kimchi.  But I did my fair share of washing, chopping, and general prepping.  I also took photos.  Ok, fine.  My sister took most of the photos.  Check her out at I Heart Woo.

Oi Kimchi.  Oi, pronounced "oh-ee" ("oh" as in "voracious" and "ee" as in "teepee"), means cucumber in Korean.  Just one of an endless variety of Korean kimchis, and a simple one at that.  Oi kimchi is meant to be eaten fresh, i.e. you don't let this stuff ferment like Napa cabbage kimchi.  Makes sense-you don't want the cucumber to get mushy, with its high water content.

So I said oi kimchi was simple to make.  True, but let me add a few qualifications:

1.  I can't give you a recipe.  Not my mom's recipe, at least.  I tried, but "about this much garlic" and "just guess" just don't translate into recipe lexicon.  [I remember hearing about this woman who followed Asian grandmothers around, trying to record their recipes for traditional dishes.  I admire that woman so much more now.]  

2.  On that note, there is no perfect recipe.  There's no "secret ingredient."  It's all about adjusting a standard combination of flavors to taste.  Trust me, bulgogi tastes delicious, whether you make your marinade with white sugar, pear juice, or (my mom's latest experiment) blueberries.

3.  Good Korean food tastes, well, Korean.  Obvious, but I think this point is worth making, given all the adulterated bulls*** I see in LA.  I guess I'm close to being a Korean food purist. 

Don't make things complicated.  Before you reach for the tortillas and weird condiments, just try a recipe using the basic called-for ingredients.  You would think that there are only so many variants of the same ingredients that you can taste, but that would be oversimplifying Korean cuisine (or Chinese, or Thai, etc.).  

4.  The closest thing to a perfect recipe is your mom's home cooking.  It's the food of your childhood, the food you love most.  You go on to try other kimchis, but none of them tastes like the one you grew up with. 

Good Korean food is more than just food.  I know, you're rolling your eyes.  But it's true.  Something is transmitted, from cook to eater, something that hits your gut.  And that's why my favorite Korean food is my mom's.  Because it's the only food that makes me happy at first bite, without fail.

So, no, I don't a recipe for you today.  But you don't really need it! 

 

It starts with a crate of Korean cucumbers (soh-bae-gee).  Yes, you read correctly: A CRATE.  When I asked the staff at the Korean grocery store for a box, they didn't even bat a eye.  DIY preservation, sans the hipster/artisan element.


First, you triple wash the cucumbers.  See how they are straight and relatively short?  Perfect for kimchi.  I had to go to a Korean grocery store to find these, but you can probably substitute other cucumbers.
 

Oi kimchi should be consumed fairly quickly, unlike other fermented kimchis.  So we set aside most of the cucumbers for a quick salt pickle.  These little guys are waiting to be covered in boiling salt water.  The salt bath will be repeated a few times over three days, when the cucumbers will be ready for a rinse and a slice, to be eaten like other Korean banchan.
 

But back to the kimchi.  You trim the cucumber ends, slice them in half, then cut cross-sections into each half (keeping them intact).
 

The cucumbers are then tossed in very coarse sea salt.
 

Then you triple rinse and finely chopp a s*#@ ton of buchu.  According to Wikipedia, buchu is garlic chives.  It looks a bit like grass, it's oniony in scent and flavor but milder than green onion.  You can find it at a Korean grocery store or, if you're like my mom, you can toss it in the backyard and wait for it to grow. 
 

Ok, now time for the fermented shrimp.
 

The shrimp gets blended with a ton of garlic.  Not literally a ton.  Just enough to raise an eyebrow.
 

It's the smelly stuff that makes the kimchi taste so good.
 

The paste is combined with the chopped buchu.
 

Then in goes a generous amount of gochukaru, which is Korean red chili pepper powder.
 

Combine until you get a paste.
 

And now you get to work.  Real Koreans sit on the ground.  Rookies like me wear plastic gloves.

Using chopsticks to pry open the cucumber halves, you stuff them with the pepper paste mixture and line them up in a ready container.
 

Voila.  This will sit for a day before being put in the fridge.  Or, if you're bacteria-phobic, you can just stick it in the fridge right away.

Photos by Winner Celebration Party and I Heart Woo


Salad's an easy, throw-together lunch that you can make in large quantities ahead of time.  The word "salad" can mean anything from your traditional garden greens salad to chicken salad covered in mayonnaise.  This Israel couscous salad was quick to make and a healthy alternative to the gummy, sauce-laden pasta offered by the school food vendors.

My basic recipe is below, and you can tweak it endlessly until you have a completely different salad.  Any pasta or grain-fusilli pasta, quinoa, barley-would work.  I like Israeli couscous (a wheat-based pasta) because of its large granule size, which lends more texture and bite than regular couscous.  This salad takes about thirty minutes to make and requires minimal stove time. 

Next, I'm thinking of easy, portable meals for this busy week.  The plan so far is steel cut oats for breakfast, a healthy lasagna for lunch, maybe some quick fish or chicken for dinner.  What are you eating?  Do you plan your meals in advance?

Spring Salad with Israeli Couscous

Ingredients

1 box Israeli couscous
1-2 purple beets, pre-cooked
Large handful of wild arugula (I like the extra spice of wild)
Several stalks of asparagus
A few small to medium carrots
Half a cucumber (I used a Persian cucumber)
Feta cheese
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

How To:

  1. Couscous | Prepare your couscous according to the box instructions.  It's more or less like cooking pasta, except the couscous absorbs all the water.

  2. Vegetables | While your couscous is cooking, prepare your vegetables.  Peel and slice the carrots, slice the beets and cucumber, and steam the asparagus for a few minutes until they turn bright green.
     
  3. Toss | When the couscous is finished, toss it in a big bowl with all your vegetables.  Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the whole deal, to taste.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add however much arugula you can handle, and the same for feta cheese.  Store in the fridge and eat straight out of the bowl if you're that hungry.

 

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