My adult son recently arrived back in the USA after teaching at Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea for three years. Before he left, he had been living in Los Angeles where he also taught Conversational English to Korean students, so he had already been introduced to Korean food and Korean culture, or at least Korean/American culture. In fact, his LA students frequently cooked for him and made Korean BBQ at his house. When he left for Korea, I knew he would enjoy both the food and the teaching experience since he had already embraced it here. What I didn’t know is that he would fall in love with a wonderful Korean woman (Seung Mi) and that he would bring her to the Upper Valley to meet us before they embarked on their next adventure- marriage!
For the last two weeks, they have been using our home in Lyme as “base camp” as they worked to secure an apartment and employment in New York City. I have introduced her to many American dishes and tonight was her turn to teach me a Korean dish or two. She did all the shopping and planning and kept me in the dark until it was time to get started. ( She purchased the ingredients at the Lebanon Co-op and Yippings Asian Market in West Lebanon.)
I have had a few Korean dishes at Yama in West Lebanon and Hanover, but I had never attempted to make a Korean dish. We made three traditional courses. Bibimbap – a rice and vegetable dish, Bulgogi- a marinaded beef dish, and Dongurandang- a ground pork dish that my husband referred to as mini-burgers.
Since the Bulgogi required a marinade, we tackled that first so that the meat could absorb the Korean sauce. (Bul means fire and gogi means meat). We used shaved rib eye ( the Co-op will shave it for you) and placed it in a bowl. In a separate bowl, we mixed minced ginger, minced garlic, chopped onions and chopped mushrooms. To that mixture, we added soy, picked ginger, and a some Korean BBQ sauce that she purchased at the Asian Market. ( You can make the BBQ sauce, but we used pre-made to save a little time) . And, I am sure you are wondering about the quantities of each ingredient, but we didn’t cook with measurements….Sueng Mi’s mantra to me became “more, more” whenever I would add something to the mixture.Personally, I can’t have too much garlic or ginger so I was happy to keep heaping spoonfuls in. We then poured that marinade over the shaved beef and let it sit at room temperature for two hours.
On to the Bibimbap. (Bibim means mixed and bap means rice.) First we put the rice in the rice cooker. Being the Southerner that I am, I practically lived off off white rice, but we just measured the dry rice, measured the water, let the water boil, threw the rice in, put the top on and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the water was absorbed. Using a rice cooker was a whole new experience. First the rice had to be washed three times, agitating it with your hand for 30 seconds each time- pouring the starchy water off and adding new water each time. Then the cooking water is added, measuring by immersing your hand into the pot, packing down the rice and adding water to the pot until your hand, sitting on top of the rice, was covered to the knuckles. ( Or, you can just use the pre marked water lines provided on the inside of the pot, but what fun would that be? )
As the rice cooked, we chopped and peeled and sliced and gathered the carrots, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers and sprouts and sautéed each ingredient individually in olive oil. Once we tested for doneness ( firm but not crispy) , we then arranged them neatly on a plate. Order. Everything had order. (And when I chopped, she would gently say “smaller, smaller”- her ingredients were cut very precisely- onions were little rectangles, cucumber and carrots were matchsticks, mushrooms uniformly sliced.)
And, the last dish we prepared was called Dongurandang or my husband’s name, mini burgers. (Dongurang means circle). We took a pound of ground pork and placed it in a mixing bowl. We sliced about 2/3 of a package of medium -firm tofu and wrapped it in a cloth to squeeze out as much of the water as possible. ( The tofu will act like breading in meatballs- it helps bind the ingredients together so water needs to be removed. ) This is another instance when Seung Mi kept gently saying “more, more”, encouraging me as I wrung out the tofu. The water just seem to keep materializing! So, if you try this, don’t give up- wring, wring, “more, more”. Once the tofu was sufficiently dry ( it will crumble) , we placed the crumbled tofu in the bowl with the ground pork and combined the two together by hand. The next step involved more chopping and mincing- adding whatever vegetables we wanted and mixing them in by hand. We chose spring onions (white and green parts), mushrooms and carrots.
Once the chosen ingredients were well combined, we selected a heaping spoonful and started to make a meatball. Once I had the ball formed, I squished it down like a small hamburger patty and put it on a plate. I repeated this until the tofu-meat-veggie combo was all used up and I had a plate full of mini-burgers. I wasn’t done yet though. I had to dip each burger into a bowl of beaten egg (no water, just egg) and then place the egg encrusted patty in a pre heated pan coated in olive oil, then I “fried” until browned on one side, then turned and fried the remaining side until done. We also made a dipping sauce of soy, rice wine vinegar, pickled ginger juice and pickled ginger slices.
As Seung Mi got the bowls ready with the Bibimbap, I sautéed the patiently marinaded beef in a pan with the marinade. While the beef cooked, the excess water in the marinade cooked off and left the meat cooking in a very tasty sauce that was served with the meat.
Seung Mi put the final touches on the Bibimbap bowls- a fried egg.
We served everything at the same time and our plates and bowls were loaded. It was like a feast. When I asked if they usually just serve one of these things, the answer was no. Most meals have several dishes…I was stuffed and couldn’t imagine eating like that ( or cooking like that) everyday. But, I am thankful that such a great cook will soon be a part of our family and I am looking forward to being part of hers- especially, since I now know her mother must be a great cook. It was delicious!