Sunday, 4 January 2015

S for South Korea

Dee:  “Of all the cuisines we have explored so far, I’ve found that of South Korea to be the most challenging.  Many of the recipes I researched contained highly specialised ingredients which I’d never heard of before.  Of course, that’s the whole point with this blog, and with hindsight, I probably should have started my preparations earlier, but there is also a cost implication.  I had no idea how often I’d be cooking South Korean food, and could be spending money on potentially expensive ingredients which I’d only use once or would deteriorate before I used them again.  However, I managed to find some workable recipes, mostly on the excellent SBS food channel web site, which is based in Australia, and a recipe I already had from a Jamie Oliver cook book.  I was happy that the recipes I selected did the cuisine justice while also using readily accessible ingredients.
I quickly discovered that South Korea has a distinct culinary identity, with regional variations, as specialised as those of nearby China and Japan, but is far less well known, at least in England.  I have a vague recollection of seeing Kimchi, perhaps the best known South Korean dish here, on a menu in a Wagamama restaurant, but apart from that, the cuisine was completely new to me.
After finishing the meal I’m glad we selected this cuisine as it’s certainly piqued our interest to explore it further.  A visit to Birmingham’s Topokki Restaurant could be on the cards.”

Sweet Potato Vermicelli and Beef Stir-Fry (Japchae)
Dee:  “We made a slight change from the published recipe here by cooking the noodles separately and serving them as bed, before adding the rest of the ingredients.  We weren’t able to source sweet potato noodles so used rice vermicelli instead, and we weren’t sure it would stand up to being stir fried.  The thinly sliced beef retained the flavour of the marinade nicely, and the toasted sesame seeds made for a nice tasty garnish.  I also liked the addition of the spinach, which I hadn’t seen used in a stir fry before.  If I was to cook this again, I think I would retain the water that was used for rehydrating the dried mushrooms, and add it to the cooking water for the noodles to give them a bit more flavour or perhaps to loosen the stir fry sauce, but it was still a great stir fry as it was.”

Bonus Dish:  Cabbage and Celery Salad
Recipe adapted from one in ‘Jamie’s America’ by Jamie Oliver
Dee: “I’ve included this as a bonus dish because it’s not an authentic South Korean recipe.  It’s my adaptation of Jamie Oliver’s adaptation of Kimchi, a South Korean salad created from fermented cabbage and seasonings.  However, what I produced was certainly in-keeping with the stir fry which we served it with.  I used a mixture of finely chopped cabbage and celery, rather than just cabbage on its own, which I first cooked until soft and then left to marinate for several hours in a mixture of sesame oil, garlic ginger, salt, pepper, vinegar and chilli.  The finished product had a soft texture with strong flavours, both sweet and savoury in equal measures.  It wasn’t overly hot despite having about four dried chillies in it, and as Jamie recommends, it would make a great relish on a burger or sandwich.  As luck would have it, there’s enough of it left over to allow us to use it for just that.”

Sweet Pancakes with Persimmon Punch (Hotteok with Sujeonggwa)
Dee:  “What a great discovery these were.  The Persimmon Punch (Sujeonggwa) was sweet, silky and smooth, with a big hit of cinnamon (and we only used one cinnamon stick for half the recipe rather than the suggested 6) and only the slightest hint of ginger.  The persimmon slices and pine nuts added two different textures making the whole thing into a sort of dessert mocktail.
The pancakes (Hotteok) were described as street food served in winter, so ticked both boxes for me as I love street food recipes and we’re still in the depths of winter as I write this blog entry.  These yeasted pancakes were made from a sticky dough rather than a thin batter, and had a texture similar to tiny flatbreads with a sweet filling, cooked in a hot pan.  The dough was quite tricky to work with but once I’d oiled my hands I managed to bring it under control and was able to form the pancakes.  The filling, made from a mixture of sugar, cinnamon and toasted nuts really made the pancakes into sweet treats.  The published recipe for both the pancakes and the punch were for ten servings so we made half.  It was difficult not eating all the pancakes, but somehow we managed to save enough for another day, with plenty of the punch left too.”

Soundtrack:  Beautiful Rivers and Mountains; The Psychedelic Rock sound of South Korea’s Shin Joong Hyun 1958-1974
Dee:  “This sounded to me like the sound of a thriving underground scene and effortlessly mixed elements of pop, rock and jazz into a collection of songs which had both freeform and structured melodies.  It didn’t particularly go hand in hand with the meal but it didn’t really matter.  The musicianship was first class, and although very much rooted in the decades in which it was recorded, the songs retain a nice vintage quality.  There are tracks from a number of artists who Shin Joong Hyun worked with over the course of his career as well as from the man himself.  There were many great tracks on the album so it was difficult to pick a favourite, but I particularly enjoyed Jang Hyun’s garage rock-like ‘pushing through the fog’ and the 10 minute title track, a huge sweeping keyboard and acoustic guitar led musical journey.  Further reading up on Shin Joong Hyun revealed that he is viewed as South Korea’s godfather of rock and, at the height of his career, was held in the same esteem as Jimi Hendrix and Brian Wilson.  Acclaim indeed.”

Next week it’s off to the South Pacific:  T for Tonga

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