Korean cuisine is said to have originated from ancient traditions and its recipes have evolved and changed through political, environmental and cultural trends. The cuisine is highly adaptable and malleable just like its people, who survived the Korean War and went on to be one of East Asia’s financial and cultural epicenters. Korean cuisine is largely based upon rice, vegetables, and meats however any self respecting Korean will tell you that the taste and quality of Korean cuisine is dependent on its spices and sauces, the essential ingredients to making delicious Korean food. In essence, ingredients such as soybean paste, soy sauce, red pepper paste and kimchi are the most important staple in any Korean household.
Kimchi – This is a traditional fermented Korean dish made of vegetables with varied seasonings and is the most common ‘banchan’, or side dish, in Korean cuisine. Kimchi is believed to have been conceived in Korea around the 7th century where during the cold harsh winter months, cultivation was practically impossible. In order to survive, people developed a storage method known as ‘pickling’ to preserve their main perishables, vegetables. Throughout the 12th century with the addition of several spices and seasonings, kimchi became increasingly popular. It was only until the 18th century that hot red pepper was finally used as one of the major ingredients for making kimchi. In fact, the modern kimchi has retained the same qualities and cooking preparations that prevailed ever since it was first introduced. The most common seasonings in kimchi include brine, scallions and spices, ingredients can be replaced or added depending on the type of kimchi being made. Some common seasonings also include ginger, chopped radish, garlic, saeujeot (hangul: 새우젓), and aekjeot (hangul: 액젓, fish sauce).
It would be impractical right now to list all the different varieties of kimchi as they differ according to region but if you are interested to learn more about kimchi, the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 historic and current varieties of kimchi. For the rest, here’s a recipe for kimchi using Chinese cabbages.
- 10 cups of water
- 2 Chinese cabbages, washed and cut into 2-inch squares
- 1 cup coarse salt (or kosher or sea salt)
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
- 1 Tbsp chopped ginger
- ½ cup red pepper flakes (kochukaru)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 5 scallions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- fish sauce, optional*
Preparation – In large nonreactive bowl or pot, mix salt into water. Add cabbage to salt water and if necessary, weigh down with large plate so leaves are all submerged. Soak cabbage for 5-6 hours. Remove cabbage and rinse in cold water, squeezing out excess liquid. In a large bowl, mix garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, sugar, and scallions. Add cabbage and coat with seasoning mixture. Pack the seasoned cabbage into a large airtight jar with lid. Let kimchi ferment in a cool place for 2-3 days before serving or putting in refrigerator.
Bibimbap is a signature and wildly popular dish in Korean cuisine. The word literally means “mixed meal.” Bibimbap is a dish with a bowl of white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables (namul) and chili pepper paste (gochujang). A raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef) are usually added to the dish. All the ingredients are then mixed and stirred together thoroughly just before eating.This dish can be served either cold or hot. Bibimbap is rather easy to prepare so we thought you may like to give it a try.
- 2 cups medium-grain Korean (or Japanese) rice
- 1 large cucumber, sliced into thin strips
- 1.5 cups bean sprouts, parboiled and squeezed of excess water
- 1.5 cups spinach, parboiled and squeezed of excess water (3/4 lb before cooking)
- 2 carrots, julienned
- 4 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated if dried and then sliced
- 1 zucchini, sliced into thin strips
- 1/2 lb meat (optional, both and cooked ground meat work well)
- Fried egg as a topping (optional)
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- Sesame seeds
Preparation Cook rice in rice cooker or on the stove. Give cucumber strips a saltwater bath for 20 minutes and then drain. Season spinach with 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp salt, and a dash of sesame seeds. Season bean sprouts with 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp salt, and a dash of sesame seeds. Sauté carrots, mushrooms and zucchini with a dash of salt. Place cooked rice in large bowl and arrange vegetables on top. If desired, beef or egg can be placed in the center. Serve each with small bowls of red pepper paste (kochujang) and sesame oil. To eat, add a small amount of oil and desired amount of red pepper paste to your bowl and mix everything together with a spoon.
Bulgogi – This name of this dish literally means ” “fire meat” in Korean, which refers to the cooking technique – over an open flame rather than the spiciness of the dish. Bulgogi is thin slices of sirloin or other prime cuts of beef. Prior to cooking, the meat is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper and other ingredients such as scallions, onions or mushrooms. This enhances its flavour and tenderness, the slices of meat are then set on a grill and cooked. It is best to keep a close eye on the meat while grilling as it can get tough if it’s left too long. Traditionally the meat is served wrapped in thin lettuce leaves or alternatively you can have it on rice. It makes a great meal or appetizer. If you want, you can even substitute the beef with chicken, fish, or any other meat you prefer. The most important component in preparing Bulgogi is the marination so here’s how to do it properly.
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon monosodium glutamate (MSG) (optional)
- 1 pound beef top sirloin, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
Preparation In a large resealable plastic bag, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, garlic, sugar, salt, black pepper, and MSG. Place beef, carrots, and onions in the bag; seal, and shake to coat the vegetables and beef with the sauce. Refrigerate for at least 2 1/2 hours. It is highly recommended to marinate overnight so as to let the meat soak up all the goodness. Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat. Remove meat and vegetables from marinade, and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil; seal. Discard marinade. Place on grill, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or to desired doneness.