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Grandma's Kitchen:   Korean Homestyle Cooking

Grandma's Kitchen Picture by Youngmoo & Katherine Kim
Korea is a country of extraordinary contrast and diversity. The peninsula is bordered on the west, east, and south by water while rugged mountains inland give way to rolling hills, plains, and estuaries on the coasts. For 200 years, it was known as the Hermit Kingdom, but in September 1988 South Korea hosted the Olympic Games in Seoul to a record 161 countries, 13,600 competitors, 250,000 tourists, 15,000 journalists, and some 3 billion television viewers.

If you find yourself in Seoul, you might question the appellation "The Land of the Morning Calm," in this – the fifth largest metropolis in the world. Yet look closely in the shade of the modern high-rises and you will see palaces, shrines, and city gates which are over half a millennium old. Take a step back and you will see that four mountains in four directions further dwarf the skyscrapers.

Not surprisingly, Korean cuisine reflects the colorful variety of its land and the passionate temperament of its people. Korean meals are served buffet-style with meat, poultry, and fish dishes served concurrently with an impressive assortment of vegetables for sampling, rather than for individual portions.

Historically two distinct types of Korean cooking can be noted: the cuisine of the royal court and the home cooking of the common people. While court cuisine is characterized by highly refined seasonings and elaborates cooking procedures, homestyle cooking is less complex and elegant. In general, Korean food is heavily seasoned, typically with some combination of garlic, red and black pepper, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, and sesame.

The following recipes are two popular examples of homestyle cooking, simplified and passed down through the Kim family. The first, bulgoki, advertised in the West as Korean barbecued beef, is usually cooked over a dome-shaped charcoal grill (or gas grill in Korean restaurants) but can easily be adapted to an oven at home.

Bulgoki (Barbecue Beef)   (Serves 6)

  Ingredients
  • 1 lb. lean beef (for example, sirloin tip)
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 2 1/2 T. soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium green onions, chopped or sliced
  • 1 t. sesame seed, toasted and lightly pounded
  • 1/8 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 t. sesame oil
Directions:

Cut the beef against the grain into thin slices about 1/4” thick. Place the beef in a bowl. Add sugar. Mix well. Let it stand for 10-15 minutes. Combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Marinate the meat for at least 15 minutes (longer is better and two hours is recommended) before cooking. Grill on a charcoal fire or oven-broil at 450 °F for about 1 minute on each side or until browned.

Perhaps Korea’s best-known dish is kimchi, a pickled cabbage whose potency was addressed by more than one U.S. journalist during the Seoul games. (The Olympic kitchen staff reportedly prepared 2 3/4 tons of it!) In fact, kimchi is the Korean national dish and is found at every meal as sure as steamed rice. In autumn, it is traditional for Koreans to prepare large amounts of kimchi and bury it in jars, thus utilizing the earth to preserve it for the winter months when fresh vegetables are scarce. Except for the modern use of the refrigerator, the method of preparation has changed little over the centuries. Its ingredients and spiciness varies, but a simple version of the recipe follows.

Kimchi (Pickled Cabbage)   (Makes 1 gallon)

  Ingredients
  • 3 medium (approximately 9 lbs.) Napa cabbages
  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 2 medium white radishes, peeled and shredded
  • 1/3 c. red pepper powder
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely crushed
  • 2 t. ginger root, finely crushed
  • 5 green onions, sliced
Directions:

Cut the cabbage into 1 1/2" squares. Place the cabbage in a large container and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 2 or 3 hours or until the cabbage becomes soft. Rinse the pickled cabbage with water once and drain. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Place the cabbage in a gallon-sized glass jar (plastic containers will stain and retain the odor) and leave in a cool place for 3 or 4 days until it tastes a little sour (ferments). When it is ready to eat, store it in the refrigerator (which will stop the fermentation).

Written by a mother and daughter team, this is a part of our continuing series from Grandma’s Kitchen.

If you have any easy, tasty Asian recipes to share, please send them to us at P.O. Box 23744, San Diego, CA 92193-3744. E-mail: editor@jadedragon.com

Other recipes from Grandma's Kitchen:

Soybean Magic
Fiesta – Filipino Style
Chinese Kitchen Medicine
Filipino Party Foods
Healthy Summer Eating
Inarizushi
Vietnam’s Chicken in Lemon Grass
Prosperity for the New Year
The Fine Art of Korean Cooking
The Ever Pan-Tropic Bamboo and Indonesian Soup
Tofu Bubble and Chinese Cabbage
Shrimp Hui Tofu
Fighting the "Baby Fat" Blues with Asian Food
Connie's Cuisine
Eat Drink Man Woman - Starring .... Food
Asian New Year's Recipes
More Asian New Year's Recipes

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