My love for Middle Eastern food may be rivaled by my love for Korean food – wonderfully stinky, pungent, spicy Korean food. While Korean food may share some elements with its Asian neighbors, the flavors and fragrances of Korean food are wholly unique. Unusual flavor pairings combine to create little flavor explosions – sweet but spicy with garlic and jalapeños, roasty and salty with sesame oil, hot pepper with a sour kick, light but intense – these are some of the words that come to mind as I envision some of my favorite little delicacies.
I am always surprised (and terribly sad) to find how little experience many people have with Korean food; the fact that I dated a Korean for nearly six years left me delightfully familiar. In fact, my former boyfriend’s parents owned a Korean restaurant for many years, and I spent countless Sunday afternoons gorging myself on Korean BBQ and the delicious stews and dishes that his mother often expertly prepared. There are a lot of things that I miss about my regular immersion into the world of Korean food, but I certainly don’t miss the ten or more pounds I’ve shed since my Korean BBQ excursions have become drastically less frequent! Don’t let all of those vegetables fool you; you can’t eat five pounds of beef in one sitting and not notice a difference in your waistline.
I am so thankful for my exposure to Korean culture and cuisine, and I feel it is my duty to share this love of mine with all of those unfortunate souls who have yet to experience this spicy bliss. It is harder now that I live in Atlanta and am not familiar with the best spots to indulge my cravings for steaming stews and smoky meats. However, I relish any opportunity that I have to take others to my favorite old spots in California or Dallas. Eating Korean BBQ is a naturally convivial experience; what can be more soulfully jovial than sitting in a circle around fragrant meat as it sizzles on the hot coals that occupy the center of the table? When dining on Korean BBQ, it is a community experience with most dishes being shared and passed. My usual favorites include bulgogi (sweet and delicious thinly sliced ribeye), chadorbegi (also thinly sliced beef served with intensely flavored sauces), spicy, bubbling kimchi chigae (kimchi stew), and all of the lovely and surprising little panchan (various small plates similar to tapas, usually consisted of marinated veggies or tofu).
There are so many things that I am inspired to write about as I reminisce about my former life as a fully Caucasian but quasi Korean girl, but I shall save the markets and soups and pastries and ice creams and tapioca spiked beverages for another post… Here, I want to share the only Korean food that I have ever managed to successfully prepare – bulgogi. While I can appreciate and understand what quality Korean cuisine should taste like, how to properly prepare my favorite dishes still eludes me. The subtle nuances that are intuitive to me with other preparations continue to elude me with Korean dishes. I remember attempting a simple Korean wedding soup many times, each new batch as disappointing as the previous. I later discovered that the secret to my boyfriend’s mother’s soup; she used the “dirty” water from rinsing rice as the broth. Somehow that little bit of starchiness made all the difference. Anyhow, I remain intimidated (but not defeated) in my quest to master Korean home cooking. I have a wild plan to seek out the best cook at the Korean Baptist church that sits about a mile from my home, and bribe this woman to teach me how to make my favorite dishes!
In the meantime, I would like to share the only dish I have prepared successfully: bulgogi. This is a combination of recipes that I believe will yield the best results. You can grill this meat or quickly sear it in a hot pan. Serve it with rice and a little salad, and you will have a simple meal of Korean BBQ. Some traditional Korean mamas would tell you to marinade your meat in Sprite or 7up before placing it overnight in the flavorful concoction outlined below, but I typically don’t have the patience.
A side note: They say that Koreans smile upon a girl who can eat, and eat well. Needless to say, my adopted Korean family was always very, very proud. 🙂
- 1 pound of ribeye
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 Korean pear or Asian pear, grated with the juice
- 2-3 cloves of thinly sliced garlic
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp ground red pepper
- 1/3 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- place the ribeye in the freezer for about 45 minutes so that it is easier to slice very thin
- whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a large baking dish, and add the sliced beef to coat
- marinate overnight
- cook on a grill or sear in a hot pan, garnish with more green onions, and serve with sticky white rice
If you want to be really authentic, cook your meat in the center of your table on a little hibachi style grill.
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