17 February 2010

my korean grandmother?

when carl makes a good pasta sauce, or homemade gnocci, he jokes "ahh, just like my italian grandmother used to make." he makes the same joke for any other dishes we prepare, which originate from far away lands. lately, we have been honoring my "korean grandmother." this winter, i find myself dead-set on perfecting a couple of korean dishes that i am particularly fond of. i am not necessarily interested in preparing them in the most authentic manner, as i am attempting to replicate something i have tasted before.


when i co-taught a food preservation class with stephanie last fall, we did a hands-on demonstation of lacto-fementation. you don't use milk (as i initially wondered), the lacto refers to the lactic acid that is released from vegetables when you agitate them with coarse salt and allow them to ferment at room temperature for a couple of days. those acids serve to preserve the food, and saturate it in irresistible, complex flavors. this process is used in the making of kimchi, a korean sort of sour kraut, which is usually extremely spicy-hot. my friend erica shared some from a (not spicy) batch she had made, and i almost devoured the entire quart jar on the spot. there was something nearly addictive about the taste. it was crunchy, slightly sour, and utterly compelling. my taste buds just couldn't get enough. since then, i have been trying to duplicate it. my first batch wasn't even close. i used something like nappa cabbage, only leafier, and it lacked the crispness i was hoping for. when i tried again, i used a green cabbage head, and this recipe, with a great deal of modification. for instance, i didn't hug my cabbage, but i did infuse it with good vibes--and, apparently too much red chili for my taste. it actually turned out really well, but as it aged, the heat increased, to the point where a table spoon at a time was all i could handle. but, i am encouraged that i came close, and i will keep trying. that recipe calls for fruit, which seems odd to me. i skipped all the fruit, except the lemon, and next time, i won't include it either.
*also pictured here are tsukemono, from my "japanese grandmother." but that is for another post.

I've also been making korean-style vegetable pancakes (pa jun). i first tasted these at a lovely little korean bar-b-que in, of all places, the town i grew up in, in southern missouri. as a vegetarian, the pancakes were pretty much my only option at that place, but they were terribly delicious. it has been twenty years, and i have never forgotten them. i only started making them at home this fall, after tasting some less-than-satisfying ones at a korean church fundraiser, here in town. i looked up recipes on the web, found this informative, and slightly amusing video, then started experimenting on my own. i find that making a bunch of small ones, is easier for me than a single, pan-sized one, and also offers more surface area for the crispy edges, which is the whole point, as far as i'm concerned. they are very easy to make, which surprised me, because i have a habit of really messing up breakfast pancakes. what's different about these is that you're not going for fluffy and light. it's flat and crispy you're after. so, you can flatten them out with the spatula, as they are browning in the skillet. we keep fizzy water by the case in our house, so when i found a recipe that included seltzer, i knew it was the one for me. you can use whatever vegetable combination appeals to you, as long as it includes tons of scallions. below is what i prefer. serve with a simple soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil mixture, for dipping, and of course, kimchi on the side.
mmmm. just like my korean grandmother, in springfield, missouri!

pa jun (korean pancake)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup seltzer water (plain water is fine too)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of white pepper

two bunches of scallions, sliced in half lengthwise, then chopped diagonally, about 2 inches long
1 carrot, julienne cut
a few mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 hot green chili
olive oil

first, prepare all the vegetables. then mix the batter. add the vegetables and stir, just enough to coat them in the batter. heat some oil (a tablespoon or so) in a heavy skillet. once the oil is hot, drop about a half cup of batter in, and spread the vegetables out. repeat, for as many as will fit in your skillet. cook over medium high heat, until the bottom browns nicely, then flip, to brown the other side. at this point, you can press down on the pancake, with at spatula, to flatten, and spread any uncooked batter out into the pan. add more oil if needed. when both sides are crispy, remove from heat. these are best when eaten just off the stove. you can keep them warming on a baking pan in the oven while you cook the rest, but they tend to lose their crunch.


6512 and growing said...

Lacto-fermentation is very sexy. Glad to read about it here!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!! I'm showing dh this. I hope we can duplicate your success. We won't be trying until we grow our next crop of nappa cabbage though.