Jun Dishes

verb/diSH/ : food or sex or gossip or fiction in real life

Intro to Korean Cooking

I’ve written before that I never cooked growing up, but love of food has nothing to do with cooking, and they’re mutually exclusive. If you can cook the foods you love? That’s a very good life. If you’re interested in Korean food, whether you want to prepare it yourself or just get it in your belly, then consider this a beginner’s course. I’ll use my Korean upbringing as a guide.

Korea is a peninsula, geographically attached to China in the north and surrounded by seas in the Pacific Ocean. It’s where I was born and my parents were born, and generations of my family before my own family of three. Korea’s a country that’s been occupied and fought for at war, and at home. Korea was once ruled by royal dynasties and treasures, before Kim Jong-un and Psy were ever punchlines on Twitter. The Korean royal courts of the earlier centuries dined on the finest foods while paupers barely got by on rice and cabbage, and there’s an addictive k-drama called Dae Jang Geum (The Great Jang-Geum if you want to check it out) all about it. Like, many other peninsulas, Korea’s had to defend its land and preserve its food like it has its culture.

This intro blog won’t touch any kind of “royal” cooking, but serve as an intro to Korean cooking. The culture and history, and not just the ingredients, are the key to appreciating a country’s cuisine. If you’re just into eating, then I can’t fault you for that either. I love to eat.

1. Buy rice. Rice is a staple of Korean cuisine. Koreans aren’t the only ones who live by rice, but we do have story-tale myths about rice so it’s pretty serious. White rice versus brown rice? White rice all the time for me. I’ve recommended starter-size brands of rice at the end of this blog.

I remember when I was nine and my father started dropping massive amounts of weight each week although he ate junk day and night. We discovered he had diabetes. He wasn’t allowed to eat white rice for a long time after that and our family switched to brown rice. I hated it, and so did my dad. He’d always loved American junk food. It’s something he’d never really had until he moved to America from South Korea in 1976. My father grew up very poor compared to my mother, in Seoul. My dad always told a story of how he’d bought a can of 7 Up with his own money when he was a boy, and how strong it had been to his non-Western palate that very first time. So he’d poured the whole can into a bowl of rice and eaten it all, like soup. My mother always laughed at how cute the story was, and my dad had always laughed along and winked at me. That wink meant something more than just cute. That 7 Up meant a lot to him! I’ll never forget that rice story and just how different my father’s upbringing was to my mother’s, mine or my brother’s. I’m glad my dad got to eat all the white rice he wanted again once his diabetes was under control years later. I hope he’s in heaven right now eating all the white rice and 7 Up he wants, just not together ever again.

Rice was a staple for the poor and the rich throughout Korean history, and still is now.

2. Buy a rice cooker. It’s just easier. I’ve grown up with Zojirushi rice cookers all of my life, and I know Amazon’s got some sleek fancy ones on sale. I’ve recommended a few at the end along with the rice. They’re ones my mother used and still use. They’re not fancy, and in fact quite unfancy and low on the price scale for Zojirushi. If you’re into the fancy ones, then more power to you! My mother was never into gadgets and could have made our family’s rice on the stove-top, but it’s a pain in the ass to cook rice on the stove top. You can ask her.

3. Take baby steps. Eating and cooking Korean food should go in stages.

You should pretend you’re a Korean baby eating its first solid foods. My Noah eats Korean food but he’s far from being at the level where I serve him asshole-burning spicy stews and sauces, like I do to my husband Davy. No, Noah right now is eating the simplest-prepared foods which are also healthiest. I sometimes mix some steamed white rice with Korean Sesame Spinach and other simply prepared but “Korean” veggies, similar to a “Baby Korean Bibimbap” and Noah eats it up until the bowl is empty.

 

NoahBibimbap

Each ingredient in Bibimbap is a good starter Korean food. If Noah can do it, then you can too.

I’ll cover more common ingredients and starter tips in the next in the series!

Always dishing,

Jun

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21 comments

  • What a great new series! One of the things that I have missed the most while living here in the middle of Nowhere, France, is the availability of non-French food. However, it turns out that there is a gigantic pan-Asian market in Bordeaux, about 45 minutes from here, so hooray. I did have to leave behind a new and perfectly nice mid-range rice cooker upon leaving the States (wrong kind of plug), and so I must ask whether you have any additional suggestions for rice cooker brands, because the vast array of rice cookers at the grocer kind of had me careening through the aisles like Robin Williams in “Moscow on the Hudson,” but when I checked out the Zojirushi on amazon.fr, the prices made my knees buckle. Anyway, the sesame spinach is now on the next-trip-to-Bordeaux shopping list. What the hell, we were out of soy sauce (which you can’t get around here) anyway.

    Also, if it’s not too irritating, a stupid Big Brother question: do they let the houseguests have cookbooks? asks this avid but very non-intuitive cook….

    • No books allowed in the house at all, except The Bible.

      Yay for Bordeaux! I’ll be doing a shopping list basics for Korean staples in the next blog!

  • I thought that I was the only one who has a hard time making rice on the stove. My mother’s was always perfect unless she was hiding failed attempts.

  • Anonymous on September 5, 2013 at 2:02 pm said:

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    I am SO excited to try your recipe for Bibimbap. I’m new to the blog so I missed the first post. There’s a restaurant/convenience store where I live that makes a wonderful version of this that Inswear I could eat everyday…but all the recipes I’ve found online are extremely complicated. Yours is simple enough for me to take on, I think. I will probably need to try the sesame spinach too. BTW…this is way more interesting (and less controversial) than all the Big Brother stuff which I recognize may be a necessary evil but clearly you have way more to offer us than break-downs of reality shows and the personalities that inhabit them. Thanks again for broadening my culinary experience!

  • I have a question and it may be stupid. Is there a big difference in rice? I use minute rice. I make homemade chinese food have never tried Korean food. The minute rice seems to taste fine to me but really have nothing to compare it to.

    • Well if you try out the suggestions I put up (you don’t have to buy through Amazon if you can find it in an Asian market nearby) you don’t even have to invest in a rice cooker. Most Asian groceries now carry microwave steam-able Korean rice in individual portions. Try it. You’ll taste the difference!

  • I use Basmati (white) rice, with the water to rice:ratio 2 to 1. The rice should soak in the water for about 15 minutes prior to cooking. If desired, add about a teaspoon lemon juice and/or about 1/4 teaspoon of lemon zest (grated lemon peel) to the water, then bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. This is a very easy, yummy and fluffy, no-fuss stove top rice.

  • Dawna Arndt on September 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm said:

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    My hubby is half Japanese, been married 30 years so I’ve got the rice, stir fry & sushi down. Korean sounds fun! Adore Noah, have loved watching his personality shine!

  • I always made rice in a rice cooker and it was most often terrible. so for a long time I just didnt make rice. then they started having the cooking channels and I watched people make rice and realized i could throw out the awfull rice cooker and make good rice easily and most of the time well. I learned to cook rice at 65 years old from tv. now I can learn to make some of the rest of the yummy foods from the net. life has really changed. and yet its still about the same basic foods they ate centuries ago.

    Im sitting here trying to remember when cooking rice came into my life. I can not remember rice being cooked by my Russian grandmother, or my Irish grandmother, or my mom. We ate rice out made into yummy foods at various ethnic food places. But there is a black hole when cooking it came into my life. wow strange things that get zapped by brain accidents.

    Now rather than take you out for lunch im wanting to eat lunch at your house.. LOL

  • I love my rice steamer. I have the Z-NHS-10 model. This way I can steam veggies or dumplings while my rice cooks. It is easy to use and clean. I use the extra fancy rose boton rice. It is what is available in my little neck of the woods. I don’t like brown rice either, even though I know it’s better for you. Looking forward to your next blog in this series. I am always open to trying new dishes/recipes. If you remember and you post a recipe, can you please include if another meat can be substituted if it’s a pork dish, please and thank you. Question for you. I have allergies to seaweed but I love sushi. I have tried making my own using rice paper. They don’t turn out/look as nice as ones done with seaweed. Any tips you could share for me?

  • It makes me feel pretty good that i had the honor to taste your korean cooking :) not that i can compare to other korean cooks tho , i like it very much

  • I love the idea of diving into a new-to-me cuisine like I’m a baby. I grew up as a very picky eater and even though I have reformed myself to some extent, but new ingredients still make me nervous.

    That said, the Korean dishes I have had (largely meat dishes) in restaurants, I have loved so there’s hope.

Feel Free to Dish!