Over the last few weeks I went to my dry cleaning lady’s (Grace) house to learn how to make some of my favorite Korean dishes. When I got to her condo, I could tell right away they were old school. House slippers for guests, white carpeting, photos of grand kids, minimal decor which included a Bible on the coffee table.
Also on display was a shallow bowl of garlic in water, with little green shoots coming out of it. I didn’t know you could do this (to promote garlic shoots to grow), so I’m going to try it!
Joining us the first night was Grace’s postal courier, who had no idea what Korean food was all about, so I give her props for trying it out. We donned aprons and got to work making bul go gi and bean cake, called nokdujeon (I believe there are several names for it). Grace has her recipes written in a notebook. Some measurments were in grams, because that’s how the rest of the world rolls.
For the bul go gi, she took out some meat from the freezer, which made it easier to cut into thin slices. She couldn’t describe what cut of beef to get but Google says sirloin or rib eye. Then we cut up mushrooms, green onion and other veggies and spices and put them all in a bowl. The “secret” ingredients to this dish are pear and kiwi pulp (just made in a blender). I knew about the pear, but hadn’t heard of the kiwi twist before.
I also noticed that for all the recipes, she doubled the garlic! Yowza. She did say she loved garlic and there was a lot of it. She crushes it herself to make a paste and keeps it in a large container in the fridge.
For the bean cakes, we cut up similar veggies and added them to a paste that she made from putting soy beans (previously soaked) and water in a blender. Mix it up and then plop them in a pan of oil like little pancakes.
The bul go gi can be made on the grill instead of over the stove. I had a hard time understanding exactly how to do this – foil? A grill-safe pan? – but for sure the meat takes on an extra layer of goodness when grilled.
For our meal, she also made roasted garlic, homemade kimchi and homemade bean sprout namul, both mainstay side dishes at Korean restaurants and of course rice. I asked Grace if she plates all the food when it’s just her and her husband eating and she said yes.
The next time I went over it was just me and we made chop chae, a traditional noodle dish. To save time, she pre-chopped the veggies before I came over. I am impressed with how neat and pretty everything looks. If it were me, I’d just throw everything in a bowl and not worry about the pieces being so uniform.
I didn’t realize that the noodles used in this dish were made from sweet potato. This is what they look like before being cooked. Like rice noodles, but more brown.
You cook the noodles in water for several minutes while the veggies are sauteing. When the noodles have been drained and cooled, you add them together with the sesame oil, spices and…wait for it….a CUP of corn syrup. Waaaaah! No wonder I loved this dish as a kid so much. Grace started pouring something out of a container and asked what it was.
Grace: See-dup? You know, like sugar.
Me turning white: Syrup!? As in corn syrup?
Gulp. Of course I just smiled and nodded as I read “high fructose corn syrup” on the label. She said I could use sugar if I wanted, which is what I’m going to have to do if I replicate the recipe. I’m actually wondering if sugar is needed at all. The dish is not a sweet dish, so I’m wondering if the corn syrup just gives it that silkiness, which more sesame oil would do. Will need to experiment.
We also made Korean-style sushi with egg, imitation crab, carrots, cooked spinach and what was supposed to be ham, but when I looked at the English translation on the package it was some type of fish cake. She said she usually uses Spam but tried something different this time. Spam would actually taste delicious. In Hawaii we ate loads of Spam, especially in the form of Spam musubi (rolled up in seaweed and rice).
I used to make sushi sometimes with my Auntie Melinda, but it has been years and years. I think my technique was pretty good!
Here are the completed dishes and we had kimchi again as well. Korean food is less intimidating to make than I thought it would be. And it was so super sweet of Grace to invite me into her home and show me how to make all these dishes, not to mention all the work involved.
She still wants to show me how to make mandu, Korean dumplings kind of like pot stickers, which I loved so much as a kid and I’m hoping they are as good as I remember. Yummers.