After being accepted into the 2004 Bahrom International Program at Seoul Women’s University, my parents and I celebrated by going out to eat at Sushi Kim, a great Korean restaurant in Pittsburgh’s famous Strip District. It was the first time I had ever eaten bulgogi, a barbecued beef dish and I immediately loved it. Unfortunately when I went to Korea a couple of months later, I never had the chance to eat it. When I wasn’t eating globs of white rice and bean sprouts since the fish served at the university cafeteria still had its eyes and tentacles, I generally feasted on Western fast food in the nearby Itaewon neighborhood, a homesick expat’s foodie paradise. However, since my days in Korea, I have discovered other delicious Korean dishes that don’t involve fish.
I started by making bibimbap, a signature Korean dish that literally means “mixed dish.”It features a bowl of white rice, topped with sauteed and seasoned vegetables, followed by a fried egg. Minus the slice of pizza I had on my first night in Seoul, bibimbap was the first authentic meal I had in Korea. I was one of the first people to arrive at the university due to having gotten in the previous day, so when I arrived at the university, the staff was kind enough to order me lunch from a takeout place. I chose bibimbap since the guy said it was basically just rice and vegetables so it seemed like a safe bet. For my version of bibimbap, I used carrots, spinach, cucumbers, and mushrooms for the vegetables although some recipe versions call for adding meat as well.
- 2 cups medium-grain Korean (or Japanese) rice
- 1 large cucumber, sliced into thin strips
- 1.5 cups bean sprouts, parboiled and squeezed of excess water
- 1.5 cups spinach, parboiled and squeezed of excess water (3/4 lb before cooking)
- 2 carrots, julienned
- 4 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated if dried and then sliced
- 1 zucchini, sliced into thin strips
- 1/2 lb meat (optional, both and cooked ground meat work well)
- Fried egg as a topping (optional)
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- Sesame seeds
- Cook rice in rice cooker or on the stove.
- Give cucumber strips a saltwater bath for 20 minutes and then drain.
- Season spinach with 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp salt, and a dash of sesame seeds.
- Season bean sprouts with 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp salt, and a dash of sesame seeds.
- Sauté carrots with a dash of salt.
- Sauté mushrooms with a dash of salt.
- Sauté zucchini with a dash of salt.
- Place cooked rice in large bowl and arrange vegetables on top.
- If desired, beef or egg can be placed in the center.
- Serve each with small bowls of red pepper paste (kochujang) and sesame oil.
- To eat, add a small amount of oil and desired amount of red pepper paste to your bowl and mix everything together with a spoon.
Next, we had mandoo (Korean dumplings) which I absolutely adore. After a particularly “fish filled” weekend at a host family’s house, someone ordered mandoo which I immediately filled up on. They’re not difficult to make, although they are extremely time consuming.
- 1 lb. lean ground beef or pork
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup finely chopped cabbage (about 1/2 of a small cabbage head), parboiled
- 1/2 cup tofu (1 cake), chopped
- 4 oz mung bean or sweet potato noodles, soaked and then chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 package circular mandoo wrappers (or Japanese gyoza or Chinese wonton wrappers)
- In a large mixing bowl, gently combine meat, onion, cabbage, tofu, and noodles.
- In a separate bowl, combine garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and pepper.
- Pour seasoning mixture over meat and vegetables and mix with hands to combine.
- Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of dumpling wrapper.
- Dip your finger in water and wet the outside edge of the top half of the wrapper.
- Fold the wrapper up to close and then crimp the edges.
- Repeat until the filling is gone.
- You can steam, boil, fry, or saute the dumplings as you wish.
- 2 pounds sirloin, sliced across the grain on the diagonal bias
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon kochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 head green leaf lettuce
With the back of a knife, pound each slice of beef lightly to tenderize it. In a bowl combine the remaining ingredients. The mixture should have thick consistency. Add the marinade to the meat and mix well with your hands, making sure each piece is coated. Cover with plastic and let sit for at least 1 hour.
Cook the beef in one layer on a tabletop hibachi. The meat should be well done, and the outside caramelized. In a bowl, combine sugar and kochujang. Pour sesame oil over the mixture. Serve the beef with green leaf lettuce and the kochujang mixture.