Korean

Galbi-jjim 갈비찜 (Korean Beef Short-rib Stew)

Winter is almost upon us here in South Africa, and with that fresh Northwesterly blowing through the valley, comes the knowledge that it’s time to start thinking about bowls of stew in front of the fireplace again.

Unlike most people I know, I revel in colder climes, loving the darker days and promise of icy rains. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising to know that I enjoy nothing more than spending such days fussing over a bubbling pot of hearty concoctions. Epitomising winter food for so many of us, the humble stew is perhaps arguably the most universal form of cooking. Across the globe, from Inuit blubber stew to the Seychellois fruit bat civet de chauve souris, almost every culture has a stew or two in their collective repertoire.

Though typically regarded as fermenters and grill masters, Koreans are no exception with an array of stews designed to get them through their harsh winters.  Dak-dori-tang (spicy chicken) and kimchijjigae (pork & kimchi) are both classics examples and a bowl of either would warm you right up. Their spicy nature, however, isn’t to everyone’s taste. Traditionally milder in flavour, galbi-jjim is no less hearty, but without the heartburn.

Sweet, rich, and savoury, galbi-jjim is traditionally made with beef short ribs, which are braised till fork-tender and the beef has rendered its flavour into the sauce. Simply served with a bowl of steaming rice and some aged mak kimchi on the side, this stew is a cure for even the darkest winter-blues.

It may be true to say that both dak-dori-tang and kimchi-jjigae ignite a fire in your belly, but equally galbi-jjim is like finding a hot water bottle at the bottom of a chilly bed.

Now to my mind, that’s my ultimate winter-bliss – Korean-style.

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Dak-dori-tang 닭도리탕 (Korean Spicy Chicken Stew)

North or South, Koreans share a universal love for spicy food, and it doesn’t get much more fiery than this hearty stew.

Dak-dori-tang (spicy chicken stew), also known as dak-bokkeum-tang, is a perennial Korean classic, and though the recipe varies across the peninsula it is almost always both fierce and comforting at the same time. Traditionally made from a whole chopped chicken, onions and potato, the recipe can be adapted to your tastes and needs. Though skinned chicken breasts can be used, I personally prefer using boned thighs – they hold up better against the robust sauce, and don’t tend to dry out during the intense cooking process. With regards to the vegetables, again the recipe can be modified to include almost anything you have to hand: carrots, daikon, leeks – all make excellent additions.

Though classified as a stew, dak-dori-tang is actually more of a braise as the liquid is reduced over a high heat, leaving you with a thick and spicy sauce. As the cooking time is quite short (about 30 minutes), it is best to par-cook the harder vegetables before adding them to the sauce. If you opt to use bone-in chicken, it is important to use equal size pieces, making sure that they are well-browned beforehand and you adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Dak-dori-tang 닭도리탕 (Korean Spicy Chicken Stew)

Dak-dori-tang made with chicken pieces on the bone.

Although spicy by nature, dak-dori-tang is no less delicious when made slightly milder, if preferred. Despite their volcanic appearance, Korean chili powder (gochutgaru) and chili paste (gochujang) are actually not anywhere near as hot as they look, making it is quite easy to adjust the dish’s heat without being at the expense of flavour. They actually add a wonderful earthy, smoky undertone, and are definitely worth a trip down to your nearest Asian Supermarket. Though generally quite expensive, both have a very long shelf-life and if you plan to make Korean food they are essential Pantry items. Keep an eye out for Chinese brands as these are often considerably cheaper than their Korean counterparts, with no discernible difference in taste. On that note, a word of warning: under no circumstances should you substitute gochutgaru with any other type of chili powder. Anything else will be way too hot and will undoubtedly be the ruin of your dinner.

Disaster awaits all who are even tempted to try…

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Serve with: freshly cooked white rice along with a select of banchan (Korean side dishes) – I suggest some simple stir-fried cabbage and, of course, a generous portion of mak kimchi!

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Gimbap 김밥 (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls)

Gimbap 김밥 (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls)

Food is so often about memory and for me gimbap will forever remind me of one thing: icebergs.

It may seem like an unlikely association to have with this Korean staple, but it’s hardly surprising given that first time I had gimbap I was sailing across an impossibly blue glacial lake in the heart of Patagonia. I watched with awe as an iceberg the size of a double-decker bus floated by like a feather on water, all the while merrily munching on my gimbap packlunch. It was certainly a surreal experience and one I’ll never forget, both visually and culinarily speaking.

Admittedly Argentina might seem like the least likely place to find gimbap (or kimbap), but our hotel in El Calafate was run by a delightfully un-Argentinian Korean family and they happened to offer gimbap as a packed lunch option. Of course I couldn’t resist ordering it for our planned boat tour on Lago Argentino! At this stage of our trip I was understandably sick of empanadas so I jumped at the chance to try something different. More than that, however, I was intrigued that these Korean expats had deemed gimbap worthy of re-creating in this one-horse town in the depths of Patagonia. It couldn’t be an easy (or cheap) undertaking, so to my mind it most definitely had to be worth ordering!

So yes, Koreans sure do love their gimbap.

With its origins found in the Japanese occupation of Korea, gimbap literally translates to seaweed (gim) rice (bap) and is Korea’s answer to sushi (specifically norimaki), but with a few key differences.

The first major departure is the rice. Whilst short-grained rice is used in both, the difference lies in the dressing. Instead of the rice vinegar dressing that is used in Japanese sushi, gimbap rice is seasoned with sesame oil and salt.

Secondly, the gimbap fillings are all pre-cooked which means that gimbap keeps for far longer than sushi does – making it a popular option for picnics and takeaway lunches. Although typically eaten alone, mini-gimbaps are also served as a side dish to the pre-eminent and spicy manifestation of Korean street food  that is ttoekbokki (떡볶이).

Another key difference is the texture of the seaweed wrapping. Although similar seaweed sheets are used in both gimbap and norimaki, the seaweed used for gimbap becomes much chewier as it is typically eaten long after it has been rolled and as such, absorbs the moisture from the rice.

There are really no limits to the variations of gimbap fillings, but generally speaking the most commonly found are sogogi (beef) gimbap (소고기 김밥) and chamchi (tuna) gimbap  (참치김밥). I have included the ingredient lists for both beef and tuna gimbap below. Once the ingredients have been prepared the process for making the rice and assembling the gimbap remains the same regardless of the fillings.

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Japchae 잡채 (Sweet Potato Noodles with Beef & Vegetables)

One of Korea’s most loved dishes, japchae seems to be one of those dishes that can be found almost everywhere and at any time. Be it at breakfast, dinner or at a party, japchae is almost sure to be a feature. Like so many national dishes in Asia, food can represent so much more than just a tasty meal; in the case of japchae it is all about colour and harmony. Translating as “many kinds of various vegetables” japchae is made with the five colours that the Koreans believe reflect obang saek or world harmony to you and me. Each colour symbolises one of the five universal directions – North (black: beef/mushrooms), East (green: courgette/cucumber), South: (red: carrot), West (white: onion) and, most profoundly, the Middle (yellow: egg).

World harmony aside, the best news about japchae is that it is banting and LCHF friendly! Okay, so there is a bit of sugar in the recipe, but at its core japchae’s sweet potato starch noodles are a great low carb alternative to the regular wheat variety and taste infinitely better than courgette noodles.

Noodles without the carb-induced guilt; now what could possibly be better than that?

To be honest I was a bit hesitant about trying japchae when I first encountered it at a breakfast buffet in Seoul. I had tried cooking with Korean sweet potato noodles previously and it was a bit of a disaster, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it another go. I’m so pleased that I did! Chewy, beefy and incredibly satisfying; from the first bite I knew japchae was going to be one of the first Korean dishes I would attempt to recreate when I got back to my kitchen in Cape Town.

As it turned out, making japchae at home is relatively easy and aside from the sweet potato noodles themselves, all the ingredients are Asian store-cupboard staples. The only real difficulty is that the numerous components of the dish need to be individually prepared and cooked before being assembled, but other than that it is actually pretty straight-forward. Just don’t be tempted to soak the sweet potato noodles for longer than 30 minutes or overcook them as this will affect their texture.

Most of the japchae I had whilst in Korea actually didn’t contain any meat so if you would like to make a vegetarian version of the dish simply omit the beef. If you do, however, want to make a meat version then you can also substitute the beef steak with some mince instead.

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Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)

Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)

Congratulations, so you’ve finally realised that you simply can’t live without kimchi. Fantastic! As my partner would say, you are now officially a bona fide “stinky kimchi-freak” just like me. Charming I know, but he’s most definitely not a fellow fan. Nevertheless, welcome to the Club.

So now that you’ve confessed your insatiable appetite for kimchi, you may be asking yourself the inevitable question, “What exactly does one do with a massive vat of homemade fermented cabbage?”

Whilst delicious just eaten as a side dish (known as banchan in Korea), the truth is that plain mak kimchi can get a little monotonous after a while. Thankfully, however, there’s no shortage of ways in which to enjoy your kimchi-fix. Such is their love of kimchi, the Koreans seem to have based much of their cuisine around its consumption, resulting in a seemingly endless array of dishes that can be made using this spicy Korean staple. Kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakeskimchi risotto and even kimchi ice cream, there are no limits to the wacky ways in which kimchi can be eaten. However, one of the more traditional dishes remains one of the most popular – Pork & Kimchi Stew.

Known in Korea as kimchijjigae 김치찌개, the first time I tried the dish was as part of a Korean BBQ at Galbi in Cape Town, where it was served at the end of the meal with a bowl of rice. To be honest it was the low-point of an otherwise great meal (their sweet potato fries are to die for!), as it was a tad insipid and tasted more like watered down tomato soup than the amazing spicy stew I had been eagerly anticipating. It was not a good start to my budding love affair with kimchijjigae, but considering the restaurant’s actual kimchi was also rather tasteless, it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise that their kimchi stew would also be somewhat lacklustre. Disappointed, but undeterred, I did what I typically do when I feel let down by a dish – I set about making it myself

Mercifully, kimchijjigae is actually very easy to make and only requires a few of the more basic Korean pantry staples. It was only after tasting my first attempt at making it, that I appreciated what a great dish this should be and why it warrants its enduring popularity. Simple and relatively economical to make, kimchijjigae is both deeply satisfying and is the perfect way to showcase kimchi’s hidden depths. Much like kimchi risotto, this stew actually serves to bring out kimchi’s complexity of flavour, something that is typically masked by the spiciness of the kimchi.

Any dish that makes kimchi taste even better is, in my mind, a dish worth making…but then again, if I’m to be perfectly honest, you already had me at kimchi. 

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Sticky Beef Short Ribs

Sticky Beef Short Ribs

If I had to pick a favourite cut of beef, it would simply have to be short ribs; cheap, tasty and meltingly tender, I just can’t get enough of them.

The perfect marriage between meat, bone and fat, short rib is my go-to cut of beef for whenever I am doing a long braise, as it is perfectly suited to being cooked for extended periods. Whether it’s for a spicy Mussaman Curry, a comforting bowl of Beef Phở or a simple cider braise beef, short ribs works a treat with just about any style of cooking, so long as it is afforded enough time to work its magic.

Which brings me to this delectable dish! Robustly flavoured and so tender you can literally suck the meat off the bone, Sticky Beef Short Ribs is a great way to prepare this special cut. Although the dish has all the hallmarks of a classic Chinese style braise, the addition of Korean Soybean Paste (doenjang) does muddle the waters somewhat, resulting in a dish that is equally suited to both a Chinese or Korean spread. If you can’t source any doenjang, regular Chinese Bean Sauce would suffice, or, if you wanted to add a Japanese twist to the dish, you can always try some miso. Personally, if you can, I would stick with the doenjang as it adds a distinctly earthy depth to the dish that neither miso nor Chinese Bean Sauce does.  

Note: As with most other Asian braises, this dish is always best if made the day before, but is still delicious if eaten immediately. If you are making the dish in advance then it is best not to reduce the sauce immediately, but rather wait until you are going to eat it to do so.

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Kkakdugi 깍두기 (Cubed Daikon Kimchi)

Kkakdugi 깍두기 (Cubed Daikon Kimchi)

I have an unholy passion for kimchi and I’m not ashamed to admit it! I simply can’t get enough of this spicy Korean delight and it seems I am not alone. Some of my most popular posts to date have been kimchi related, so I thought it was about time I fed our collective obsession and posted another kimchi recipe. So this time around, I’m making one of my favourite types of kimchikkakdugi or cubed daikon kimchi.

Perhaps second only in popluarity to the almighty mak kimchi, kkakdugi is a great addition to any Korean dining experience. As you would expect with any type of kimchi, this version of the Korean staple is wonderfully piquant and highly addictive; though unlike most others, daikon kimchi has a delightful crunch and crispness to it which helps temper the spiciness of the chilli powder.

Personally, I find the process of making kkakdugi marginally less involved than mak kimchi and the fermenting period is also a little bit shorter, meaning you don’t have to wait quite as along to tuck into your kimchi! On the downside, kkakdugi doesn’t seem to fair as well as other kimchis in terms of its shelf-life, however, this may have more to do with my lack of technique and experience than a shortcoming of the dish!

With regard to technique, making any sort of kimchi is a matter of trial and error. Whilst the core process for making kimchi remains similar for each variety, each version has its own quirks and it may take a few attempts before you end up with a kimchi that suits your own tastes and preferences. Making the perfect kkakdugi has, up to now, been particularly vexing for me as I often find the kimchi comes out too watery and the daikon too limp. I have now taken to draining off the excess water as the kimchi ferments and I have also stopped peeling my daikon – both these seemingly minor tweaks to the process has resulted in a far superior end result (at least in my opinion).

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Korean Grilled Chicken 매운닭구이

Korean Spicy Grilled Chicken 매운닭구이

As I’ve mentioned previously, Koreans love to braai and they do so quite brilliantly. Whilst galbi is the undisputed star of any Korean Barbecue, there are plenty of other yummy options vying for space on your grill – this tasty recipe being chief among them.

This simple recipe is an absolute barbecue wonder and, as with most Korean marinates, has a transformative effect on the chicken, especially if left overnight. Whilst you can get away with marinating your meat for less time, ideally this marinate needs at least 12 to 18 hours to work its magic.

This marinate also works perfectly well with other cuts of chicken, particularly spatchcocked chicken, but obviously you will have to adjust the cooking time accordingly (35 to 40 minutes on a low-medium barbecue)

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Ssamjang (Spicy Korean Dipping Sauce)

Ssamjang Dipping SauceA classic Korean dipping sauce.

Typically eaten with galbi, ssamjang is usually smeared onto a lettuce leaf, along with a morsel of barbequed meat and raw vegetables. Ssamjang’s appeal is not just confined to being a condiment for Korean food; it is also great on burgers and is insanely good in grilled/toasted cheese sandwiches! The soya bean paste gives the sauce a wonderful smoky depth which, in truth, goes with just about any kind of barbequed meat – Korean or not!

For years I have always thought of ssamjang as being a hot, spicy sauce, and why would I think otherwise? Ssamjang is, after all, a Korean condiment. And then, quite by chance, I recently re-read the recipe and realised that I had, in fact, been confusing the quantities of the soya bean and chilli pastes! I was mortified. My beloved spicy ssamjang was, in fact, nothing more than a fiery aberration! At any rate, it turned out to be a happy mistake, as both versions are equally tasty. I have just come to think of my spicy ssamjang as being my personal contribution to Korean cuisine.

The following recipe is actually for the traditional version of the sauce, but if you would like to try my mutant ssamjang, simply reverse the quantities of the chilli and soya bean pastes (i.e. 1/4 cup gochujang and 1 tbsp. doenjang).

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Beef Galbi (Korean Barbequed Beef Ribs) 소갈비

Beef Galbi (Korean Barbequed Beef Ribs) 소갈비A friend of mine once suggested that Koreans have contributed nothing laudable to the modern cultural collective. A tad harsh perhaps, though given the culturally devoid trite that is k-drama and k-pop, she may have had a point. In my opinion though (Psy aside), Koreans get a bad rap and deserve a little bit more credit then they are typically afforded; Korean cuisine is a case in point.

Along with the ubiquitous kimchi, Koreans could also teach the world a thing or two about how to barbeque. Whilst not to everybody’s taste, Korean cuisine has only recently made its mark on the international food scene. Its spicy flavours are gaining popularity at an astounding pace and is the current darling of Asian-fusion cuisine (did somebody say kimchi taco?).

Typically considered the preserve of Antipodean, South African and American cultures, the Koreans are in fact prolific barbequers. Koreans will barbeque virtually anything, but they especially love their beef. Be it sliced steak (bulgogi) or strips of beef short ribs (galbi), the Koreans take great pride in their barbequing traditions, and with good reason – it tastes incredible!

Beef Galbi (Korean Barbequed Beef Ribs) 소갈비So what makes a Korean Barbeque Korean? As with any barbeque, the secret is in the marinate. Sweet and salty, the marinate for galbi is a triumph of flavour, both familiar and exotic. The addition of puréed pear not only adds sweetness, but also helps tenderize the meat.

Whilst the marinate works well with any cut of meat, galbi is specifically made with beef short rib. The way the meat is cut is also slightly unusual, in that it is thinly cut across the grain and along the bone. Each slice of meat should include 3 pieces of bone and can be grilled whole or divided into three pieces and cooked individually. If you can’t source this particular cut of meat, the marinate will also work a treat on pork or any beef cut.

Another thing that sets Korean Barbeque apart is how it is typically served. Apart from the traditional Korean side dishes (banchan) stalwarts of rice and napa kimchi, galbi is normally cut into bite sized pieces, wrapped in a lettuce leaf along with some carrot, cucumber and chilli. It is then smeared with a spicy Korean sauce called ssamjang. Rice aside, this is Banting/LCHF Bliss personified (just leave out the honey/sugar)!

Note: Whilst you can get away with marinating your meat for less time, ideally this marinate needs at least 18 to 24 hours to work its magic.

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