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Chwinamul and Wild Spring Greens

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I don’t think I’ve ever been interested in wild spring greens in my life until this year; looking back childhood, there was a moment my family had a field trip to some countryside with about an hour long of bus ride to dig up some, mostly mugworts(쑥). It happened only once.

Thanks to weekly trip to Kyoungdong Market, now I can realize the presence of them, and have been trying to cook and eat them as much as possible. In the market, there are some booths specialized for greens. Most of them are not very expensive, about 100g/1,000 KRW (about 80 cents?), except fatsia shoots (두릅, Dureup), which is about three times more expensive than others.

I have tried several different kinds of greens, but today I just want to focus on my favorite one, ‘Chwinamul (취나물, not sure how it goes by in English as Wikipedia also goes by this anglicized Korean name),’ Having very pungent aroma, which comes out when snapping the stem (as the lady at the booth would present), and slightly bitter taste in very appetizing fashion, it has been my favorite spring green since I was a kid, when my grandmother would prepare big bowl of them.

There are several different kinds of Chinamuls currently available, but I have only tried the one from Hadong, as the lady merchant recommends it as the best. As I  believed the owners of those specialized green booths were the experts of greens, I asked several more questions other than what was the best of Chwinamuls. And they are:

1. What is the best way to prepare them?

Blanch first, and then clean.

You can cook Korean wild greens several different ways, but to do that you need to blanch first for most of them. The preparation of greens is not really hard, but very time consuming as you have to pick every stem to take the dust off the root end and pick wilted leaves out. In fact, that had been the reason I haven’t really tried to cook them seriously. In some booths you can buy pre-blanched ones but that is not my style as there will be nothing I can learn from it.


When blanching, I borrow the page about “Big Pot Blanching”, from French Laundry Cookbook. I have no idea Korean housewives would season the blanching water as they don’t even think I am someone they can exchange cooking tips with, but I do to avoid over-season it with soy sauce (more about it later). When water reaches to rolling boil, put the greens and blanch 1~2 minutes, and put into cold water bath. When blanching, all the dirt comes out relatively easier, and the rest will take off when rinsing.

ImageOnce cool, drawing out the water as much as possible is the key as the residual water makes the seasoning bland. I know it sounds way too much basic, but I have ran into a lot of watery greens, whether cooked or not, in Korea. Once I had blanched Dureup at Korean restaurant of some five star hotel, and it literally spat the water out when biting. It was about $120 lunch. I am not kidding. Anyway, with the help of salad spinner and heavy duty kitchen towel, you can squeeze most of moisture out.

2. How to season it?


There are some greens you use only salt for seasoning but for Chwinamul, soy sauce works well. But it needs to be different than the one we usually use. The lady said it should be Korean traditional one, called ‘Chosun soy sauce (조선간장)’, which is less sweet and a lot more brinier. As mentioned above, I prefer seasoning it with salted blanching water as too much soy sauce will dominate the aroma of Chwinamul itself with its own one. For same reason, I do not use toasted sesame oil: a little bit of extra virgin olive oil works fine for me. For textual variation and subtle aroma, I sprinkle some dried perilla seed flower on top. Other than that, no garlic or scallion.

Once prepared, you can keep it in the refrigerator at least for three days. Maybe you can keep it longer but for me, it is too tasty to keep it any longer than that.


Written by bluexmas

April 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Food-Korean

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Bulgogi Marinated Cheesesteak

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I have always liked to apply Bulgogi marinade to fajita recipe. Just marinate skirt steak with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and other ingredients for bulgogi maranade and put it in the refrigerator for few hours, or even overnight, then grill and serve like you do for regular fajita. You will find it working really well.
Few weeks ago, I tried Bulgogi marinade to fix Philly Cheesesteak. Not long ago, I bought whole pack of ribeye steak from costco(too much for the single guy, but there meat is the best in both price and quality if going wholefood is not your everyday option, they say it is USDA choice…), which was sliced thinner than
regular ribeye, and put some of them in the freezer after marinating and letting it sit in the refrigerator for few hours. 

There is not something I need to call as a recipe; just prepare ribeye or other thinly sliced cut of beef, and grill or pan fry it, combine with peppers and/or onions, then put everything on the roll(I couldn’t find Italian roll, so just used Wholefood baguette), top with cheese(mine was provolone), broil it few minutes until cheese melts. I always like to use sauteed red onion with balsamic vinegar, so that is my version of Cheesesteak and it was a lot better than I expected.
The side was oven “fried” yukon gold with seasalt and dried oregano. I also cooked potato leek soup with homemade chicken stock I made out of leftover bones and meat scraps after filleting meat from bone and skin-in chicken breast. I don’t even need to have whole carcass to make the stock only for me; split breast gives me aplenty. Overall, it was very nice late fall dinner.

Written by bluexmas

November 30, 2008 at 8:27 am

Posted in Food-Korean

Bulgogi: it is easy in fact

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Do you like Bulgogi? I think it is one of the most popular and well-known Korean foods with Kimchi, however, I guess Kimchi is not as popular as Bulgogi due to its taste and smell based on heavy usage of ground pepper and garlic, along with fermentation which is critical to achieve that unique taste(Thus I guess Kimchi might be more notorious than poplar: in my office, there is legendary guy who used to bring Kimchi for lunch…).

Anyway, I just want to know where you used to eat Bulgogi, and how it tastes like: if you have had it in some Korean restaurants and it have tasted sweet and kind of greasy, I am afraid to say that it might not be the real taste of Bulgogi. I dare to say that. It has been real while I have not eaten out, especially for Korean food, but the biggest impression to meat dish like Bulgogi in most of the Korean restaurant I have visited was too sweet and greasy. I have no idea how they have come up with that taste, but for me, the sweetness from sugar should not overpower the entire taste spectrum; as known, the main ingrediets for the Bulgogi marinade are soy sauce and sugar, but neither of ingredients should overpower. I know it sounds very much cliche, but there should be some kind of balance between the saltiness from soy sauce and the sweetness from sugar, as well as other minor ingredients takes care of aroma and  other subtle flavors. In overall,  soy sauce gives the background of overall flavor with saltiness and the aroma as well, and for me, the sweetness should come as the aftertaste of other ingredients like garlic, green onion, and toated sesame seed oil. Again, not overpowering like in ones you used to eat in most of the Korean restaurants in US is very important.

In Korean groceries I used to buy Korean cut meats, they label the Bulgogi cut as ribeye(and it looks like thinly sliced ribeye). In Korean cookbooks I have for the reference, the corresponding cut is actually sirloin. I do not know which one is right, but it doesn’t matter much to me. If you can find thin cut of beaf with some fat, it will be fine as the Bulgogi marinade can be used in any cut of beef if you want to(Galbi, the Korean rib, used to be marinated same way).

As mentioned above, soy sauce and sugar are the main ingredients in the marinade, and by the cookbooks, there ratio should be 2:1, and here is the recipe:


Thinly sliced beef : 300g(0.66 lbs)

Soy Sauce: 2 1/2 Tbs

Sugar: 1 1/4 Tbs

Scallion, minced, only white part: 1 Tb

Garlic, minced: 2 tbs

Tosted sesame seed salt: 1 tb

Tosted sesame seed oil: 1/2 tb

Pinch of pepper

As mentioned, the most important thing in this marinade is to keep the ratio of soy sauce and sugar. You can either add or subtract the other ingredients based on your preference. These days, most of Bulgogi recipe in the Korean cookbooks calls for some kind of citrus for tenderizer: pineapple, kiwi, etc. I think it will be OK without it, but if you must, I think the juice of Asian pear is the best and closer to the tradition, as its smooth sweetness without tartness works very well with other marinade ingredients as well as the tenderizer.

How to prepare Bulgogi? Just mix all the marinade ingredients in one ball, and mix well. Then pour it to the meat and toss well, and keep it in the refrigerator for few hours to a day before you cook. As for the cooking(grilling in fact), use very hot pan and cook it quickly. If you choose right cut with right thinkness, it will not take more than few minutes to cook it thoroughly.

I don’t think to make Bulgogi is such a big deal: it neither requires prolonged cooking time nor extensive ingredients list. If you keep the ratio of sugar and soy sauce, the failure will never be yours as far as making Bulgogi.

If you once feel comfortable with making Bulgogi marinade, you can apply it any kind of cut of beef. I will find my database(which is just a hardrive contains picture of food I have been cooking in fact), and come up with other kind of western beef dish in which I applied Bulgogi marinade.

Written by bluexmas

November 19, 2007 at 6:18 am

Posted in Food-Korean

Holy Mackerel!

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I know some people say ‘Holy Mackerel!’, but I am not so sure how many among them have eaten the real fish. In fact, I never seen any western restaurant serves dish with the mackerel. After my 10 seconds research, I found out the restaurant named Holy Mackerel*, but even there is no mackerel dish. What an irony!

In fact, I cannot think of any kind of western dish can use the mackerel as its main protein ingredients since no sauce combination comes to my mind. However, cooking and eating mackerel is very simple, and neither sauce nor complicated cooking is needed; you just can salt and grill them, and that is it. When I was a kid, the mackerel was the main fish(or protein) comes to the table very often, mainly because it was inexpensive and readily available, and very delicious and nutricious as well. When there was no mackerel available, either fresh or frozen, we could have canned one with the sardine as the alternative. However, the story has been somehow different as the mackerel has been a little bit rarer than when I was a kid mainly because of too much fishing(I do not have any research can back this up, but I remember I heard it from news).

I guess one of the reason people don’t eat the mackarel is its smell; when it is not fresh, I think the smell is worse than other fish because of their dark flesh, and it rots really fast as they get caught and die. Therefore, it is hard to get mackerel sushi or sashimi even if you want to; I always ask the chef that they have one that day, but sometimes it is pickled with vinegar or slight cooked even if they have.

 Anyway, the mackerel has a lot fat, so they can hold up during the prolonged cooking method like braising(it is not like braising short rib; it would take only about 30 minutes with soy sauce marinade and thickly sliced radish or potato on the bottom of the pot). However, simple grilling is always good choice if you want to taste the meatiness of the mackerel: you just sprinkle generous amount of kosher salt on both side, and put it on the toaster oven with broiler mode for about 7-10 minutes(or even less: I tend to overcook fish) each side, but always skin side down first. By cooking skin side later, you can have crisp skin with very moist, juicy, and slightly fatty meat underneath it. I used to buy one mackerel from the Korean grocery store and get the gut and fin out, then cut it into smaller pieces,  put those on the foil, and salt and wrap them. You can always freeze pieces you will not eat soon, and thaw them the day before you eat in the refrigerator(safer way to thaw, you know that). And when the time comes, you just can unfold the foil and put it on the toaster as I mentioned above; do not forget to poke some halls at the bottom of the foil so that excessive fat can be taken out.

 The one I cooked the other day(in the picture) had some blisters on the skin as if getting bombed by napalm, but the flesh was very moist. Few weeks ago, I’ve been to Wholefood in my neighborhood and saw some kind of mackerel. I do not know that was what I used to eat, but will figure out next time.

* The restaurant looks likes having some connection with legendary Harry Carey.

Written by bluexmas

November 15, 2007 at 9:38 am

Posted in Food-Korean

Pork Bulgogi with Red Pepper Paste Marinade

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Bulgogi, the Korean style marinated and grilled meat is the most well-known among Korean dish to the non-Koreans. You can cook the bulgogi with pork, but in that case it is better using red pepper paste(gochujang) than soy sauce. The pork just tastes better with it, and the red pepper paste works well with the smell of pork which somebody may not like. In addition, ginger matches very well with pork.

This recipe is from the book I have, and one of the most basic recipe for pork bulgogi.


Slice Pork 600g (a little over 1 1/4 lb): Pork butt is good for this recipe, I can buy it sliced(thin, but not to thin) from Korean grocery. If you like pork belly, it is fine, even if I think it is too greasy for marinade recipe. If you can’t go to Korean grocery, you can do it with any sliced pork you can find in ordinary grocery, but it is always better to have one with little fat than leaner pieces. Thus I would buy Pork Steak: it is inexpensive than pork chop and very tender with moderate amount of fat spread all over the cut.

Leek or green onion, thinly sliced(preferrably cut diagonally)

Red Pepper Paste (gochujang): 2 Tbs

Soy Sauce: 1 Tb

Toasted Sesame Seed: 1 Tb

Toasted Sesame Oil: 1 Tb

Ginger, finely minced: 1 tb(I prefer adding more)

Garlic, minced: 1 Tb

Sugar: 1 Tb (I think honey is better)


1. Mix all ingredients except pork for marinade

2. Put pork in the marinate and mix well

3. Put in the refrigerator. Marinade it about an hour to preferrably overnight

4. Put the pan on medium high heat and grill them. The marinade can be burnt even before the meat it cooked if the heat is too hot, so please pay attention.

Usually the lettuce accompanies beef bulgogi, but the sesame leaf is the one works perfect with pork one, as the aroma of sesame leaf brings good balance to the pork and its smell.  As mentioned, this marinade is very basic for the pork, so you can use it for almost any cut of pork if you want to.




Written by bluexmas

November 11, 2007 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Food-Korean