Reliance on recipes, to me, is a very American thing. Korean women don't own measuring cups or spoons. You might think that this would leave a large margin for error. Call them crazy, call them reckless, call them geniuses. My great aunt's bin dae dduk (mung bean pancake) always tastes the same. My mom's jang jo rim (salty brisket) always tastes the same. My own oyee kimchi (cucumber kimchi) always tastes the same, for God's sake! It's amazing in the same way that it's amazing that a Pizza Hut pan pizza will taste just as it did when you were 7, if you dare try a slice of it now. Except, of course, unlike Pizza Hut, Korean women seek no guidance beyond what they might have seen their mothers do, or what their instincts tell them. They invoke the mysterious world of ban chan (side dishes)... (I'm in a very dramatic mood today if you haven't noticed.)
Okay, back to Earth. Because we weren't all lucky enough to be born Korean women, I thought I'd share with you recipes for two of my favorite ban chan, both of which you will see are very simple. So there you have it. The secret's out. Korean women may not use recipes, but that's only because there really isn't much to it. Enjoy!
Spicy, Sweet, and Sour Oyee Kimchi
*Note: A few of the below ingredients can only be found in Asian markets; they are denoted with an asterisk and shown in the photo following the recipe.
5 pickling cucumbers (also called kirby cucumbers)
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (not the American kind)*
1 1/2 tablespoons red pepper paste*
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Slice cucumbers laterally so that they are no more than 1/4 centimeter thick. (Basically, slice them to be as thin as possible without endangering your digits!)
2. Put cucumber slices in a bowl and sprinkle salt over them. Mix the cucumber slices around so salt is evenly distributed. Let cucumber slices sit for at least 15 minutes.
3. Add all remaining ingredients. Toss cucumber slices to evenly distribute ingredients.
4. Taste; add more salt/vinegar/garlic/sugar as desired.
Picture: Step 1.
Picture: Red Pepper Paste (left), Red Pepper Powder (right).
Kong Na Mool Moo Chim (Garlicky Bean Sprouts)
1 12-oz package bean sprouts (sold at Whole Foods and most other supermarkets)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1. Bring a medium or large pot of water to rapid boil. Add bean sprouts and cook for only about 1-2 minutes, stirring.
2. Once sprouts are barely cooked through but still crisp, remove from water and rinse once with cold water. Put sprouts in mixing bowl.
3. Add salt, pepper, and garlic. Taste; season more with salt and pepper as desired.