If you want to learn to cook Korean food and you’re starting from scratch, the first thing to do is find a very large jar. The second is to get a copy of “Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes.” But no need to commit just yet; you can try a few of our adapted recipes first.
The jar, which needs to be glass and very large – like 96 ounces large – is for making kimchi, which is not only delicious (and super-healthy) on its own and an ingredient in many Korean dishes; it’s also a hugely important part of Korean culture.
The book, engagingly written and illustrated by Robin Ha, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design with a bachelor of fine arts in illustration, makes learning this cuisine approachable and fun. She uses her talents as a comic book artist to explain and illustrate techniques and walk you through the recipes.
Don’t worry: Even if you don’t want to make your own kimchi (which you can always buy), you can still jump in and turn out some terrific Korean dishes with Ha, who was born in South Korea, as your guide. If you’re anything like me, you'll be hooked after making just a couple of recipes. After you cook three or four, you'll even start to feel like an honest-to-goodness Korean cook.
Are you game? You'll also need access to a few key Korean ingredients and (if you want to make kimchi) disposable food-prep gloves.
Ha’s “Easy Kimchi” – a basic one starring napa cabbage – is way simpler to make than you might think. Make it once, and you understand basic kimchi technique, which is pretty cool, as there are a jillion types of kimchi. It starts with a quick (45-minute) saltwater brine of the cabbage. Squeeze out the water, put the cabbage in a big bowl with carrots, daikon, ginger, garlic, scallions, gochugaru (Korean chile flakes), saeujeot (tiny fermented salted shrimp, which you'll find in the refrigerated section of most Asian markets), sugar and fish sauce, then put on those gloves, use your hands to mix it all together really well, pack it in the jar and close the lid. Put the jar in a plastic bag (“in case the juice overflows during fermentation”; mine didn’t) and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. After that, it’s ready to eat – but it gets better and better as it sits in the refrigerator, where you can leave it, says Ha, up to a month.
Adapted from “Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes” by Robin Ha.
1 (4-pound) napa cabbage
1/2 cup kosher salt
4 green onions, green and white parts, sliced on the diagonal
1 1/2 pounds daikon radish, peeled and cut into medium julienne
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into medium julienne
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled
10 large cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 cup gochugaru (Korean red chile flakes; may be labeled “red pepper powder”)
5 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons saeujeot (tiny salted fermented shrimp)
2 tablespoons sugar
Trim the bottom of the cabbage and cut it lengthwise into quarters; cut each quarters into bite-sized pieces. Rinse the cabbage in cold running water, then drain. Place the cabbage in a large bowl, sprinkle the salt all over it, then pour 2 cups water over it, and mix well. Let the cabbage brine in the salt water for 45 minutes, tossing it now and then for even salting.
While the cabbage brines, place the green onions, daikon and carrots in a medium bowl. Crush the ginger and garlic together, using the butt of a knife or a mallet, and add them to the vegetables, along with the chile flakes, fish sauce, saeujeot and sugar. Mix well.
After 45 minutes, the volume of the cabbage has been reduced by half. Remove the excess salt by rinsing it well in cold running water. Gently squeeze the water out of the cabbage and put it in a large mixing bowl.
Add the vegetable mixture to the cabbage, and, using food-prep gloves mix it all together really well. Pack into a clean 96-ounce glass jar to within an inch of the top. Close the lid and put the jar in a large plastic bag in case the juice overflows during fermentation. Leave the jar at room temperature for 24 hours. Use immediately or refrigerate up to 1 month.
Yield: 12 cups.
Korean Bean Sprout Salad (Kongnamul Muchim)
Adapted from “Cook Korean!: a Cookbook with Recipes” by Robin Ha.
12 ounces soybean sprouts
1 teaspoon salt
1 green onion, green and white parts, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, plus additional for garnish if desired
Gochugaru (Korean red chile flakes), optional, for serving
Discard any brown bean sprouts, then rinse the sprouts with cold running water and drain. Put them into a medium saucepan, add 1 cup water and the salt. Cover, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium and cook for 7 minutes. Drain the sprouts in a colander or strainer, cool them with cold running water, then drain again. Gently squeeze as much water as you can from the sprouts and put them in a medium mixing bowl.
Add the green onion, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds. This may be served room temperature or chilled. Garnish with sesame seeds, if desired. If you like it spicy, add chile flakes to taste at the table.
Yield: 2 cups.