July 6, 2016

Thriving Garden, Busy Kitchen

The thing about growing your own vegetables is that you get an abundance of whatever you decide to plant. For us, it's been loads of lettuce, green onions and cucumbers! Cukes have been a wonderful surprise {I didn't have a lot of hope for them} as well as our green onions as they all died last year but are thriving in our garden currently. 

We picked a bunch yesterday and decided to get busy in kitchen -- we made cucumber kimchi and haemul pajeon, or to roughly translate, seafood pancakes. 

I won't post the exact measurements and the how-to here. You can follow the link to get recipes from Maangchi {my parents and Maangchi literally taught me how to make Korean food -- Yangkyu likes to rely on recipes from Baek Jong Won, a re-known chef in Korea}. And if you'd like, you can stick around here for a couple of stories and to see how ours turned out. 

Years ago, my mom gave up on meat. Not necessarily because she wanted to become a vegan or a vegetarian but because she all of the sudden did not like the idea of consuming meat from factories and butcheries that could very well not be sanitary. 

She also gave up on kimchi sold at grocery stores because she didn't trust that everything was clean. 

And so she made her own kimchi. Not using napa cabbages, because that just takes too long, but she made them from yellow pickled radish. If you ever had kimbap, you'll find a small piece of yellow pickled radish amongst other stuffed goodies. That my friends, can be quickly and simply marinated to make kimchi. 

I had some and liked it {even though I am not a fan of yellow pickled radish! I pick them out of my kimbap!} and tried to make it on my own but it didn't taste like how ma made it {what is it with moms and their special magic hands?!}. And while I still go out and buy my napa cabbage kimchi at the Korean market, I have also picked up on the habit of making a small batch using vegetables other than cabbages - like bok choy and cucumbers. 

I learned that a lot of different spices and other ingredients get used and reused in different Korean recipes. Like soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, sesame seed, minced garlic, sugar {or honey}, red pepper flakes  -- these are staples. 

When I first started to get serious about cooking Korean food, I was fumbling and reading the recipes to the T and being super exact with measurements. But after a good while, I learned how to eye ball. I learned how to improvise. I learned how to make things without recipes because I had memorized the essential staples for Korean food (plus a few extra like corn syrup, sand lance sauce, vinegar, etc.)

So yesterday, we made a good helping of cucumber kimchi. I remember later that it would've been nice to add a dash of vinegar as well. Sort of adds an expected kick {unexpected kick for me because I don't really like vinegar and think it'll taste and smell awful but ends up adding such good flavor}. 

Our cucumber, while beautiful in every way, has an earthy taste and it's a bit bitter as well. Hopefully future batches won't be as bitter. 

We also decided to make Haemul pajeon yesterday because we also had an abundance of green onions waiting to be picked. They smell incredible by the way. So different from store bought ones. 

A couple of random things about haemul pajeon for us -- Yangkyu is allergic shrimp and so he avoids haemul dishes whenever he can. Or he picks out the shrimp and gives them to me. Yesterday, I had an abudance of green onions and shrimp. 

I am also terrible at making pajeon. 

For me, pajeon is like introductory to cooking Korean food. It's basic. And while the process of making pajeon is simple and easy enough, the food is comforting. 

Pajeon should be thin enough so it doesn't look like bread. But mine always came out thick. And it breaks during the flipping process.

It might have been a no brainer, but the trick was when you put the batter on the frying pan -- putting just enough so it doesn't turn out like bread, and thinning it out with a spoon or a spatula. This step has always been so tricky. 

But yesterday, I think I made the best batches of haemul pajeon I had my entire life. At the age of 37. It almost made me want to call up my parents and let them know that their daughter finally can make decent pajeon. 

I used about a cup of pajeon mixing batter and I mixed that with some regular flour and also panko. I like to make my pajeon small {makes the flipping process easier} and it made about 8 pancakes. Yangkyu and I ate all but 3 yesterday. 

With our next batch of cucumbers, we're thinking of making cold cucumber soup.

What are you cooking up in your kitchen?

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