|Sautéed cucumber, steamed eggplant|
It's easy to eat Korean food around Howard County, but it was a challenge to learn to cook the stuff. After test-driving a bunch of cookbooks, Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen is my recommendation for someone inspired by Shin Chon Garden.
Korean recipes are pretty easy and wonderfully healthy as well. Lots of vegetables. Some easy pickles. Some soups and stews. Some grilled meat. You could enjoy Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall's cookbook just for side dishes and main courses to incorporate into your regular meals -- a cucumber salad, steamed eggplant, braised spicy chicken, a ginseng chicken soup.
Mostly, that's what I have done. I used the clam cake recipe when I overbought seafood. I made hot pepper sauce that ended up in everything from eggs to pasta sauce. The steamed eggplant has become a staple technique that I can alter with different flavors.
Among all the cookbooks that I tried, Hepinstall stood out because the food seems authentic, but the book is absolutely written for an American cook. The recipes are clear and detailed in all the right places. There's a nice chapter on foods and equipment. All of the ingredients and techniques are described in ways I recognize, which separated Growing Up from other titles where a recipe might call for "1 pound beef." What kind?
In contrast, many Growing Up's ingredients are available at any supermarket. All of them are available at the Asian markets like H Mart, Lotte and Super Grand.
Growing Up certainly opened the H Mart to me. With prior excursions into Chinese or Thai cuisine, I have spent hours trying to figure out if H Mart stocked some obscure ingredient that neither I nor the Korean employee could recognize. So it's a revelation to look for Korean ingredients. They're all there. Sil koch'u? Check. Daikon radishes. Check. Fernbracken, kelp and bellflower root. All in the same aisle.
That's fun that can be as simple as picking something new from the entire aisle of teas at those markets. Next trip, I'm going to find "candied yuja." Hepinstall simmers the citrus for a tea that she garnishes with pine nuts.
The book is an inspiration to try other new ingredients that Hepinstall uses in home-style dishes that could come together on a weeknight -- noodles in chilled soybean milk or chilled buckwheat noodles, with chicken, Asian pear, cucumber and kimchi. I must admit that I haven't even tried to make kimchi. It seemed easy to buy the pickled cabbage from the refrigerated section and invest my time trying out something unique.
I recommend Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen for anyone from the dabbler to someone who wants to go deep into Korean cuisine. It might be cool if you grew up with Korean food, but don't know the family recipes. It might be a hit if you have Korean in-laws who would appreciate the gesture of a table of panchan. Some of the dishes live up to Korea's reputation for spicy fare, but much of the book would be great even for people who don't want fiery at all. You just need to want something cool.
The Howard County library has five copies of Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen. Definitely take it out for a test drive. Or buy it through the links above to Amazon, which gives me a cut. Click here for all my cookbook reviews.
4 Asian eggplants, each about seven inches long
2 TBL Soy sauce
1TBL ch'ongju or vermouth
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 green onion, which and pale green parts finely minced
1 TBL sesame oil
1 TBL toasted sesame seeds
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 tsp sil koch'u (hot red pepper threads)
1) Slice each eggplant lengthwide into quarters. In a steamer, bring 1 cup of water to boil and steam the eggplants for about seven minutes.
2) Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggplant and let them cool. Tear each peice into bite-size strips. Wrap the eggplant in a paper town and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
3) Mix the remaining ingredients. Then mix in the eggplant. Serve at the center of the table with other side dishes.