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Korean-ish Dinner: Beware of Garlic Breath!

January 20, 2011

Korean food is underrated. Unless you have a wimpy palette, there is no reason why you should resist. What’s that? You’re a vegetarian? No excuse. Any Korean meal will feature an assortment of panchan, or appetizers, usually crunchy bean sprouts, pickled cucumbers, kimchi, or spicy potatoes. Koreans also have a penchant for metal utensils and bowls; the rice will come in a metal bowl with a removable lid, and the chopsticks are like knitting needles. Sure, Korean barbeque is always fun, and you always end up eating too much– but it’s the flavor combinations that get me every time. Somehow when you mix garlic, chilis, sesame oil, soy sauce, and vegetables, the result is pure ambrosia.

The good thing about cooking a Korean meal is that you usually use a similar set of condiments. The bad thing is that it’s a lot of prep work: julienning vegetables, peeling and chopping garlic, etc. The last meal I cooked in Chicago was a bit of an experiment, featuring both traditional and “fusion” dishes. I usually hate that term, but how else to describe roasted brussel sprouts on kimchi puree, inspired by the Momofuku Cookbook?

The Menu:


  • Brussel sprouts with kimchi puree
  • Cucumber salad
  • Vinegared daikon

Vegetarian Jap Chae (Korean sweet potato noodles, usually made with beef): Any combination of vegetables/protein seems to work well in this dish. I chose to use mushrooms, carrots, onions, scallions, mung bean sprouts, and cucumber skins (don’t knock it till you try it), as well as a slivered omelette.

Grilled Mackerel in a Sesame Soy Sauce: I’ll be honest. This was an attempt to use up a mysterious package of frozen fish steaks (we’re clearing out our kitchen before renovations start) from Chinatown labeled “mackerel.” However, when we ate them, it became apparent that this wasn’t even the same species as the flakier saba from Sunshine Cafe. First, the fish didn’t have scales, and the meat was much tougher: I’m thinking maybe it was swordfish (hopefully it wasn’t shark)? Fish, after all, is the hardest thing to translate, since there’s so much regional variation. Still, FOOG and I tried to give the fish a more Japanese treatment, serving it with lemon wedges, grated daikon, and white rice. The romaine was my attempt to add a Korean BBQ-like feel to the meal; plus, there’s something so satisfying about making mini lettuce-rice-mackerel burritos.

I’ll warn you though; I woke up in the middle of the night to brush my teeth again. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; at least a head of garlic went into this meal. Don’t serve this as a romantic dinner.

Unless your date is a vampire and you’re trying to ward them off.

Brussel sprouts with kimchi puree (David Chang’s recipe uses bacon, but I skipped it, adding some smoked paprika instead. Warning: If you have really strong kimchi like I did, you might want to use less. I would almost consider adding something starchy, like potatoes, to the puree)


  • 1 lb brussel sprouts
  • 1 TBSP sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup kimchi


  • Roast the brussel sprouts with the sesame oil, salt and pepper in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, or until crispy on the outside.
  • Meanwhile, puree the kimchi in a blender. That’s it.
  • Spoon the kimchi puree on to a plate, add the brussel sprouts, and sprinkle with smoked paprika.
  • Serve.

Cucumber salad


  • 1 english cucumber, peeled and diced
  • Rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Additional salt for salting cucumber


  • Optional step: salt the cucumber for at least 30 minutes to drain off the water. Rinse off the salt and dry.
  • Combine the cucumber with the rest of the ingredients. The ratio of everything is to taste.
  • Ideally, let sit in the fridge for a while before serving.

Daikon salad


  • 1/2 daikon, peeled and shredded/julienned very thinly
  • a 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, miced
  • 1 TBSP red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • rice vinegar


  • Peel and slice the daikon.
  • Combine with the rest of the ingredients and toss very well.
  • Add more or less of everything to taste: start out with less salt and sugar. There should be more vinegar than anything else to begin with, because it’s harder to “ruin” that way.
  • Similarly to the cucumber, let it sit in the fridge before serving. It should be spicy.

Jap chae


The vegetables:

  • 1 TBSP peanut oil
  • skin of one English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 6 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water, drained, and thinly sliced
  • 1 lb mung bean sprouts, thoroughly rinsed

For the omelette:

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp peanut oil

The sauce:

  • Sesame oil
  • Sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, rice wine

1 large package of Korean sweet potato noodles (Substitute glass noodles if you want, but the dish will be less filling)


  • Heat a pot of water until boiling, then add the noodles. Continue boiling until they have lost their stiffness, but are the Asian equivalent of al dente (they’re going to cook more). Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
  • Make the omelette. In a small nonstick pan, heat the oil on high, then add the beaten eggs. Heat on high until set, then turn down the heat. Make sure the edges aren’t sticking. When the egg is only slightly undercooked in the center, flip the entire thing over (don’t fold it like a Western omelette) and let cook for a few minutes. Slide it onto a cutting board and let cool before slicing until strips. Set aside.
  • Heat peanut oil in a wok until smoking, followed by the carrots and onions. Continue stir-frying until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic. Turn down the heat and let them cook down. You want the onions to be almost caramelized, so this could take a few minutes. If they start sticking, add some cooking wine.
  • Next, add all the vegetables except the bean sprouts, dousing them with the marinade. Keep stir-frying.
  • Add the noodles, omelette and bean sprouts and keep stir-frying. Add more marinade ingredients to taste: just don’t do what I did and add too much soy sauce (I ended up having to add more noodles).
  • Turn off the heat and toss with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Serve.

Grilled mackerel in a sesame soy sauce


  • 2 lbs of mackerel/other firm-fleshed ocean fish
  • Marinade: sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce, scallions, vinegar
  • Peanut oil
  • A chunk of ginger, sliced (peeling isn’t necessary)
  • A lot of rice cooking wine
  • Garnishes: romaine, lemon wedges, grated daikon


  • First, you want to get rid of any fishiness. Do this by heating the peanut oil in a wok. When it’s almost smoking ,add the ginger, followed by the fish. The oil will absorb the fishy smell.
  • Pour off the oil and add the marinade, plus enough cooking wine to cover.
  • Continue to cook on high until the alcohol burns off, then reduce the heat, turning the fish every once in a while.
  • When it seems done enough (frozen fish seems to need to be cooked longer), turn off the heat.
  • Serve with romaine lettuce, lemon, and some grated daikon.
9 Comments leave one →
  1. fiz permalink
    January 20, 2011 2:10 am

    Did you ever get more traffic on your blog today? If so, I’ll tell you why

  2. Nina permalink
    January 21, 2011 4:06 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you…. for the Jap chae recipe! It’s one of my favorite dish (not limited to Korean food)! and it’s so hard to find around here, but now, thanks to you, I can make my own!!!

  3. Nina permalink
    January 21, 2011 4:07 am

    ….and Lida you got me seriously carve for Korean food! (but that’s not hard to do.)

  4. Neo permalink
    January 22, 2011 12:39 am

    My plan I hatched before coming to school:
    1. befriend a korean person
    2. mooch off the kimchi their mom sends them.

    …I gotta get on that.

    • January 22, 2011 3:54 pm

      dude, can i jump on that bandwagon? actually, i DO know a korean.
      another possibility: we try to make our own kimchi. I would have brought a ton but i don’t think the smell would ever have gone away…

      • Ella Ross (the prefrosh) permalink
        February 1, 2011 8:34 am

        I’ve been making a lot of kimchi recently and fully intend to do it my dorm next year to keep up my addiction. So if you don’t get around to it soon, rest assured that it will happen at some point. Better yet, I want to try to get school funding for a fermented foods club!!


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