Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Experimenting again -- Grilled eel with portobellos and scallions

I'm back to experimenting with exotic items from the HMART. The kimchi series is over (though I do want to come back and wrap up some time with some reliable research on health claims). But until then, I discovered a grilled eel in the freezer. I'd picked it up on a trip the the HMART a month or two ago and I had it in mind when I wandered over to the Whole Foods to find something to go with it. Something simple. I knew the meal would start with the roasted kabocha squash, so I didn't need much. Mushrooms were calling my name. As were scallions, not just as a flavoring, but as a full throttled vegetable. Brown rice as a bed to lay it on. Done.

The grilled eel was easy, as it was already grilled. The package gave a few options, either baking for 10 minutes, a quick zap in the microwave (right in the package), or frying. I had the oven going anyway for the squash, so I chose the conventional oven.

IMG_6861The scallions and vegetables were a simple saute/stir fry with some oil. The eel already had some seasoning, so I didn't need much.  The result was startling.  The eel had a deep flavor which were accentuated by the scallions and mushrooms.  It all oozed into bed of rice, making it a satisfying meal--one that I'm sure to repeat soon.

This is so easy it doesn't warrant a recipe.  But go find one of those eels and see what else you can do with it.  Once I eat down the contents of the freezer a bit, I'll be restocking so I have something fun for one of those days when I don't have much time or creativity.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kabocha squash revisited

After my first exploration with kabocha squash, I've repeated the same formula over and over: cut into slices, roast with olive oil. Eat. A little variation entered the lexicon when I turned it into an appetizer spread.

The kabocha had been sitting on the counter for a couple of weeks, and needed some attention. I also thought I needed a first course for our Friday night dinner--something that would keep us satisfied till the main course came along. Back to the blogs and such, looking for ideas. Nothing was ringing any bells for me, until I came across this idea for slathering the kabocha with some spices.

It sounded like just the thing--similar to what I'd done before, yet different enough to warrant some excitement.

I sliced the squash pretty thin. Thinner than usual. About a quarter inch. Used aluminum foil over the baking pan to avoid cleanup and brushed with olive oil. Then more olive oil brushed on top, and sprinkled with about a half teaspoon each of freshly ground fennel seed, coriander seed, garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Roasted at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, until it was just starting to brown around the edges and was very soft.

Magical. The kabocha had that sweet potato like quality, and the coarse spice/herb mix lended both a deep flavor and grainy texture. It was perfect to just stand there by the stove and savor them. As you can see by the picture, it never made it to a serving plate. We just ate it in the kitchen as I prepared the rest of the meal.

Since I don't have perfect slicing skills, some parts were thinner than others. There was one part that was VERY thin -- think potato chip width. That started to caremelize by the time I pulled the tray from the oven. And was the best bite of the batch.

So next time I think I'll try slicing it even thinner, and see if I can get more caremelization going on. Since I ony used half the squash, I still have the other half in the fridge, waiting to be tested again. Perhaps tomorrow!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kimchi Pancake - Another Revelation.

Sometimes you try a food and it’s a revelation. Kimchi pancakes are like that. I have a feeling that kimchi pancakes are going to become my new go-to, don’t have time to cook, food. It’s so easy. Tastes good. Is infinitely variable. Will work with whatever I have in the house. I might even try them without kimchi.

So here’s the deal. It’s a savory pancake. And I’m not sure I’ve ever had a savory pancake. Just like I’d never had savory oatmeal for breakfast. I’d never even thought of a savory pancake.

IMG_5979By now, kimchi stew has become part of my normal repertoire. Susan loves it. Works with whatever I have in the house. Seems to be a theme here.

On Friday at lunchtime I poked around on the web for kimchi pancake recipes. It’s something I’d been wanting to try. As with the kimchi stew, there were lots of variations, and everyone claimed theirs was the best. I figured I’d read enough to wing it. There were a few common threads: 1) a little cornstarch aids a crispy crust, and 2) use the kimchi juice for the liquid. Some used eggs and some didn’t, but I thought an egg would be good.

So...some VERY approximate measurements....I just dumped these in till they looked good:

1/2 cup flour -- half whole wheat, half all-purpose
2 tsp cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1/2-1 cup kimchi. I used a combination of diced radish and green onion kimchi
1/4 cup of kimchi juice
1 egg
1 Tbsp dried shrimp
1 drizzle of canola oil
  1. Mix together the flour and cornstarch and salt
  2. Add the kimchi and the kimchi juice and dried shrimp
  3. Add the egg
  4. Mix it all together. It should resemble a chunky pancake batter. If it’s too dry, add a little water. Don’t overmix, otherwise it’ll start to get all gluten-ey
  5. Heat a little oil in a non-stick skillet and when it’s hot add the pancake batter and spread it out.
  6. Cook on medium to medium-high heat till it starts to smell good, by which time it should be crisping underneath. I made the pancake pretty thick, so I had to make sure it would cook all the way through.
  7. Flip it over. Good luck. It’s a big pancake. I had to do it in section. Next time, I may experiment with smaller pancakes, but really, it worked fine, even though it fell apart a bit.
  8. Cook some more until the bottom is crispy.
  9. Slide onto a plate.
  10. Serve with a soy-based dipping sauce. I used a Tablespoon (or so) of soy sauce, a few splashes of sesame oil, and a few splashes of rice wine vinegar. Use your imagination. (Fish sauce would be good).

The taste is powerful, but not overwhelming. Cooking definitely tames the “raw” taste of kimchi. And check out how it colors the batter and the pancake. A deep reddish-orange.

The thing about this is that as long as the batter is that breakfast pancake texture, you could put anything you want in there. Some thoughts:

* Mushrooms
* Sweet potatoes, or white potatoes
* Roasted vegetables
* Any kind of vegetables, cut up. Cooked if they’re hard.
* Meat or fish or whatever, already cooked.

Can you see it? The possibilities? Just a half cup of flour, some kimchi and kimchi juice, and anything else you’ve got. Precook anything that needs precooking (like maybe some pork belly? or a can of tuna?) Then dump it in the batter and pour it out, and there’s instant dinner.

It’s like a pizza. But healthy.

UPDATE:  I've tried it again with pork belly.  Terrific. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kimchi Stew -- A Revelation

I have now taken kimchi to a whole new level.  Kimchi stew.  This is a whole meal built around kimchi.  I’d had it twice before.  Once at the food court at the HMART, where it was such a bold tasting surprise, I was knocked over.  I had not expected such as powerful, hearty, vibrant dish from the lowly-seeming and humble kimchi.  The soup came bubbling hot in the ceramic pot.  It was so hot (temperature wise) that I could only bravely sip at the spoon before retreating because it was so hot.  Do not give up.  Do not give up.

You serve it over rice, and the rice soaks up all the nice bubbling scarlet broth.  It cools off a bit, and you can put whole spoonfuls in your mouth.  As it sits, the flavors meld, and as the heat eases, you can really taste what’s going on.  (This is true with most soups and stews by the way.  They're rarely at their best when piping hot -- the flavor comes through as it cools.)

Then I had it at the neighborhood Korean restaurant.  This time it had pork in it.  And it was an indescribable encore.  I feel cheated that I had not been introduced to it before.  So, two experiences with Kimchi stew.

With Bradford off to school, I’m the only one that’s eating the kimchi.  And there’s still a have a large jar in the fridge, past it’s “best by” date.  All that I’ve read about kimchi says that as it ages, it changes, but at some point, it ferments over the edge.  So what people do is make kimchi stew with the “ripe” kimchi.  

I was all set.  I even had some soft tofu in the fridge, which according to the tofu packages (of which there are many at the HMART)  is the kind of tofu to use for stews.  And some shitake mushrooms and seaweed.  I’d perused some recipes online, and realized an inspiring thing.  All the recipes for kimchi were different.  Significantly so.  They all used kimchi.  Some used pork, pork belly, canned tuna, spam for extra flavoring.  Some used chicken broth.  Some just water.  Lots of water.  Less water.  Onions.  Garlic.  That sort of thing.  I realized that there was no one right recipe.  Which left tons of room for interpretation and experimentation.  My kind of dish.

I settled on this recipe from Womens Health magazine as a good starting point.  And went from there.   It called for just the right amount of kimchi that I had, just the right amount of tofu, and even eggplant, of which I happend to have a few beautiful specimens of in my fridge.  It was a sign.

Kimchi Stew
1.5 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 oz dried kelp
2 tsp vegetable oil
10 oz kimchi, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
350 grams firm tofu, cubed (OK...this was one package)
3 green onions, white and green parts, sliced  -- I left these out, because my kimchi was green onion kimchi.
1 small eggplant, cubed
1 Tbsp soybean paste (doenjang)     I didn't think I had any but later realized this is probably miso, which I have plenty of.   I did have some crab paste though, and I used that instead.  That, plus some dried shrimp gave it a nice, deep flavor. 
3 TBSP crab paste
Dried shrimp, to garnish.
4 cups of water (not 6, per the recipe)

I fried the garlic and kimchi for a few minutes, then added the tofu, eggplant and shitakes and kelp, and cooked for about five minutes together while I boiled four cups of water.  When the water was ready, I added it, and let it simmer for about ten minutes.  I added the crab paste toward the end.
In the meantime, I readied a bowl of plain brown rice to receive the experiment.

As with my restaurant experiences, the stew was too hot to eat right away.  I needed some time to cool.  But this is when I decided it needed a little more help.  First, I added another tablespoon of the crab paste, right to the bowl I was eating out of.  Then, a sprinkle of dried shrimp.  These are an incredible condiment to have around.  The finishing touch was a light splash of soy sauce. A quick splash.  A few drops, really. They were just the extra umami to put this over the top.  It had the complexity of flavor I was looking for, that got better as the ingredients interacted with each other.  The eggplant especially, and the tofu to some extent, soaked up the flavor of that pungent deep red broth.  

Fast forward a week, then two weeks, and more.  More experimentation.  I found that using stock is good.  No surprise.  I'd had some chicken stock frozen from the last time we had one of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery.  

Pork belly was a terrific addition.  HMART has a whole case of pork belly sliced in different widths.  I'd never  cooked with pork belly before.  It's basically bacon without the curing.  I used perhaps an eighth of a pound.  Diced.  Fried it up with the garlic and other veggies right at the beginning.  It gives the stew a nice depth of flavor.  

Then, I'd seen some recipes calling for a can of tuna.  So I tried that, and surprisingly that was terrific too.  I've seen spam mentioned as well -- I haven't tried that yet though.

The stew keeps.  It's filling and tasty.  And much smoother -- that's the best word I can come up with -- than raw kimchi.  The cooking takes the edge off.  It's spicy, yes, but not overwhelming.  Some might be tempted to add spice to it.  So, even if you're repelled by raw kimchi, give kimchi stew a try.  You'll be surprised.

Here's the complete series of articles on kimchi: 
Both are EASY to make, and TERRIFIC to eat.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kimchi crisis in Korea

I'm a little late in reporting it. I must have not been paying attention to the news reports in early October.  It happens sometimes.  But coincincident with my inaugural series on kimchi, it turns out there's a serious shortage of napa cabbage in Korea.  Enough so that the government has stepped in, and has removed tarrifs, now allowing napa cabbage imports from China.  Napa cabbage is the main ingredient in the most popular of the many kimchis that are available.  As a result, kimchi is in short supply.  It's usually served free of charge as a side dish at every meal in Korea, but that's changing.  Me -- I'd be happy switching to green onion or radish.  But it seems that in Korea, the napa cabbage variety is king.

So -- this short diversion from my planned three-article series on kimchi, to report on the kimchi crisis.
The importance of kimchi in the Korean diet is emphasized by this crisis.  It seems quite traumatic.  If people don't get their three servings of kimchi a day, they feel on edge.  Or worse.  Consider these news reports:

From NPR"Koreans can't live without kimchi, said Pak Sung-hoo as he dined on a kimchi-based stew at Namsan Kimchi Jigae restaurant in Seoul. Even if the price of dishes made with kimchi goes up a few dollars, he said, he's willing to pay."
And this:  "Though the mouth-scorching dish can be readily bought in stores, many people make it on their own at home — a laborious process that requires it to be stored and fermented during the winter months. Many homes have special kimchi refrigerators that regulate temperatures to maintain the preferred level of fermentation.
"I don't know how long I can keep ignoring my grandkids' and my husband's demands for kimchi every meal," said Kim Hyung-sook, who lives in northern Seoul. "You're not Korean if you don't eat kimchi three times a day."

From The EconomistIt is hard to exaggerate the importance to Korean life of kimchi, which is usually made of fermented cabbage. Its presence at every meal, as well as its health benefits, give it an almost religious status. It is a national symbol, and the one food item that (in an entirely unscientific poll undertaken by The Economist) a majority of Koreans “cannot live without”. 
And this article from the New York Times, that everyone has quoted from:
The price increases have caused many middle- and lower-income homemakers to cancel the making of kimchi at home this year, a traditional rite of autumn that typically brings together mothers, daughters, aunts, grannies and neighbors. Some families can go through a couple of hundred heads of cabbage, and it’s not unusual for all the bathtubs and sinks in a house to be filled with bobbing cabbages as they are washed, soaked and brined.  
The making of kimchi is more art than science, more a craft than a repeatable recipe. There are hundreds of variations, with varying ingredients, colorations, textures and levels of heat. As well as a condiment, kimchi is eaten in Korea as a main dish, in soups, stews or with fried rice. There are kimchi burgers, kimchi bacon rolls and kimchi pizza.  
I checked recent articles, and the crisis has abated a bit because of the imports from China.  The domestic US market for kimchi does not seem to be affected.

So, I'll forge on with my articles, secure in the feeling that here in New England, kimchi is still easy to find.  As long as you know where to look.

Here's the complete series of articles on kimchi: 
Both are EASY to make, and TERRIFIC to eat.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Enough kimchi for a lifetime of exploration

I'd heard that the HMART had a big selection of kimchi. Which didn't mean a lot to me, since I didn't have much experience with it -- mostly side dishes in Korean restaurants. I knew it was strongly flavored and pungent. I'd also read that it was supposed to be very healthy. That's about it. I remember going to the other big Asian market around here, the Super 88 in Malden, and asking if they had any kimchi, and they gave me a blank stare. The nearby Whole Foods market used to carry some. One or two kinds. A few jars hidden away on an out of the way shelf.

So nothing prepared me for what I encountered at the HMART. A wall of kimchi. In containers ranging from little jars with one pound to buckets with mega-pounds. And you could buy it in bulk too. Here's a quick rundown of what I found:

  • Sliced cabbage kimchi.  The "default".  That's what I thought kimchi was before I discovered HMART
  • Premium cabbage kimchi, with oyster
  • Green onion kimchi
  • Cubed radish kimchi
  • Sliced radish kimchi
  • Young radish kimchi
  • Stuffed cucumber kimchi
And more.  Check it out...

I started timidly. With the sliced cabbage kimchi, eating it in little bowls with a fork. It's intense stuff. When I open the lid, Susan looks around for where that foul odor is coming from. "Did you leave the lid off the trash?" she asks. She's right...it is somewhat off-putting.

You need to get past that. Really. Like smelly cheese. Get past it.

Its good spooned into your mouth, eaten as an appetizer or side dish. A combination of acidic and chili-spicy. Hot, but not over the top hot so that you can't feel your tongue. Not nearly so bad as eating raw chili peppers. If you don't like spicy food, you probably won't like your kimchi this way.

The other simple way to use kimchi is as a condiment. Or mix in. Picture Kimchi over eggs. Or, kimchi in an omelet. Or kimchi mixed in your morning oatmeal. Or kimchi just added to a stir fry.  A little or a lot, to your taste.  Simple.

What I've found is that kimchi mixed into other things isn't nearly as intense as by itself.  And kimchi when cooked loses it's intense edge, and adds a nice pungent flavor to things.  So kimchi and eggs or kimchi in a stirfry isn't as intense as you'd think.

IMG_5235So far, I'm pretty happy buying my kimchi from the HMART. I don't know anywhere else that has that kind of variety, but honestly, I haven't ventured down to Boston's Chinatown to find out. That's probably my best bet. Or Koreatown when I'm in New York City, but how often do I go there.

If you're feeling adventurous, you might like trying to MAKE your own kimchi. I found this video from Aeri's Kitchen, a website I've run into many times when searching for advice on things to do with my HMART finds. She has over 14,000 YouTube subscribers! An authority, for sure!

From Aeri's Kitchen YouTube Channel

It looks pretty labor intensive. And I don't think I'll be doing it myself any time soon. But maybe -- if I cut the recipe in half or quarters, it could work for me. Aeri's recipe has a lot in it that I don't think is in the HMART version...like apples.

So that's it for now. The basics. Go get some. Try it out. You might also like this site -- Love that Kimchi.com.  

Here's the complete series of articles on kimchi: 

Both are EASY to make, and TERRIFIC to eat.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

Seven Brilliant Things about HMART

     What's HMART? An alternative universe of food. From the outside, it looks like any other grocery. But once you step inside, you realize that something very different -- very exciting is going on. The alternate universe is from the other side of our planet -- Asia. Mostly East Asia, and heavily focused on the Korean. The thing is though, that although I eat in Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indian restaurants fairly frequently, I’VE NEVER SEEN MOST OF THIS STUFF! So I have no idea what to do with it. I plan to find out. And if you follow this blog, you can find out too.

     Brilliant Thing One: Produce. It looks like an acre. Some familiar -- apples, oranges, melons. But then, look to the side and there’s an entire wall of greens. Most with names you’ve never heard of. Bok choys of various kinds. Mustard greens. Chards. Chinese broccoli. Fruits and melons with odd shapes and spikes.
     Brilliant Thing Two: Kimchi. Turn the corner and there’s a wall of kimchi, in sizes from a few ounces to a few pounds. Prepackaged and in bulk. What’s kimchi? Fermented vegetables, most often cabbage, but here there’s also green onions, radishes, cucumbers, and more. The posters nearby claim it to be one of the five healthiest foods on the planet. It packs an incredible flavor punch, and can be used by itself or as a seasoning.
     Brilliant Thing Three: Side Dishes. Near the Kimchi, there are Korean “side dishes”. Row upon row of plastic tubs filled with marinated, dried, or otherwise preserved vegetables, seaweeds, and fishes. Most with a spicy kick, but some milder. Stuff you’ve likely never seen before, even in Korean restaurants.
     Brilliant Thing Four: Fish. There’s an enormous fish counter, with a dozen or more varieties of fresh fish -- some familiar (bluefish, trout) and many not -- croaker, palumbro, tilefish. And freezers full of frozen fish as well. All cleaned and dressed to order.
     Brilliant Thing Five: Dried things. Fish -- big and little. Vegetables. Fungi. Seaweed. All good basic food. That packs a punch. In Asian cooking, dried things aren’t just weak substitutes for the fresh. They’re often BETTER than the fresh. Flavorful. Intense. Wow.
     Brilliant Thing Six: Flavorings. Including condiments. Hot sauces. Curry pastes. Intensely flavored oils.
     Brilliant Thing Seven: Noodles. All shapes, sizes, ingredients, and textures, out of a variety of Asian cultures.
     I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Meats and poultry. Sweets. Frozen Asian convenience foods. Though these are interesting, these aren’t calling my name.
     To explore, meander, gambol, investigate, experiment, create, taste and enjoy. One by one. Find out how these unfamiliar ingredients are used in traditional cooking, but more alluring -- how to assimilate them into my own cooking. I’m not looking to become a gourmet Asian chef, but I am looking to add tantalizing ingredients and cooking methods to my chow -- the food I cook every day at home for my family and friends.
     I’ll reach out to experts. I’ve picked up a couple of books on Asian ingredients. Other bloggers are a fount of information. The HMART staff hangs out in the aisles on weekends and are happy to share what they know. If there’s an HMART in your region, it’ll be easy to follow along. They have 33 stores, and if you go to their website, they now have mail order. But lots of cities have Asian groceries, so there’s plenty of opportunity for your own exploration. This isn’t about the HMART as much as it is about the food.
      So stay tuned. And lets frolic in the marvels of the unexpected.

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