Elwood 5566

Curds (묵) – Monday Market

Posted in Uncategorized by 노강호 on July 6, 2010

Stunted by the rocky soil, you will rarely see an Oak as magnificent as those found in England

A few years ago a former boss took  me to lunch at restaurant, the usual formality for talking shop and often a sign that your schedule is about to change or that you’re going to be asked to do something not in your contract. Other than it was ‘Klingon’ in style, I can’t remember what we ate. My first encounter with any form of Korean food was in 1997 when I visited several restaurants in both Hong-Kong and Manilla and I can’t remember too much about those experiences either other than there being many side dishes, one of which was some strange, but inoffensive jelly-like food served in slices.

Acorn curd - 도토리묵

Enjoying many Korean foods are dependent on an acquired ‘taste.’ Kimchi, for example, both stinks and tastes pretty gross to most people first time, but with continued exposure one begins to realise the subtle variations between different kimchis.  Eventually you begin to develop a preference for one particular form of kimchi. In one sense the multi-faceted aspects of kimchi, the combinations of heat (chilli), saltiness, sourness, tartness, sweetness, the viscosity of the sauce,  the fracturability of the cabbage, the blend and persistence of fish sauce, garlic and ginger, the aroma, and these are only some of the features, make its enjoyment every bit as sophisticated as that of wine.

Supermarket curds - more expensive and watery than the market varieties.

While kimchi has taste there are a number of Korean foods which are tasteless and which on first exposure prompt the question, ‘why?’  Most first timers to Korean cuisine, for example, will find those watery soups ornamented with a few strands of bean sprout, totally pointless until you realise the way intermittent spoonfuls cleanse the palate and transform the texture of rice in the mouth.  A few Korean foods initially have no taste at all but if persevered with, an appeal begins to develop. Other foods, such as cold noodles (냉면) require exposure to the energy draining Korean summers to initiate an appeal much in the same way Pimms No 1 does in the UK. I can no more enjoy a Pimms No 1 in winter than I can cold noodles. And then there are those seemingly pointless curds or jellies.

In the restaurant with my boss, and amidst some of the Klingon delicacies, was a plate of what looked like the jelly thing I’d last eaten in a Korean restaurant in Hong-Kong. Sliced into slippy cubes, I remembered the dexterous chopstick skills required  to pick it up; too much pressure on the cube and it is cut in two and too little and it flops onto the floor or cascades down your shirt. My boss was quite impressed, in fact he was very impressed, but not with my chopstick skills, more with the fact that I’d just eaten a slice of raw liver! That too was tasteless but there is a limit to how far I want to go initializing new appreciations and raw offal is not really one of them.

Acorn curd (도토리묵) in the market

Curds or jellies appear in various guises and while they are fairly tasteless, their appeal lies in their texture which in the context of a Korean meal with numerous side dishes, can be ‘interesting.’ The most common curd is probably acorn (도토리묵) and it is often accompanied with a tangy soy based sauce. (도토리묵 무침). Personally, I find the market produced curd both cheaper and tastier looking than the somewhat more watery-looking packeted varieties produced by supermarkets. On more than one occasion I have muddled my Korean words and asked for ‘eagle curd’  (독수리묵).

Buckwheat curd mu-ch'im (메밀묵 무침)

Other curds include:

Buckwheat (메밀묵) which is often slightly heavier in texture

Supermarket seaweed curd (미역묵)

Black rice

Mung Bean (녹두묵)

Yellow Mung Bean (노랑묵 or 황보묵) this version, coloured with gardenia, is traditionally associated with the Cheolla province.

Curds are fairly easy to make and powders can be bought in most supermarkets.

Acorn powder

Acorn curd in particular is seen as a very healthy food and is believed to be beneficial in weight loss. Not a great surprise really as I doubt anyone would want to eat it alone and it’s hardly a food to pig out on! It probably has the same diet potential  and calorific content as water! The Korean company Skinfood market an acorn face pack. If you are keen to start investigating the secret power of acorn, here is a jumping off point….

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Sesame Spinach (시금치 나물)

Posted in vegetables by 노강호 on May 31, 2010

Delicious and simple to make

Vegetables! Boring! But there are a number of vegetables that can be prepared in the same way as sesame-spinach, one of my favourite Korean side dishes (반찬) which is both incredibly easy to make and tasty enough to ‘pig out’ on. I will often raid the fridge at night to snack on this. Koreans use the entire baby spinach plant which I’ve not seen in the UK but I’m sure you could probably make it with other types of spinach and indeed substitute spinach for other types of leaf.

The biggest bind to making this side dish is removing the yellowed leaves and trimming off the stalks. I recently watched the guru of Korean cooking, Maangchi performing a similar process with young radish shoots (열무) and her skills with a knife are formidable. In a flash she cut out yellowed leaves, trimmed off roots and scrapped  their shafts clean. To be honest, I can’t be bothered,  all that work for a couple of munches! What takes the wonderful Maangchi ten seconds takes me a minute and besides, she’s younger and not prone to backache standing over the sink. I only cook for me and once any chemicals and dust are washed off, I’m happy to eat any bits of root and yellowed leaf though I will pick them out if not too much bother.

In Korea, you usually buy spinach in bundles and it is best to put these straight in water and let them soak. Withered looking bunches will quickly revive. I recently bought a bundle and then went for a walk leaving them on the back seat of a car on a hot afternoon.  On my return they had totally wilted and at home I noticed some plants were beginning to decompose . Subsequently, the water I washed them in was tainted green and smelt a  little  like a dirty goldfish bowl.

Baby spinach plants

Way too much work removing the few bad bits, so after thoroughly swishing them in water, they were blanched for a about a minute . Usually, I keep the stock and add it to bean paste soup which I eat for breakfast. This panful, I chucked straight down the sink.! The leaves are then washed in cold water and when properly drained, tossed in chopped red chilli, garlic, sesame seeds, a good splash of soy sauce and sesame seed oil. I’m on a diet, so I use  the sesame oil sparingly but it is this which gives this side dish such a sexy aroma and compliments and transforms the spinach into something you can easily alone.

Maangchi's version, superior!

I can report, that I at no time noticed anything unpleasant about the decomposed state of some of the spinach leaves, washing, blanching and rinsing removed most of them. It still tasted delicious.

The Queen of Korean cooking, Maangchi, would be appalled at my cooking technique so if you want a first class tutorial, in various formats, on how to make this simple side dish, please click the photo below to activate. The site also contain many comments from readers who have tried various other vegetables to make a similar side dish.

I have used the same recipe using:

Baby radish sprouts (옇무).

Mung bean shoots (숙주 나물)

Make sesame spinach side dish with the Queen of Korean Cooking: Maangchi