I’m running a little behind time with posting – it’s almost been a week since the last vegan cooking class last Saturday. We seem to be jumping straight into making the recipes after a precursory run-through of what each recipe entails. Week 4 was Korean themed and we learnt the following recipes: an express vegan Kimchi, a black pepper and clove spiced Korean pear drink-cum-dessert, Bibimbap, Japchae and a Zen Buddhist spinach root stir-fry. The last is probably hovering more towards Japanese, especially since Chef mentioned it during our first Japanese Zen Buddhist themed class.
Without further ado, here’s what we did for each recipe:
DIY Easy Kimchi (I lifted the recipes names directly as per the recipe sheet) This super express version of Kimchi was really delicious even though it wasn’t truly fermented. What I mean is this: the freshness of the salt pickled Chinese cabbage makes this simple version of Kimchi less cloying, tart or pungent making it easy for one to keep going for more. In fact, you could eat a huge portion of this with some rice and a bit of tofu and call it a nutritious meal because this, unlike packaged Kimchi, is refreshing rather than astringent, therefore is thoroughly useful for ramping up your veggie intake as you find yourself irresistibly crunching on it.
What’s even better than being able to eat this anytime anyday (and probably for as long as the whole week straight without getting tired of it) is that it is so darn simple to make.
The Chinese cabbage is chopped and pickled with salt for about 20 minutes, whilst you put together the rest of the ingredients in the Kimchi. Which consisted of spring onions, red chillis, garlic and ginger, the quintessential ingredient: Korean red chilli pepper flakes, and lastly more salt, a bit of sugar and sesame oil to finish.
Chef had us prep all the other ingredients and she mixed them all in a large Corningware dish. Think she mentioned that we shouldn’t use a metal bowl for this. When that’s done, go back to the pickled cabbage, wash off the salt and squeeze out the excess moisture before cutting the leaves into bite size pieces. Then dump it all with the flavoring ingredients. Massage, taste, adjust seasonings and voila.
The Kimchi turned out on the sweet side, so I will definitely tweak my version to include more red pepper flakes and lemon juice (which Chef did not add in her recipe but did recommend for a tarter, more classic flavor). She also suggested adding some Gochujang (or Korean spicy red miso paste) for greater depth of flavor. Yum, can’t wait to make my own once I get my hands on the rather elusively available Korean red pepper flakes. They really do have a wonderful characteristic aroma to them.
I have to admit I wondered what to expect faced with a sweet dish punctuated with the spicy, savory smell of black pepper. This was basically made by first preparing a stock of ginger and lemon zest to which the spices are subsequently added and the sliced (and skinned) Asian pears are stewed in.
I have to say I’m constantly amazed at how Chef manages to make all these rather unconventional ingredient combinations taste so good without requiring one to acquire a taste for them. This was warm and sweet, truly a delight to have as end to a meal or even a 4 o’clock snack. The ginger and black pepper combination helps gently stimulate blood circulation as well as strengthen the stomach’s digestion. Cloves also add a slight festive warmth making this comforting especially on a cold, gloomy, rainy day.
Probably one of the easiest Korean dishes to veganise since it’s already chock aplenty with lotsa veggies! Just omit the fried egg and minced beef that sometimes comes with it and hey presto, you end up with a super nutritious, delicious Korean mixed veggie rice bowl topped with savory, sweet and spicy red miso sauce. So good!
It was useful nonetheless to see it being made to get the hang off the whole procedure. I suppose the most painstaking (and painful?) part of making Bibimbap is really that all of the ingredients need to be cooked separately. I read that the point of this is to ensure that the finished flavors remain distinct within the final dish rather than all meld together.
Chef sauteed the mushrooms and sliced pumpkin, while she ‘steam-fried’ (what she calls it) the rest of the ingredients, which really means cooking them with a small amount of water covered in the pan. The nutty soybean sprouts were blanched lightly till half-cooked and seasoned with salt, red pepper flakes and sesame oil.
Btw Korean sesame oil both looks and tastes much lighter and cleaner than Chinese sesame oil, which tends to smell and taste quite heavy from the toasted flavor of sesame seeds.This is my first time seeing pumpkin cooked this way, which was both refreshing in terms of its simplicity of flavor and cooking process. The pumpkin is first lightly sauteed in sesame oil and allowed to steam-cooked in some liquid till about half-cooked, developing an interesting spongy texture. It did not have a raw taste and lended a natural sweetness to the Bibimbap. The ingredients are assembled around the rice (Chef used a mixture of white and brown short grain), then topped with a Gochujang sauce, sesame seeds, more sesame oil and a spinkling of finely cut nori. Enjoy the view, then viciously mix everything, sauce and all, until evenly colored red throughout and apply spoon to mouth.Besides the luxury of enjoying all the different kinds of separately (and freshly) cooked veggies, it is the taste of the Gochujang sauce that really characterises this dish. This Bibimbap tasted pretty darn awesome and I look forward to the opportunity to make it for a simple yet tastebud rewarding vegan dinner that I can enjoy with friends or family.
We had our Bibimbap with a Korean Seaweed Soup which seems to be an important staple dish in Korean cuisine frequently featured in K-dramas. Called the birthday soup, Chef says this is because Korean mothers eat this soup shortly after childbirth due to the high mineral content of the wakame, and therefore children must do the same on their birthdays as an act of filial piety in remembrance of what their Moms went through.
Traditionally made with meat stock, Chef’s vegan version is seasoned with nothing more than a bit of Korean soy sauce (which has a sharper flavor than Chinese or Japanese soy sauce). The wakame is rehydrated then sauteed in sesame oil before water and soy sauce is added to cook the seaweed. Chef also suggests using Konbu stock as an acceptable vegetarian/vegan alternative.
The result was a really fragrant soup, thanks to the sesame oil, despite the simple ingredients and cooking procedure, making this Korean seaweed soup a wonderfully tasty accompaniment to the Bibimbap.
Vegetarian Japchae / Sweet Potato Noodles with Tofu and Vegetables
The last Korean dish was this Japchae, characterised by a stir-fried mix of assorted veggies (similar to those used in Bibimbap, or use whatever you have on hand!) with sweet potato starch noodles. Visually similar to our Chinese glass noodle stir-fries, these Korean noodles are thicker and different in terms of texture – they are much softer and chewier than glass noodles made of mung bean starch.
Since we were running out of time, Chef made this while we tucked in to the Kimchi, Bibimbap and seaweed soup which was already quite a feast. Basically what Japchae entails is first cooking the noodles which requires some boiling. Then the veggies are sauteed and cooked in sesame oil. The cooked noodles are seasoned with some soy sauce and sesame oil then tossed into the fry pan with the veggies just to mix through. It turned out to be a voluminous stir-fry even without the proteins!
Chef quickly put together this spinach root stir-fry while we nomed. Considering that most people choose to discard the roots of greens rather than eat them, this seems like such an austere dish to have. Yet this was true only in concept, because Chef does it again, these were an absolute treat.
A whiff of the raw roots originally made me dubious – they really reeked of soil. But cooked up simply by stir-frying with some oil, mirin and salt, somehow completely transformed them into a fragrant, nutty dish with just a subtle sweetness. This is reminiscent of the Kinpira stir-fry, which is a common Japanese household dish consisting of thin matchsticks of hard root vegetables like burdock and carrot or even the hard and course outer layer of Daikon root. Crunchy and nutty, this dish is such a testimony to the simple delights of frugality. Eating every part of the vegetable, according to Macrobiotics, apparently also ensures we achieve a good balance of the energetic elements inherent in nature.
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The coming Saturday will be about learning to cook with soy products. I heard some talk about a tofu scramble, but am also looking forward to any tempeh recipes as I love its meaty texture.
Stay tuned to find out more!