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Start cooking authentic Korean American food with these tips : Life Kit : NPR


That is NPR’s LIFE KIT. I am Janet Woojeong Lee, one of many producers of the present.


LEE: I have been consuming Korean meals my entire life. I grew up with it. I crave it every day. However it wasn’t till the pandemic, once I moved in with my mother, that I actually realized learn how to make Korean meals. I needed to ask, OK, how do I make kimchi when there is no Napa cabbage on the grocery retailer? What model of seaweed ought to I get? And actually, how am I purported to comply with your recipes when it simply says add a pinch or a handful of each ingredient? Identical to that, a lot of Korean cooking is rooted in practices which might be by no means documented however handed down in households.

ERIC KIM: The dishes that many people grew up with are the Korean meals that came to visit within the ’80s. I all the time thought that was fascinating. And that’s the reason I feel within the Korean American neighborhood, there’s this staunch, like, want to protect solely and never innovate.

LEE: That is cooking columnist Eric Kim. You could have seen his recipes in The New York Instances. Eric can be the creator of a cookbook referred to as “Korean American: Meals That Tastes Like House.” It is a ebook he wrote along with his mother, Jean, when he moved house to Atlanta throughout the pandemic. Eric says his cookbook is not nearly Korean American meals.

KIM: This ebook paperwork the invention of my Korean American-ness and my makes an attempt and my failed makes an attempt to outline it. As a result of what I actually consider is that, you already know, our experiences as Korean People are so a number of that – and the diaspora is so huge that any try and outline it’ll, you already know, dilute it.

LEE: Understanding what it means to be Korean American, or being Korean in America, it by no means will get simpler from the identification crises to our fixed effort to reconnect with Korean tradition. And naturally, this all seems to be totally different, even between Eric, who has roots in Atlanta, and me, who spent most of my life within the Midwest. But when there’s one factor in frequent, many people within the Korean diaspora encounter our Korean American-ness by means of meals.

KIM: Whenever you return in time and also you type of decide up the items, like, and it is not – I would not have to return that far. It was actually simply my household and our dinner desk. However it was an ideal nexus level for unraveling these intricacies in our identification and finally, lastly celebrating Korean American-ness and Korean-ness is basically such a aid, and it is simply an enormous sigh of aid and I am so grateful for it.

LEE: This episode of NPR’s LIFE KIT – an intro to Korean American cooking. Eric and I’ll stroll you thru pantry necessities, fast repair recipes and learn how to begin making meals that feels genuine to you and your family members.

Whether or not you are craving meals that tastes like house or occupied with making an attempt a brand new delicacies, Eric says, all of it begins with this primary step, which is our first takeaway.


KIM: Construct your Korean pantry. Get these, like, three components. Simply begin there.

LEE: And don’t fret about having to put money into an extended checklist of things. As Eric says…

KIM: Half of the Korean components, quote-unquote, “Korean components” are literally simply components you have already got. And so it is not that there is like this huge array of unique components. It is truly simply that every thing is correct there in entrance of you anyway, and it is all the time been there. You simply need to know learn how to use it.

LEE: Let’s dig into particular components. Within the pantry part of his ebook, Eric introduces the three jangs, that are fermented pastes and sauces that always are available tubs. Jangs, like different fermented Korean dishes like kimchi, are made to final to be preserved over the new summers and lengthy winters in Korea. So jangs are available beneficiant parts, and they’re going to final you some time. Our second takeaway is to strive tasting and cooking with totally different jangs. Particularly should you’re new to Korean cooking, Eric recommends beginning with doenjang, which is commonly translated to soybean paste.

KIM: It is spelled D-O-E-N-J-A-N-G, and I have been simply making an attempt to get individuals to make use of it as a result of it is so idiosyncratic and really actually onerous to explain in taste.

LEE: Doenjang is often utilized in doenjang-jjigae, a stew that is usually cooked with beef or pork, tofu and zucchini. Eric recommends being a little bit extra experimental, although. Preserve a bathtub in your fridge, and check out including a spoonful of doenjang to totally different dishes.

KIM: I began utilizing doenjang, as an illustration, to glaze fish, and I began utilizing it in salad dressings. And I used to be like, oh, rattling. These things rocks.

LEE: The second jang is ganjang, which is a Korean model of soy sauce. It is normally a little bit sweeter than the extra frequent Japanese ones. Eric is a giant fan of guk-ganjang, which is a Korean soy sauce particularly made for soups that provides this deep, savory taste to clear broths, like in dumpling soup or rice cake soup. And belief me, even if in case you have soy sauce in your pantry, guk-ganjang is definitely worth the funding, particularly should you’re a giant soup individual.


LEE: The third jang is gochujang. It is a paste product of gochu, that are Korean purple peppers, and thickened with rice. Gochujang is utilized in some mainstream Korean dishes. You could have had it in bibimbap or typically in kimchi fried rice. Or you will have tried gochujang marinated pork should you’re huge on KBBQ. However Eric and I favor the extra flaky, powdery model of purple pepper spice referred to as gochugaru. Gochugaru is commonly used hand in hand with gochujang, however some house cooks like Eric simply use gochugaru in recipes for a lighter texture or a transparent broth. Eric additionally has a number of recipes that begin with making gochugaru oil or butter on the stovetop.

KIM: You bloom it in butter. It is type of this unimaginable caramel sweetness. And it – the scent leads you to what the subsequent factor needs to be.

LEE: And remember that gochugaru burns actual fast. So should you’re blooming it in oil or butter or following Eric’s delicious gochugaru salmon recipe be certain that to decrease the warmth if you begin smelling the spice kicking in your kitchen.

Korean house cooks love balancing the spice from purple peppers with one thing a little bit sweeter. With regards to sweeteners, Eric loves maesil cheong, which could be a little trickier to search out.

KIM: Maesil cheong is inexperienced plum syrup. My mother truly calls it maesil (talking Korean), and I don’t know learn how to Romanize that. It is a syrup made out of those Korean inexperienced plums, which is a really explicit style that I bear in mind from my childhood. I am positive you do, too. However it’s like these – they style like a mixture between plums and inexperienced apples, and – however they’re so fragrant, and there is, like, actually good gummy candies flavored after them.

LEE: My mother additionally makes use of maesil cheong, this fermented inexperienced plum syrup, in kimchi as an alternative of sugar. Mixed with ganjang or soy sauce, maesil cheong can be used to marinate sweeter meats. You could have tried it in kalbi or bulgogi. Oh, and you may even make your self a heat or chilly drink by including a spoonful of maesil cheong to water for a little bit deal with.


LEE: Whenever you’re on the hunt for these components, you may as effectively try a Korean or one other Asian grocery retailer in your space. When you’re there, Eric says you can additionally examine the product label to decide on one from a Korean or Korean American model.

KIM: Plenty of issues – this stuff, yeah, you’ll find at your native American grocery retailer, however I feel by going to the Korean one, you are kind of opened as much as a special means of viewing your pantry as a factor that is simply as straightforward to fill with Korean components by going to the grocery retailer that is equidistant to the one you usually go to, and folks name that my grocery retailer. It is like, I could not discover that at my grocery retailer. However it’s like, it’s best to simply change your concept about what my grocery story is. What if it is simply – what if there are simply many alternative sorts of grocery shops that you simply go to to select up these wonderful flavors and these wonderful components?

LEE: If there is not a grocery retailer close to you that carries these components, you may as well look on-line at Korean American-owned chains like H Mart that now do supply supply. Now that you’ve a brief checklist of pantry objects, you might be questioning should you might simply scrap one among them, like doenjang, and substitute it in recipes that use gochujang or ganjang. Right here is your warning and our third takeaway – be considerate about substitutions.

KIM: There are components you can’t replicate, and that is the belief I had. Gochujang, gochugaru, doenjang – these three issues are very – they’re flavors that are not replicable, and I feel that is such a – as an alternative of, like, feeling, you already know, halted, I feel it is essential to see that as a beautiful, like, examination of how wonderful that taste is.

LEE: However Eric provides…

KIM: Every little thing else may be substituted, just like the fish, the vegetable, the scallion. You do not have to get the daepa if you cannot discover it. Like, you already know, daepa is that this king scallion, which – it is only a bigger scallion. It is not a leek. However anyway, my level is, there aren’t guidelines, however to be able to really arrive at an understanding of one other individual’s delicacies, it is essential to know, like, the place you possibly can substitute and the place you possibly can minimize corners. And what issues to me is that persons are understanding that doenjang and gochujang and gochugaru, all of them are very totally different flavors and really explicit and idiosyncratic.

LEE: So so long as you employ the precise spices and seasonings – like, do not use miso as an alternative of doenjang – you possibly can substitute the proteins and carbs, like swapping out Spam in kimchi jjigae or stew for canned tuna or utilizing rice desserts as an alternative of noodles. Now that you’ve your components, what to make first? That brings us to our fourth takeaway. To your first Korean cooking undertaking, strive making kimchi. Now, should you’re a Korean American or Korean listener, you might be questioning, why begin with such a labor-intensive dish when you possibly can simply purchase some from the grocery retailer? Eric says making kimchi actually should not be too onerous, particularly should you’re beginning in small batches. And it’ll educate you learn how to prepare dinner with Korean spices.

KIM: I do know it seems like the toughest factor, nevertheless it’s often because a lot of Korean cooking is round this conception of preservation, so if you learn to make kimchi, which is basically not that tough, when you do it, you type of be taught the fundamentals of Korean delicacies, which is at its core about extending the lifetime of meals.

LEE: The probabilities of kimchi are limitless. In Eric’s cookbook alone, there are greater than 10 totally different recipes that embrace his mom Jean’s Napa cabbage kimchi. There are recipes that use radish, cucumber, and even beets. As Eric talked about, kimchi has an insanely lengthy shelf life. So after you have a batch, you possibly can snack on it or add it into any of your meals, which brings us to our fifth takeaway. Discover methods you possibly can incorporate Korean flavors into your on a regular basis cooking. Eric says one other means to do that is by utilizing extra seaweed. Erik particularly recommends gim, which is a roasted and seasoned seaweed that always is available in little, smaller packs.

KIM: Gim is rather like – it is in a lot of my meals as a result of it is the way in which I might prepare dinner once I was little. I might simply crush gim into every thing. And I’ve this reminiscence of the seaweed-slicked fingers.

LEE: Gim can be a key ingredient in one among Eric’s favourite dishes, gyeran bap, which accurately means egg rice. It is a easy pantry meal and anybody can whip it up in 10 to fifteen minutes.

KIM: Gyeran bap is nice. And actually all you do is you fry an egg, and then you definately put it over white rice – normally leftover white rice, truthfully – after which sesame oil, soy sauce. And I do a – a complete packet of gim as a result of I simply do not assume it is – it is not that a lot. It, like, completely wilts, type of like spinach. And it is so good, and it provides that nuttiness. And on that gim is salt already and sesame oil, so that you’re simply fortifying these flavors. And I notice that that is what cooking is. I prefer to fortify the issues which might be already there as an alternative of making an attempt to, like, add too many different issues to it.

LEE: As somebody who grew up with Korean meals, I like a quick-fix meal like gyeran bap with some gim and kimchi, however once I’m cooking for different individuals, there’s this bizarre stress to serve one thing that is a little bit extra intricate, that feels actually Korean. It is one thing Eric’s been fascinated about lots in his profession and whereas writing his cookbook.

I am curious, how do you type of work by means of any sense of stress or the burden to make one thing that is, quote-unquote, “genuine,” but in addition pushing out what’s yours and your loved ones’s?

KIM: Yeah, I feel what I actually needed to do was go away that behind. I feel the recipes in listed below are extremely irreverent (laughter) to, like, conventional or, you already know, extra frequent modes of cooking these dishes – however finally, to reach at a actuality, which is that even fashionable Korean cooks in Korea are actually experimenting and difficult the norm. And I feel individuals used to name out that I had used vegetable oil – or I did not – that I did not use vegetable oil in my cooking. However the one purpose is that my pantry has olive oil. That is the one purpose. It is not that Korean People all around the world are utilizing olive oil. It is truly simply that mine – my pantry has that, and my mother’s pantry has that, too. And he or she’s not sitting there in her Georgia kitchen worrying about what all of the Koreans are going to consider this meals that she’s feeding her household.

LEE: I was a little bit embarrassed that I don’t know learn how to prepare dinner with Korean components. However like Eric says, constructing a Korean pantry has let me incorporate extra of those flavors into my on a regular basis cooking. Like, I add a little bit of gochugaru in my tofu stir fry or I typically embrace a spoonful of guk-ganjang to microwavable dumplings. Now, you might be questioning if that even counts as Korean American cooking. However whipping up totally different meals with a touch of Korean components is how I realized to understand these flavors.

KIM: I like this notion of making an attempt to discover the pantry and in addition demystify it in that I feel persons are afraid to prepare dinner with these Korean components. And I’ve a really complicated relationship with that as a result of I really need individuals to see how they – these components can open up their cooking, truly.

LEE: Like Eric says, the guts of Korean American cooking is relearning the components in your pantry and welcoming in additional flavors that style like house to you.

We lined lots, so here is a fast recap. Takeaway No. 1 – construct your personal Korean pantry. There are a handful of spices and seasonings that simply aren’t replicable. So decide to them and put money into them. They’ll final you some time. Takeaway No. 2 – strive utilizing totally different jangs. These fermented Korean sauces are a vital ingredient in Korean cooking. They’re utilized in so a lot of Eric’s recipes, after all. And you may as well discover cooking them in numerous meats and veggies and wherever you need to add them. Takeaway No. 3 – be aware of substitutions. Korean pantry components have very distinct flavors, so strive to not substitute these for one thing vaguely related in your pantry. Takeaway No. 4 – should you’re new to Korean cooking, strive making kimchi. It should add to any Korean dish, or actually any meal, and it is fairly straightforward to make. You can additionally make one huge batch and share it with different individuals. And Takeaway No. 5 – welcome extra Korean flavors into your on a regular basis cooking. Attempt incorporating these pantry components and gim into your snacks and fast meals. You could be stunned to search out new flavors out of your Korean American cooking journey.

For extra LIFE KIT, try our different episodes. I hosted one on learn how to get into tarot readings, and now we have one other one on learn how to arrange your pantry with Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. You’ll find these at npr/org/lifekit. And should you love LIFE KIT and wish extra, subscribe to our publication at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter.

This episode of LIFE KIT was produced by the stunning Clare Marie Schneider. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is our senior editor. Our digital editors are Beck Harlan and Dalia Mortada. Our manufacturing workforce additionally contains Audrey Nguyen, Andee Tagle and Sylvie Douglas. Particular due to my mother and my good friend Jeremy Pesegan (ph), who all the time cooks with me. I am Janet Woojeong Lee. Thanks for listening.

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