Korean-style Tofu in a Spicy Fermented Paste, with Banchan

I see that the last time I posted was on December 5th, and it is now January 5th. Wow. That was an unintentional break that I didn’t even really realize I was taking. It wasn’t from lack of time (though I have none) or lack of cooking, but I guess I’ve just been getting back to basics lately and haven’t made anything I felt compelled to share because I’ve already done a post on it or it’s boring. Or things have been too experimental and I haven’t replicated them for quality assurance. Anyway, I’m back today, so yay!

I’ve been treadmilling lately. I’ve noticed a trend amongst my friends and peers – and even husband – in running. Friends who always claimed to hate running are now training for marathons. I think everyone I know is training for a marathon. Not me, man, I’m sticking to the hatred of running I’ve nurtured since grade school. When I was in 10th grade, our JV field hockey team was in danger of being disbanded due to lack of interest. A friend of mine was on the team and devastated by this and somehow cajoled me into auditioning. (I think perhaps “audition” is not the right verb for applying to participate in a sport, but I’m not up on such sporty lingo.) Despite their desperation for players, the coach wasn’t allowed to waive the base requirements for making the team, one of which was the ability to run a mile in 8 minutes. So basically I had to run a mile in 8 minutes or the team wouldn’t exist and my friend would cry and it’d be all my fault. I think my prior best time for mile “running” was in the 13-minute range. But I bucked up and ran that mile, clocking in at 7:58. The team was saved! Yes, I actually played an entire season of junior varsity field hockey, and because we had the bare minimum of players for a team, I played full-time in every game of the season. We even won a game, too! I must confess that I have absolutely no idea what the rules of field hockey are or what my “position” may have been. A couple of years ago, however, I realized it was very likely the powers that be strategically paused that stopwatch for a minute or five….

That was the pinnacle of my athletic career and quite possibly the last time I ever ran a distance further than a block. I just detest it. Walking I’m cool with – I can walk all day, but running makes me completely miserable. Unfortunately, I think the effects of my indifference to exercise are starting to show, especially since I stopped going to the gym to swim because the gym pissed me off. Plus Mark had been complaining that the company he works for now doesn’t provide a free, onsite gym like his previous employer. So last September I cashed in the ton of rewards points I’d collected on my credit card and bought a really nice treadmill with the cash. Since then I’ve been trying to fit treadmilling into my daily routine. I’ve been using treadmill as a verb because although I don’t run, I DO walk at a jogging pace and I also set the incline up as high as it will go, so I feel like I’m doing something more than just walking, in fact, I’m almost climbing half the time.

Anyway, I’ve been fitting a lot of my dinner preparations around my treadmilling. I’ll often pop home from work and begin prepping dinner, sometimes putting something in the oven to bake or roast, or rice in the cooker to steam, or tofu in a pan to marinate, or whatever, then I’ll go treadmill, then return to the kitchen to finish cooking. Last night’s meal fit this paradigm perfectly because it came together super quickly after my workout, which is good because by then I’m starving.

Banchan are the small side dishes that are served with Korean meals. Kimchi takes a few days to make, but many of the pickles and salads that make up banchan require little to no resting or fermenting time. They are therefore perfect for tossing together an hour or so before you plan to eat. Last night I made a bean sprout salad and a spicy cucumber salad, in addition to miso soup.

For the miso soup, to make the dashi, or stock, I’ll bring some water to a boil in my electric kettle, then pour it into a small, heavy pot over a piece of kombu, then I’ll put the lid on the pot and let it sit for a while. You can use the dashi after as little as 10 minutes, but it works perfectly if you plan some other task, like working out, before eating the soup.

Miso Soup
3 cups water, boiling for a faster dashi or room temperature if you have an hour or more
1 piece (about 4″) kombu
splashes of rice vinegar, mirin, and/or sake (optional)
3-4 Tbsp miso (your favorite kind; I usually use brown/yellow)
extras: my favorites are traditional – wakame, tofu cubes, sliced scallion

Put the water and kombu in a small pot and let sit for as long as you have (an hour in cold water is sufficient; 10 minutes or so is fine in boiling water). Remove the kombu. Bring the resulting dashi to a near-simmer, adding the optional splashes of rice vinegar, mirin, and/or sake. I just use these for additional flavor since I don’t use bonito, which is fish, in my dashi. Remove a few tablespoons of dashi from the pot and put it in a small bowl. Add the miso to it and stir until smooth, then add to the pot. (It’s easier to blend the miso in this way than trying to stir into a larger quantity of liquid.) Once the miso is in the pot, don’t let the soup come to a boil. Add any extra proteins or veggies you want and let them heat gently. Miso soup is a great starter to just about any meal and also a good, light breakfast.

Korean Bean Sprout Salad
3 cups bean sprouts
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar or 1 drop stevia
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1/8 tsp Korean red pepper powder
1 scallion, sliced thinly

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and lightly salt it. Add the bean sprouts. Cook for two minutes then drain and run under cold water until sprouts are completely cool. Whisk together the remaining ingredients, adjusting them to your tastes (the quantities above are approximate). Toss the sprouts with the liquid. Let flavors meld in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving.

Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad
1 cucumber, thinly sliced (mandolin preferable)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia
1/2 tsp salt
Korean red pepper powder to taste (I used maybe 1/4 or 1/2 tsp…it’s not quite as hot as “regular” red pepper flakes and not nearly as hot as cayenne)
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Mix together everything but the cucumbers, then toss with the sliced cucumbers. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow flavors to meld and cucumbers to relax.

Korean-Style Tofu in a Spicy Fermented Paste

1 lb tofu, cut into cubes
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed lightly
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/3 cup spicy “mixed” fermented soybean paste (see photo below) OR 3 Tbsp doenjang (fermented soybean paste) + 3 Tbsp gochujang (fermented chili and soybean paste)
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia
rice, for serving (I used sushi rice)

Not a great picture – I’m experience photo editing software issues over here and couldn’t clean it up – but this is the paste I bought at Super H; it’s essentially a combination of doenjang and gochujang, which are standard fermented pastes used in Korean foods. I bought it without really knowing what it was at the time just because it seemed like something that would lend itself to quick meals, although I already had both doenjang and gochujang at home.

Prepare the tofu by chopping it and the broccoli by cutting into florets and steaming for 2 minutes or so. Put the minced or pressed garlic in a small bowl and add the rice vinegar. Let it sit for a minute or two to mellow, then mix in the paste or pastes and sugar or stevia. If necessary, thin with some water (or broccoli steaming water). Heat a wok and add some oil, then stir fry the onions, then add the tofu. Cook until lightly browned.

Add the paste mixture.

Add the broccoli. Let it all cook for a minute or two, until the broccoli is heated and the paste has cooked slightly to take the raw edge off the garlic. Top with toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallion.

To prep this ahead, I got the rice going in the rice cooker, steamed the broccoli, chopped the tofu, and mixed the paste. It took 5 minutes, tops, to have it ready once I was finished exercising.

Here it is served with the banchan.

Between prepping dinner and exercising, I did a load of laundry. When I took it to the drying rack to hang it up, I got some help. I don’t think this looks very comfortable, but here is Gomez “assisting”.

So my work with the mangy fox in my yard has not gone well, I’m sorry to report, though I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money and time on him. As you may recall, I got some medicine for him and started putting chicken out for him, trying to establish a feeding pattern so I could dose some of the chicken with reasonable expectations that he would be the one to consume it. This has proved much more difficult than I’d hoped. This fox is VERY unpredictable, showing up sporadically at all times of day and night. He did eat the chicken once or twice, then his behavior became even more sporadic. Raccoons ate the chicken most nights, and crows ate it every day. Then I didn’t see him for three whole weeks and finally gave up hope. I assumed he’d died or moved on and I was trying to come to terms with my failure when the VERY FIRST day I didn’t put chicken out for him, he reappeared that afternoon. Then at 5 a.m. Then not at all. UGH! I’m still going to see what I can do for him, but realistically I’m going to have to adjust my hopes of saving him. It’s SO frustrating to see him right outside my window when I have not one but TWO different ways of curing him (in addition to the ivermectin we use in the States, the awesome people at the National Fox Welfare Society in the UK sent me some homeopathic medicine), in the house for him if only he’d COOPERATE. I was relieved to see he’s not looking much worse but he’s not looking better and it’s getting really cold now, which is bad when you are missing a lot of your fur.

That depressing update aside, I do have some entertaining videos from the outdoor cam that I set up to track the fox. I switched to video mode because I couldn’t always tell what was going on in the still photos.

This is just the other night, when the sick fox made his reappearance. He looks strange to me, in addition to the mange, but it’s hard to diagnose that strangeness because of the infrared flash and resulting b&w video.

Compare him to one of my healthy foxes:

I have dozens to hundreds of videos to comb through every day, 75% of which are raccoons and the rest foxes and smaller animals, so that I’m shocked every time I find an animal taking up the entire frame (even though the camera I’m using is actually intended for hunters to track their prey, which I assume is mostly deer)! I at least have a small victory in this doe. In this video you can see her holding her rear hoof up. In other videos, she refused to walk on it. But in a video I captured two nights ago, she’s putting her full weight on it! I had nothing to do with it other than providing her a source of easy food while she recovered, but I’m glad SOMEONE has healed during this trying time for me.

I have a bunch of other videos but I think I’ll save them for future posts, so I’ll close with raccoon party:

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Generic Korean Dinner, and Cat Party

Cucumbers were $1 each or 3 for $2 at the farmers market yesterday, so I got three. But considering I already had half of one at home, that was far more than I needed for tossed salads this week, so I made a cucumber salad. Instead of my regular cucumber salad, however, I made a Korean cucumber salad. When I didn’t know what to make for dinner tonight, I decided to make something that went with the Korean cucumber salad. So basically this dish has nothing to do with cucumbers but happened because I had excess of cucumbers. It’s a “generic” Korean dinner because you can use whatever protein and vegetables you have on hand.

Generic Korean Dinner

1/4 cup gojujang (fermented chili paste; from an Asian grocery store)
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tbsp ginger, peeled (sloppily is okay) and chopped
2 Tbsp (not packed) brown sugar
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups chopped protein, like tofu, seitan, or tempeh (I used a couple of Gardein chick’n cutlets and 1/2 block of tofu)
3 cups chopped or sliced vegetables (I used broccoli, banana pepper, and edamame)
2 scallions, sliced

Chop the ginger and smash the garlic.

Combine the gojujang, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Thin with water if necessary.

Stir fry the vegetables and proteins in a wok over high heat, adding them in order of descending necessary cooking times.

Reduce the heat a bit and add the sauce, stirring to coat everything. Cook for a minute or so.

Top with scallions and serve with sushi rice.

So, yesterday, June 12, was the one-year anniversary of the day I brought Gomez and Torticia home. Mark and I have been re-watching old episodes of The Office lately and in (I think) the first episode, Pam says she has something important to ask Jim, which turns out to be “are you going to Angela’s cat party on Sunday?” Ever since then I’ve been wanting to go to a cat party but no one ever invites me to any. Until yesterday when Mark announced he was leaving the house to procure party supplies and upon his return mysteriously began preparing something behind closed doors. Eventually he announced it was time for the cat party to begin and he herded me and the cats into the basement, where we were met with:

There was also music playing: cats meowing Christmas carols, which was the only cat music Mark could find. So please add that to your mental picture of the cat party. There were also noise makers and party mix:

After a brief mingling session, Mark announced it was time for prizes and began his awards ceremony. Gomez took first place in the category of Perfection.

Torticia took home the Outstanding award in the category of “Being Cuddly and Awesome”.

Unfortunately, during the formal portrait session part of the awards ceremony …

… while Gomez was being photographed …

… Torticia decided she found cat party terrifying and fled.

I’m not really sure what was up with that, because I’ve never seen Torticia scared of anything. I take this cat along to the vet with Gomez even when she doesn’t need to go herself because she likes it. Gomez is the one who is highly-strung and flees from loud or sudden noises. However, Gomez LOVED cat party. He was strutting around, showing off his perfection …

… and eating so much party mix I was worried he was going to spoil his appetite for dinner and/or get sick.

Fatty did resurface when I served dinner …

… until Mark accidentally touched a balloon and she was off again. Gomez, on the other hand, didn’t even care about the noise makers – as long as I used it silently.

All in all, three of us had a grand time at the cat party.

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Renae out of control at Super H

Due to a combination of factors including our trip to Charleston and, oh, a few blizzards, I have not been to Super H or any other Asian grocery store in many weeks, other than the solitary Chinese grocery store my mother-in-law found in North Charleston. I don’t know if Super H got wind of the fact I was considering moving to Charleston or if I had just missed it sorely, but for some reason it seemed to be even more amazingly awesome than usual this evening.

Oh, my love.

(This picture taken a million years ago when there weren’t 20′ snow piles all over the parking lot. Oh, happy, happy days.)

I remember vividly the first time I set foot in Super H. It must have been 5 or 6 years ago and I’d driven down to Fairfax from Arlington, where we lived at the time, just to check out the big brother to the closer-by Han Ah Reum. I walked into the produce department and immediately gaped in amazement. I remember digging my Blackberry out of my purse and immediately IMing Mark: “I WANT TO LIVE IN THIS GROCERY STORE.” Super H is HUGE and their produce selection is simply unbelievable. And CHEAP! Then there’s the entire aisle devoted to rice, and an entire aisle devoted to noodles, an entire aisle devoted to soy sauces and vinegars….it’s just amazing. You do have to watch out for certain areas – there are a lot of tentacles and other scary things that need to be avoided, but that’s really only a problem in the frozen food aisle, otherwise that stuff is confined to the seafood department in the back that I just pretend doesn’t exist.

Not only is Super H jam-packed with awesomeness, but they’re always playing good music. Like The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Erasure. I don’t know how a Korean grocery store chain got a hold of my high school record collection, but I’m not complaining.

Anyway, I went completely nuts tonight. I should have taken a picture of everything I bought, but it didn’t all fit on the kitchen island at one time. I filled four big reusable grocery bags to the point they were nearly busting, and the bill was only $100. If I’d bought that much at Whole Foods, it’d have been $500. Not that Whole Foods has half the stuff I bought. I think the blizzards have mentally scarred me and I decided I’d better pack my pantry with enough stuff to see us through an entire year or something.

No recipes tonight – it’s very late so I’m just having a huge assortment of fresh banchan supplied by Super H, and some sushi rice – but I wanted to share a few items I picked up that are new to me, with the hopes maybe some of you will supply me with ideas on using it.

Tia To:

I thought this looked suspiciously like shiso, which can be hard to find, so I snatched it up. Turns out I was right: it’s Vietnamese shiso, and apparently it has a stronger taste. There’s a pretty large amount of it for $1!

Frozen bean curd:

I got this because it looked a little bit like fish cake, so I was thinking I could use it in something that calls for fish cake. I’ve never had fish cake before, so I’ll have no idea if it tastes like it or not. I’ll probably add seaweed to whatever dish I come up with to make it fishier. Anybody tried a product like this? Since the tia to is supposed to be good with seafood dishes, I’m thinking about combining these items?

Fermented soybean:

I think I’ve identified this as doenjang, so I’m pretty sure it’ll end up in an awesome Korean soup, but I’d love to hear ideas on this.

Meatless Spaghetti Sauce With Pickled Cucumber

This one is so simply bizarre, I couldn’t pass it up. I’m not sure if I will actually eat it, although it is vegan. It’s fried wheat gluten with pickles. Apparently you put it on spaghetti?! I’ll definitely do a post on this, even if it’s not edible.

Soy Pudding

Not entirely sure why I bought this because it’s just soft tofu, which I can easily make myself, with a syrup you mix in to make a dessert. The syrup is just high fructose corn syrup with ginger flavoring, so I imagine I’ll be throwing that away and making my own syrup using fresh ginger and no HFCS. Anyone tried this stuff? Thoughts on replacing the syrup?

Rice Noodles

I just picked these up because one of the very, very few things I can’t find at Super H are really wide rice noodles, like I’d use for drunken noodles. The Thai grocery has them, but it’s far away. Actually, that Chinese grocery in North Charleston had them! Score 1 for N. Charleston (but 1,000,000 for Super H).


I love aloe but I’ve just never bought it fresh. It was only $1 for this leaf so I figured, what the heck. Now I’m not sure what to do with it.


This is NOT a new product for me, of course, but it’s pictured here because this huge container cost $14.99, and the cashier was raving about it and saying how it’s the best kind and that it was “so expensive” but worth it. Which I got a huge laugh out of, because in Charleston, Mark picked a tiny (Vegenaise-sized) jar of kimchi up at Earth Fare without looking at the price and I was shocked to look at the receipt later and find it had cost $14.99. Flabbergasted. It was just cabbage, carrots, ginger, and salt! Outrageous! When he ate it I asked him if it was the most amazing kimchi he’d ever had and he said no, in fact, it was extremely boring. It wasn’t even spicy. So now we’re always joking about the world’s most expensive kimchi. I can’t believe Super H thinks THEIR kimchi is expensive! (By the way, this kind of kimchi didn’t contain any fish sauce, anchovies, or oysters, but you’ve got to look out for that stuff when buying kimchi. Or make your own.)

Speaking of the cashier, who was Korean, she noted all the Korean food I was buying and seemed quite impressed by my selections. I’m now an honorary Korean!

I’m off to eat my banchan…have a great weekend, and if you have any thoughts on these items, let’s hear them!

Update: Here’s a picture of tonight’s meal:

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Kimchee “Beef” Ramen; Nachos

I’ve done a post on ramen before, but here’s another idea. I’ve been going into work early (for me) this week and was too tired when I got home to make much of a fuss with dinner, so this is what I came up with.

Kimchee “Beef” Ramen

4 cups vegan “beef” broth
4 oz vegan “beefy” seitan, sliced thinly or purchased in a small format
1 carrot, grated
equal amount of daikon, grated
2 Tbsp gochuchang (Korean spicy pepper paste) (optional)
2 Tbsp vegan fish sauce, if available (I just threw this in because I have it and don’t know what to do with it)
2 cups kimchee, chopped
1 package chuka soba (curly noodles)
1 cup bean sprouts
4 scallions, chopped

Grate the carrot and daikon.

If your kimchee isn’t chopped small enough for your tastes, scissors make short work of it.

Combine the broth, “fish” sauce (totally optional), gochuchang (optional if you want to cut down on the heat), kimchee, and “beefy” seitan in a soup pot.

Bring to a boil then add the ramen. You don’t need to break it up, but do submerge it.

Cook for a minute, then add the carrots and daikon.

The ramen will be done in 3 to 5 minutes; when it is, you can stick a spoon or chopstick in it and twirl to separate the noodles.

Add the bean sprouts and scallions; stir.

Serve topped with additional scallions and maybe a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Next up, not so much a recipe so much as an idea. I had leftover “beefy” sauce, jalapenos, and “cheese” from the Mexican pizzas I made the other day, so last night I made nachos to use it all up.


tortilla chips, enough to thoroughly cover your baking dish (and feed everyone)
taco-flavored vegan ground “beef”
vegan refried beans (I used half a can for two servings)
diced onion
canned or fresh jalapenos, sliced
salsa (I used half a jar for two servings)
vegan cheddar cheese (I used Daiya)
guacamole and/or vegan sour cream (I made guac by pounding a bit of onion and garlic with some salt in a molcajete, then adding avocado and hot sauce and mashing well; you can use a bowl and fork instead of a molcajete)

Mark got home late, so I made two separate sets of the nachos, each in an 8×8 baking dish, which was about right for a single serving, and saved his to bake when he got home. I just layered the tortilla chips, then the refried beans and “beefy” sauce, then the onions and jalapenos, then the salsa and cheese. I baked it at 375 for about 10 minutes, then added some guacamole.

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Quick Korean-ish Dinner

Since seeing SusanV’s Korean-Style Cucumber Salad on Fat Free Vegan the other day, I’ve been thinking about it. Although I probably could, like SusanV, eat it as a meal, I accompanied it with a quick hot meal that used up some veggies I need to get rid of.

Korean Cucumber Salad
adapted from Fat Free Vegan

2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp Korean red chili flakes (these are pretty mild; if you can’t find them, use much less cayenne), or to taste
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sesame oil

Thinly slice the cucumber, using a mandolin, food processor, or your trusty chef’s knife:

Do the same with the onion.

Juice the lemon half.

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.

Refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Thrown-together Korean-like vegetable meal

My premise with this dish was if I was going for a Korean theme, I could clean out my crisper drawers and just toss the veggies with some gochujang. So that’s what I did. I had much of a very large zucchini, which I sliced on the mandolin (thicker than the cucumber):

I sliced up a couple of carrots:

And two small heads of broccoli, the florets of which I microwaved for a minute because I prefer to partially cooking my broccoli before stir-frying.

In a small bowl, I mixed together 2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste), 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 drop stevia, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, and 1 tablespoon water.

Then I heated up a wok, added some oil and then the carrots, which I stir fried for a minute or two:

Then I added the zucchini slices (which I chopped in half first, as they were very large), and fried for about three minutes:

I added the broccoli and cooked just long enough to heat it …

… and finally added the sauce, stirring to combine and heat.

Served with rice made in a rice cooker, this meal took maybe 15 minutes to prepare. Not the most exciting meal in the world (and probably very inauthentic), though the cucumbers were yummy, but it was filling, healthy, and tasted good. And I’m free of cucumbers and zucchini!! (Until I visit the farmer’s market Wednesday morning…)

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Korean Rice Cakes (Ddukbokki)

I know I said not to expect me to post for a couple of weeks, but I found time to make a quick dinner tonight, so here you go.

Korean rice cakes may not be for everyone. Completely unlike the crunchy styrofoam-like health food snack that no one likes but Mark (who will eat anything with the word rice in the name), they have a texture that puts some people off, including myself to some extent. I don’t like overly chewy things because I have bad dreams involving chewing gum and my teeth (which is why I don’t chew gum). Rice cakes are about the limit of chewiness I can tolerate. Mark loves them, however, and I like the spicy sauce they are served in. The first time I tried to make this, I overcooked the rice cakes. NEVER overcook rice cakes. Err on the side of undercooking!

The reason I didn’t make an Irish meal in celebration of Bloomsday is because we’re leaving for the beach on Saturday and I will likely not be cooking any more meals between then and now, so I’m not hitting up the grocery store for any fresh food and am eating what’s on hand. Ordinarily, I’d have used fresh ginger and added scallions to this dish, but again, I’m a lacking some fresh supplies.

Korean Rice Cakes (Ddukbokki)

1 package rice cakes
3 heaping tablespoons gochujjang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 gloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp grated ginger, or 1 tsp powdered ginger
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp Korean red pepper flakes
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
4 leaves cabbage, chiffonaded
1 cup water
1/4 cup vegetarian ‘fish” sauce, or 2 Tbsp soy sauce + 2 Tbsp water
3 scallions, chopped

Bring a medium large pot of water to a boil and add the rice cakes, stirring so they don’t stick.

How long it takes to soften them depends on the size and shape of the rice cake, but will probably only take a minute or so, so don’t walk away from them. Slightly undercook them because they’ll be further cooked later. When they are soft enough to chew, drain and rinse with cold water.

Prep the cabbage, onions, garlic, and scallions (if you have them).

Mix the gochujjang, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and sugar together in a small bowl.

Stir the soy sauce or vegan “fish” sauce into the water.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and add some oil. I used canola plus a bit of the toasted sesame oil for flavor. When hot, add the onions and cook for a minute or two.

Add the cabbage and cook for 30 seconds.

Pour in the water and soy or “fish” sauce and bring to a boil.

Scrape in the mixed chili paste …

… then stir to combine.

Bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken.

If your rice cakes are sticking to each other, run cold water over them while rubbing them apart from each other. When they are all free from each other, dump into the wok.

Bring the sauce back to boiling and cook just long enough to heat the rice cakes and thicken the sauce.

The sauce should be sticking to the rice cakes. Do not overcook! Stir in the scallions and remove from heat.

These must have been good because Mark informed me he would be taking the leftovers in for lunch tomorrow and he never takes lunch in.

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Soups from leftovers

Hello. I’m just checking in with the ole blog. I haven’t cooked anything all that blog-worthy this week. What I’ve been doing, in fact, is making soup from random things I find in the refrigerator all week because I haven’t felt like going to the grocery store or having a big to-do in the kitchen. Tonight I used up the rest of a batch of kimchi and some tofu I made that ended up (somewhat curiously) much softer than usual by making soon tubu jjiggae.

I didn’t follow my recipe from last time. I put 4 cups of water on to boil with a piece of kombu. After letting that simmer for 5 minutes or so, I added 1/4 cup vegetarian fish sauce (just omit if you don’t have it) and 2 vegan “beef” bouillon cubes, as well as some shredded dulse, what was probably about a cup of kimchi, 3 big spoonfuls of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and my too-soft tofu, chunked, and let it all heat up. Then I removed the kombu and topped with scallions. REALLY fast and easy. Almost ridiculously so.

The whole spread; I also made some rice and I’d stopped and picked up a couple of items for banchan:

I didn’t take a photo, mostly because it didn’t look very pretty, but last night I cleaned out half the refrigerator by making soup. I had most of an onion in the fridge that had been peeled and needed to be used, so I chopped that up and sautéed it with a couple of carrots that were getting old, adding in a bunch of halved grape tomatoes near the end. What I didn’t have, *gasp*, was garlic, so I added a bunch of garlic powder (I shudder at the thought, but fortunately Penzeys’ stuff is good) and also some asafoetida just to be on the safe side. Then I added 6 cups stock and what was probably about 3/4 cup leftover homemade pizza sauce, some red pepper flakes, thyme, and parsley and brought to a boil. Then I dumped in maybe 1/2 cup lentils de Puy. and the rest of some savoy cabbage I had to get rid of, maybe a cup or so, chopped. At this point the soup actually looked fairly decent. However, after putting a lid on it and simmering for 20 minutes, the lentils made it all muddy and it didn’t look as pretty. Then I added 1/2 cup alphabet pasta and a chopped zucchini that was about to see better days and simmered until the pasta was done. I tore up some stale sourdough bread left over from the weekend’s baking, put it in a bowl, and ladled the soup over it. It wasn’t pretty, but damn did it taste good. Sort of shockingly good considering practically all of it was leftovers. It was so good I ate three bowlfuls and then could barely move the rest of the night: it was that filling. I polished the rest off for lunch today.

And that is my pretty boring post. Have you noticed a trend here? When I don’t know what to make, I throw things into a pot with some stock and call it soup. Bizarrely, it almost always tastes amazing. I don’t know why. Luck, I guess.

I’m about to build an ark here in Northern Virginia. How I miss that 90-degree weather from a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard to believe I’m having the pool opened in a week. I’m going to be out there cleaning the pool while wearing a winter jacket if the weather doesn’t start cooperating. I’m wondering if I should invest in a wetsuit.

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Soon Tubu JJigae (Soft Tofu Stew)

One of the best meals I had in San Francisco (and I had a lot of great meals) was the first one: tofu stew at a Korean tofu house in Japantown. As I promised at the time, I decided to replicate it tonight.

There aren’t many vegan recipes for soon tubu jjigae on the internet, in fact, I didn’t find any. Everyone seems to want to put clam juice, beef, and shrimp in it. And egg. But none of that stuff is necessary. The important features of soon tubu jjigage are 1) tofu and 2) spiciness, both of which I can produce in spades.

The first thing you need to consider is your tofu. I wouldn’t dream of making soon tubu jjigage with anything but homemade tofu. The tofu is just too big a part of the dish and I’m used to homemade. So I have to urge you to try making it yourself. I ordinarily make an extremely firm tofu, using as much coagulant as I can get away with without it turning bitter and pressing it under about 25 pounds. Because I wanted a much softer tofu for the stew, I cut back on the amount of coagulant I used (I used nigari as usual, but if I’d been thinking more clearly, I’d have used the calcium sulfate I have because it makes a softer tofu AND adds calcium), and I used just 1.5 pounds (a new bottle of agave nectar, to be precise) to press it.

If you simply can not be bothered to make your own tofu, buy fresh soft tofu from an Asian market if at all possible. If you can’t find fresh, buy the best soft tofu you can find at an Asian market. Sometimes it comes in tubes and it’s usually in the produce department. If you don’t live near an Asian market, you can resort to using silken tofu in a box.

Soon Tubu Jjigae

3 1/2 cups water
1 4″x4″ square kombu
1/4 cup dulse, snipped into bite-size pieces with kitchen shears (optional)
1 handful arame (optional)
2 tsp vegan chicken bouillon (or enough to flavor 4 cups of water at half-strength)
1 Tbsp Korean red pepper powder
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup cold water
3 Tbsp arrowroot
6 Tbsp gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste) (Susan V of Fat-Free Vegan has a substitute you can make if you don’t live near a Korean grocery store in this post, but get the real deal if at all possible.)
1 cup cabbage kimchi
2 carrots, julienned or shredded
1 pound soft tofu, preferably homemade
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped

Place the seaweed(s) in a soup pot with the 3 1/2 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the kombu. (You can chop it up into bite-sized pieces and put it back in if you wish.) Add the garlic, red pepper powder, soy sauce, sesame oil, and “chicken” bouillon. Simmer for five minutes.

Mix the cold water and arrowroot together in a small bowl, whisking to ensure there are no lumps, then add to the soup. Add the gochujang, whisking to make sure it is dissolved. Simmer for another five minutes.

Add the kimchi and carrots.

Chop the tofu into 8 large pieces.

Add the tofu to the stew.

Stir the tofu into the stew, allowing it to break up a little bit, but mostly maintaining the chunks.

Simmer for 5 more minutes, then add the scallions.

Raise the heat a little and cook for another couple of minutes. In restaurants, soon tubu jjigae arrives to your table very, very hot, so let it get very bubbly.

I served the soon tubu jjigae in individual-sized cast iron pots, which even have lids to keep the stew warm while I run around taking photographs. Here’s one of the pots:

Mark was fascinated by the “little cauldrons”.

Serve with several banchan.

The verdict on this one was very good. Mark commented that he tasted “several layers of flavor, followed by a nice spiciness.” He proceeded to clean his cauldron, then steal tofu from mine. Afterwards he told me to announce it had the Mark Seal of Approval.

Brachtune doesn’t care much for tofu, or stew for that matter, but she does love chopsticks.

Tigger prefers red pepper.

(His fur is wet because he took a little shower in the kitchen sink. He’s very weird.)

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A couple of banchan: Korean Bean Sprout and Cucumber Salads

Possibly the best parts of a Korean meal are the banchan, or little side dishes, that almost always accompany it. They usually include kimchi and pickled vegetables (and often tiny little dead fish). I could make an entire meal of banchan. I like to make my own, although since I like to serve four or five different kinds at a time, I often supplement my homemade banchan with a few ready-made items from Super H; they always have several vegan varieties (you do have to watch out for fish sauce). Tonight I made a bean sprout “salad” and a cucumber “salad”. I’m putting salad in quotes because I don’t really know what to call them. I spend enough time at Super H that you’d think maybe I would have picked up Korean by osmosis by now, but it’s still Greek to me. (I hilariate myself. (“Hilariate” is a perfectly cromulent word.))

Although I don’t know what to call these little dishes, they are very fast, easy, and even cheap. Throw them together before embarking on the preparation of a Korean meal, let them marinate while you make the main dish, and then everything will be ready at the same time. Easy!

Bean Sprout Banchan

2 cups bean sprouts
2 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 drop stevia (or 1 tsp sugar)

Place the bean sprouts in a bowl. Bring a kettle to boil, then pour the boiling water over the bean sprouts to cover. Let sit for 2 minutes, then drain.

Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl …

… then toss with the bean sprouts.

Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

Verdict? At dinner, Mark said he particularly liked the bean sprouts and seemed impressed when I told him I made the recipe up. Not that it’s a particularly difficult or involved recipe, in fact, it seems a little silly to bother taking credit for it. But it went over very well!

Cucumber Banchan

Imagine 2 cucumbers in this photograph.

2 cucumbers
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp Korean red pepper powder

Slice cucumbers as thinly as possible, on a mandolin if you have one. Toss with the salt and let sit for 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients.

Squeeze the cucumbers dry, then toss with marinade.

Now, I’ve always just marinaded the cucumbers in the past, however, this time I decided to get fancy and use my new pickle press. If you don’t have one, just let the cucumbers sit in the marinade. But if you want to use a press, put the cucumber into the press and tighten it:

Then refrigerate for at least half an hour. Notice how the liquid has come up through the holes in the “presser foot” of the press:

Simply drain the liquid off before unclamping. Then serve!

Verdict? Nice and crisp, however, not spicy enough for my tastes. I might toss in some more red pepper after pressing next time. You could barely taste the pepper. But I like cucumbers, so it was good anyway.

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Dolsot Bibimbap

My mother-in-law is staying with us a few days in conjunction with a family wedding. She and I were swimming today as I was thinking about dinner possibilities, which lead me to decide on one of my favorite meals, a sizzling Korean concoction called dolsot bibimbap. As I mentioned in my kimchi post, Mark’s parents lived in Korea for a while just before he was born, and they were responsible for introducing me to Korean food. It’s also a pretty easy meal to make and doesn’t take much longer than it does to make rice (although you have to work the whole time the rice is cooking). So I dragged myself out of the pool and was off to Super H to get a few ingredients.

Bibimbap is a pretty well-known Korean meal consisting of various things – usually including meat of some sort – stirred into rice. A dolsot is a heavy stone bowl that can be heated over fire. Dolsot bibimbap, then, is bibimbap that is partially cooked and served in a dolsot. In my opinion, dolsot bibimbap is much better than regular old bibimbap because a) it makes noise (it sizzles) and b) the rice gets crunchy. The problem some of you are going to have is finding dolsots. I’m fortunate to live in amongst many Korean stores, so dolsots were no problem for me. You may be able to find them online but you’ll pay a fortune in shipping if you do because they weigh a ton. I imagine you could try cooking the rice in a cast iron pot and then transferring it to a serving dish when it’s crunchy, although honestly that’s not nearly as fun. I have two smaller iron pots that are, I believe, Chinese that I used before I bought the dolsots, and while this worked somewhat, the result wasn’t nearly as good as it is in a real dolsot. Here is what my dolsots look like:

As far as the tray under the dolsot is concerned, you definitely need one and this is one of the very few times I’ll tell you you want the plastic kind over the wooden kind. I originally had wooden trays for my dolsots, but they were laminated and the hot dolsots stuck to them so now I have a plasticky goo on the bottom of my dolsots that smells really bad and gets all over my burners when hot. Bizarrely, the plastic kind doesn’t melt while the wooden kind does (at least the wooden kind I had).

One of the great things about vegetarian bibimbap, and making bibimbap at home, is you can put whatever you want in it. It’s good for using up leftovers, although I usually just go to Super H and grab some veggies there. The Super H near me often has prepared seasoned bibimbap veggies that save on prep time. I ordinarily wouldn’t buy prepared veggies like that except the packages they have contain traditional items like bellflower root and bracken fern that I can’t always find fresh and unprepared. But don’t be alarmed if you don’t have a Korean store nearby where you can get these items. You can put any type of veggie into your bibimbap as long as you can chop it up into nice pieces. So the following is really more a few suggestions than an actual recipe.

Dolsot Bibimbap

short or medium grain rice (I use sushi rice), one serving per person
gochujang (chili pepper paste) sauce: about 1/4 cup per person (recipe follows)

various vegetables and tofu, depicted above is:
1 large or 2 small carrots, julienned thinly
1 bunch baby broccoli: an example of a non-traditional ingredient that worked well for me
mung bean sprouts
bracken fern
bellflower root
Korean or Chinese chives (which I didn’t end up using because I had enough other stuff)
Korean radish or daikon
tofu, cubed

Also suggested:
mushrooms if you can stand them
really any strange vegetables you see in an Asian grocery store and can’t identify

For the veggie marinade:
3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
9 drop stevia or 1 Tbsp sugar

Prepare the rice according to the package. I use a rice cooker. While the rice is cooking, prepare the veggies. “Hard” vegetables such as carrots, radish, and zucchini should be julienned thinly. I used a julienne peeler on this carrot:

Leafy vegetables should be roughly chopped if necessary. Blanch veggies like carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, and radish in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute depending on how hard they are then rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Don’t overcook them.

Leafy items like spinach can be microwaved for one minute or lightly steamed. Zucchini can be lightly sauteed or just used raw. Chives, lettuce, and tofu can be used raw. I honestly don’t know know how to prepare mushrooms because I don’t eat those nasty things.

Stir together the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.

Keeping each vegetable in a separate bowl, toss each with a small amount of the marinade. If you like, toss in some sesame seeds:

Next make the sauce:

Gochujang Sauce

(Makes enough for three generous servings.)

1/2 cup gochujang (spicy chili pepper paste, available in Korean markets)
3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
9 drops stevia or 1 Tbsp sugar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp sesame oil

Gochujang is a very thick paste that looks like this:

We want to make it a bit more “stir-able”, so to it add the other ingredients:

Then whisk together. You’ll need a sturdy whisk.

Divide the gochujang into small individual bowls (I used Chinese teacups), one for each serving. Set aside.

Meanwhile, as the rice is finishing up, prepare the dolsots. Set each dolsot directly on a burner. Gas is probably really better but I don’t have a problem using my electric stove. Pour about 1/2 tsp sesame oil into each, then use a paper towel to rub the oil all over the interior surface, wiping away any excess oil. Bibimbap is not at all a greasy dish, but the sesame oil causes the rice to brown and turn crispy, so a thin layer is necessary. Turn each dolsotted burner on medium heat. Allow the dolsots to come up to temperature for a couple of minutes, then spread one serving of the cooked, hot rice into each dolsot, covering the bottom of the dolsot and partially going up the sides.

Allow the rice to cook in the dolsots for about 10-15 minutes, checking periodically that it is not burning. You can serve it in a range of states from lightly brown and slightly crunchy to golden brown and very crunchy. Meanwhile, as the rice is cooking in the dolsots, warm up each of the marinating veggies. I simply stuck each small bowl into the microwave for 30 seconds to one minute. You can also individually saute them for a minute or so each. They shouldn’t need to cook any further, you just want to warm them up a bit.

As you finish warming each veggie, distribute it amongst each of the dolsots. I always put the tofu in the middle (where, by the way, a raw egg would be cracked in a traditional dolsot bibimbap dish; it cooks as you later stir it into the sizzling hot rice) and have each of the veggies radiating out from it. Try not to place the same colors next to each other.

Here are all three dolsots that I prepared tonight waiting on the stove as I set the table and arranged the banchan (side dishes):

When you are ready to serve the dolsot bibimbap, use oven mitts to transfer each dolsot to its plastic tray, then carry to the table. They should be sizzling; the rice will continue to cook even after you remove it from the heat.

The pictures I took of the table were overexposed and not very good, but here’s an idea of what it looked like:

When you are ready to eat, each diner adds the gochujang sauce to their taste. It is quite spicy, so be forewarned. Mix everything together, then enjoy!

My mother-in-law said it was very good (and cleaned her dolsot), and Mark told me to think of the most horrible tasting food in the world and said that it was the exact opposite of that. Once you know what you are doing, it’s really a very easy and fairly fast dish to make, and it ranks as one of my all-time favorite meals.

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