Recently I taped the Kimchi chronicles on PBS, which oddly enough features Jean George Vongerichten and his wife Marja. Well actually it’s not that odd because it turns out his wife is Korean and hence the TV show. Watching them put together some Korean food got me excited to cook up some at home and the other day picked up some pre-marinated boolgoi at Trader Joes. While I am sure there is better boolgoi out there of course, it’s a pretty easy way to whip up an easy meal, grill it real quick over a super hot fire and put in a lettuce wrap with some rice and some gochujang (I have heard you pronounce it with a bit of a K sound – more on this stuff later).
Okay well not having planned ahead I didn’t have too much to go with the boolgoi, or so I thought. Rummaging around in the fridge found we had some small asian cabbages that while not the classic napa cabbage for kimchee, figured I could turn into a good quick kimchee. I loosely followed Mark Bittmans recipe, after a couple of hours of salting and a thourgh rinsing I chopped up the cabbage and mixed with nom pal (fish sauce), some red pepper flakes and siracha, sugar, garlic, some leeks I had that I softened in boiling water and some ginger grated on the microplane of course. I tossed that all together and put it in the fridge overnight. After reading a couple of recipes that mentioned the one ingredient you could not substitute for and must buy when serving ssam or boolgogi is gochujang – Korean red chili paste. I realized that I should get some gochujang to do it right so I stopped at one of the Asian markets by my house (Yao Lee in Clintonville) , that I heard had some Korean stuff to grab a jar of gochujang and also grabbed some bean sprouts and cilantro (I also was looking for ssamjang, but they didn’t have any of that and actually only had one kind of gochujang, since then I heard to go to a store up near Henderson & High for Korean stuff). For those who don’t know gochujang is made by adding powdered red chili peppers and glutinous rice powder to soybean paste, and aging this paste. Apparently until somewhat recently every family in Korea would make their own and the stuff is used on almost as many things as kimchi is over there. The gochujang has a complex, fermented flavor loaded with umami. Some describe it as miso crossed with hot sauce. The stuff is good whatever you call it.
Any back to the meal, the meal went as follows, made some quick pickled carrots with a rice vinegar, sugar and soy mixture with matchstick sized carrots, put on a plate macho, cilantro and the bean sprouts in nice piles for people to help themselves, made sticky rice using italian short grain rice, tossed with a little sugar, soy and rice wine vinegar. I found a few flour tortilla, taco sized, in the fridge (not homemade ones, those wouldn’t have lasted) and also warmed those up after grilling up real quick the boolgogi. The meal turned out great, but the tacos really shined. The combination in one bite of the meat, cilantro, kimchi, bean sprouts, pickled carrots and the amazing gochujang in a soft warm tortilla is quite amazing – I can see why this is the rage in L.A. and other places.
I will be doing this again soon, but next time I will actually plan to serve tacos. America is clichély a melting pot, but it truly is and things like Korean tacos are a great reminder of how good quirky fusions of cultures and cuisines can be.