Market Finds

Market Finds
Farmer's Market Bounty

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Korean Feast at Home

Some of my treasures from the Super H Mart
My friend Mary Katherine and I have bonded over our mutual disdain for talking on the phone, our admiration for the South Carolina low country and our nomadic upbringings.  She is a military brat and I, just a regular brat who's father was transferred often in the corporate world.  Just as living in Brazil impacted my life in a huge way, Korea impacted hers.  We both have fond memories of our adopted homelands and both crave a taste of foods that stir our senses.  I have become quite adept at my   "anglophied" Brazilian dishes, but up until last week had never cooked or even eaten Korean food.  I am far from an expert on this type of cuisine, but with M.K.'s guidance, a little help from You Tube and a trip to the Asian market, I cooked up an amazing meal.

A great resource for a quick overview, recipes and step by step instructions is a site called  It was here that I watched two videos for the items I had been requested to cook.  The videos are easy to follow and there are links to the recipes as well.  I highly recommend this site for  a Korean food novice.

Bulgogi is marinated and grilled beef.  I knew the minute I saw the recipe for this marinade, that it would do wonders f or the beef.  The marinade contained onion, garlic, fresh ginger and an Asian pear, which were whizzed together in a food processor and poured onto very thinly sliced beef (The Asian market I visited, had already sliced bulgogi meat).  To this mixture, was added some sliced carrots, scallions, rice syrup, brown sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil.  I allowed the meat to spend the night enrobed in this luscious marinade.  I did not have the luxury of a charcoal grill on the night of my party, so I chose to cook the meat in a large non-stick pan.  I coated the pan with some canola oil and working in several batches, placed the beef in a single layer in the hot pan.  It is very important to pat the beef dry with paper towels before placing it in the pan, so that it browns properly.  I was amazed at how tender and flavorful this meat was.  The marinade was magical, and I'd like to think my cooking technique played a factor in this dish's success as well.  We served the bulgogi in lettuce leaves with white rice and saamjang, a thick and spicy condiment.  The halted conversation and collective moaning of "Mmmmmmmmmm", assured me that my guests were enjoying their Korean barbecue.

Bulgogi caramelizing in the hot skillet
Beautiful finished bulgogi dish
The second dish M.K. requested was japchae.  Japchae is made with potato starch noodles in a soy and sesame oil sauce.  The version we made was vegetarian.  The noodles were very easy to find and the package even has an easy recipe on the back.  Look for "oriental style vermicelli" made from sweet potato starch.  The dried pasta is a light gray in color and turns the cooking liquid a very off-putting color.  Don't let this dissuade you, as the cooked noodles are cellophane clear and extremely long.  Perfect for twirling and slurping.  Place the cooked noodles in a bowl and drizzle with a generous amount of sesame oil and soy sauce.  Toss to coat and set aside while you cook your vegetables.  I used spinach, carrots,  yellow onion, scallions and mushroom for my japchae.  I love the versatility of this dish, as you can add as many or as few veggies as you would like, according to your guests tastes.  Make sure to sauté each vegetable separately before adding to the bowl of cooked noodles.  Toss the noodles and veggies together and add more soy sauce and sesame oil if desired.  Sesame oil is one of my favorite things and adds such a unique taste to this noodle dish.

Vegetarian Japchae

For some added Korean authenticity, I purchased kimchi and pork dumplings from the market

Now for the rice.  I like to pride myself as a expert rice maker.  The rice I grew making is a long grain, pilaf style, loaded with onions and garlic.  This meal however, called for a medium grained, no flavor added, steamed sticky rice.  This task was accomplished in the amazing rice cooker that M.K. purchased from the Asian market.  The forty dollar rice cooker produced some of the tastiest and most fragrant rice I have ever eaten.  I have put a moratorium on buying any more kitchen gadgets, but may have to make an exception for a new rice cooker.
The rice cooker that facilitates making perfect asian-style rice
We used a medium grain white rice.  Amazing how something so simple can be so flavorful
No theme dinner party is complete without a toast, including a traditional beverage. Soju, a distilled rice  liquor is the alcohol of choice for this meal.  Mixed with a bit of pineapple juice and some fruity Hawaiian punch, this 'kettle' beverage was reminiscent of some sort of frat party p.j.  Being the responsible adults that we are, we toasted with a shot or two and moved on to a more sophisticated libation.  Lucky for me, I work with a wine master.  Although Koreans do not typically drink wine with their meals, Chef Nancy was able to expertly pair a red and a white that complimented our food exceptionally well.  
For the over-21 crowd only! Soju "kettle"
To finish off our Korean feast, we scarfed down some choco pies.  Similar to the southern moon-pie, this fluffy little treat, was a cherished memory from my friend's childhood.
It's not quite on par with a Moon-Pie, but is pretty tasty after a few swigs from the "kettle"
We are fortunate to have so many diverse cultures in the Atlanta area, and the markets that accompany these populations.  No matter what ethnicity, your food memories revolve around, you are certain to find a taste of what you are looking for in one of the markets.  My favorites are The Buford Highway Farmer's Market, Super H Mart and Cherians International Groceries.

As always, I am fascinated by learning about new foods and cooking techniques, but more importantly, the joy of cooking for others is what motivates me.  It was such a pleasure to be able to bring back some food memories from Mary Katherine's childhood and to share that with a group of friends around the dinner table.  I challenge everyone to step out of their culinary comfort zone and as always, make every plate something to be passionate about!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Check Your Pulse

Lentil Salad with Fresh Thyme Vinaigrette

Although lentils have been around since biblical times, they are a new staple ingredient in my kitchen.  They are an inexpensive source of protein and fiber, with a mild flavor and substantial mouth feel.  Lentils are extremely versatile, as they can be served warm, cold or at room temperature and can take on any number of flavor profiles.  My recipe today is an Italian inspired lentil salad, which is hearty enough to serve as a main course alongside a green salad or as a wonderful accompaniment to roasted or grilled beef, chicken or pork.  

Italian Inspired Lentils:
1lb packaged of dried lentils*
8 cups water
4 slices of prosciutto
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 boxes of baby bella mushrooms
3 shallots, sliced
4 oz parmigiano reggiano, sliced with a vegetable peeler
Fresh Thyme Leaves for garnish

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Place dried lentils in a dutch oven and cover with water.  Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes until lentils are cooked through, but not mushy.  Drain any excess water
*If you have a couple of stems of parsley or cilantro or a scallion or a piece of onion, throw them into the lentil pot.  This will add another layer of flavor to your lentils.  Discard the additional herbs and onions once lentils are cooked.

While lentils are cooking, place prosciutto slices in a saute pan over medium-high heat and cook until crispy.  Flip prosciutto over to ensure that both side are crispy.  Remove from pan and set aside to cool and then crumble.  To the same pan, add 1 tsp of EVOO and one box of mushrooms.  Allow mushrooms to cook until dark brown and caramelized.  Remove the first batch of mushrooms to a plate and repeat the process with the second box of mushroom.  To the same pan, add two tablespoons of EVOO and saute the shallots until crispy.  Stir often, so that they do not burn.  Remove to a separate plate with a slotted spoon.

Make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well to combine.

In a large bowl, toss lentils and half of the mushrooms with about half of the vinaigrette.  Place this mixture onto desired serving platter and garnish with remaining mushrooms, prosciutto, shallots, cheese and thyme leaves.  Drizzle with extra dressing if needed or serve on the side.

Buon Appetito! And make every plate something to be passionate about!