A couple of weeks ago, all I knew about Korean cooking was that it involved kimchi and pretty noodle bowls from Heathrow T5. Now, I’ve read and cooked from Korean Food Made Simple by Judy Joo and know more about Korean cooking. I’ve also got a new favourite dish.
Judy Joo’s Korean Food Made Simple has beautiful photographs from Korea, a good introduction to the Korean larder and recipes divided into sensible sections: the first one is on kimchi and pickles, the last one on drinks. Between, we have small bites, vegetables, rice, noodles, soups, meats , sauces and even bread. Korea doesn’t have a tradition of yeast baking the way we do in the west and the bread chapter is a good illustration of Judy’s approach to cooking. She takes her Korean heritage and mixes it up for a new audience. The book offers both traditional recipes, and American-style food that has been given a Korean twist.
Korean recipes do use ingredients that are probably not in your larder: kimchi, for example, Korean soya bean paste and chilli paste, seaweeds and perilla leaves. I found that my local Chinese mini-market, a fairly small shop, had most of what I wanted: kimchi, buckwheat noodles (a firm favourite of mine), doenjang (fermented soya paste), dried kelp, rice flour and rice cakes. I already had sesame seeds, soy, chilli flakes and toasted sesame oil as these are standard ingredients in my larder.
I was curious about the doenjang and opened it the moment I got home. If you can’t find it, it can be substituted with miso although they are not identical in texture or flavour. Doenjang packs an impressive flavour punch: it’s a little funky, very salty and less smooth than miso (or at least, the one I got was). It has an odd flavour and I found myself coming back to it, trying another small spoonful, reeling from the saltiness, then forgetting and coming back again. I can see myself having a lot of fun with this new ingredient. It’s instant umami with a lot of personality.
When the vegetarian is away…
The first recipe I wanted to try was the seafood pancakes. I’ve had various Asian fish cakes before and am intrigued by the flavour and texture. Where a British fish cake is soft and potato-fluffy on the inside, a Thai fish cake, for example, can be almost rubbery in consistency, with a more pungent, fishy flavour. The Korean pancakes are egg-free and I wondered what they would be like.
They’re simply wonderful. With a crispy outer and a soft and chewy inner, they are a pleasure to eat. The flavour is full and rounded, the dipping sauce served on the side hot, sour and sweet all at the same time. I was so impressed that I made a vegetarian version, substituting fish and prawns for boiled rice cakes and finely chopped mushrooms. It worked really well! The rice cakes are slightly chewy and flavour-neutral and I added a little extra soy paste to make up for them. The doenjang turned out to be a dominant flavour so the veggie pancakes didn’t taste all that different from the seafood ones. I’ll be making this a lot, with and without fish, because they’re easy to make and very satisfying to eat.
- 115 grams rice flour
- 6 tbsp self-raising flour
- 2 tbsp soya bean paste (doenjang)
- 0.5 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large pinches of salt
- 315 ml cold water
- 10 large prawns, peeled, de-veined, halved length-wise and patted dry.
- 4 large sea scallops, muscle removed, thinly sliced and patted dry. (Can be replaced with 200 grams white fish, thinly sliced and patted dry.)
- 5 spring onions, julienned
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped.
- 2 fresh red chillies cut into long, thin strips
- 2 fresh green chilli, cut into long, thing strips
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 60 ml soy sauce
- 1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp crushed roasted sesame seeds
- Good pinch chilli flakes
- 2 spring onions, very thinly sliced
- Whisk together the flours, soya bean paste, seasoning and water to a smooth batter.
- Add the other ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined.
- In a large, non-stick frying pan, heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil over a medium heat.
- Use one-third of the batter to form a large pancake (about 18 inches) and cook until the base is crispy and golden, about 3-4 minutes.
- Flip and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes.
- Let drain on a plate of kitchen towel.
- Repeat with remaining batter.
- To serve, cut the pancakes into wedges and serve with dipping sauce.
- Mix together in a small bowl.
- Store in the fridge until ready to use.
I served the pancakes with Judy Joo’s crunchy and vitamin-packed superfood salad.
The next day, I made pan-fried fish with the left-over prawns and fish, again served with the salad and the left-over dipping sauce. Lovely!
I might be a superfood sceptic but I love a good salad. The superfood salad delivers colour and crunch, and has a very intriguing dressing based around a carrot. The dressed salad looks vibrant and tastes great. It’s makes a lunch box look positively virtuous, even with a couple of good pancake wedges on top.
It’s important to me that recipes can be adapted: miso can be substituted for doenjang, cabbage can be substituted for kale, sake for mirin (because yes, I have sake in my cupboard, but I don’t have mirin). Judy Joo’s recipes are flexible. Once I understood what role a particular ingredient plays, I could swap it out. It’s not kale season at the moment, so my superfood salad was made with finely shredded savoy cabbage instead (And, the second time I made it, with a mixture of savoy cabbage and spinach). I’m looking forward to making it with kale or kavolo nero later this summer.
The dressing, which uses doenjang to great effect, is delicious on its own. I could eat it with a spoon.
Mix and match
As well as a salad, pancakes and fried fish, I’ve tried the soft tofu and vegetable stew, a hot and soothing good-for-you almost soup that’s satisfying and fresh. I haven’t cooked any of the more Korean-with-a-twist recipes yet. I will make the New York cheesecake at some point, and for carnivores, there are a lot of great chicken, lamb and steak recipes.
Korean Food Made Simple
Korean Food Made Simple by Judy Joo, photography by Jean Cazals. Published by Jacqui Small (£22).
Caroline received Korean Cooking Made Simple to review courtesy of Jacqui Small.
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