Archive for the 'Korean' Category

Tteokbokki (Spicy Korean Rice Cakes)

Yesterday Mike and I celebrated FOUR YEARS of marriage!

We were hoping to celebrate this year with a new baby, but this girl is STUBBORN. So we made the most of the evening by trying a vegetarian Chinese restaurant in the Inner Sunset (Shangri-La, on Irving). They make a bunch of different fake meats, including meatless sweet and sour pork, which came in half a pineapple.

We also got mu shu vegetable pancakes and some fried tofu balls with brocooli. The best part of the night was the fortune Mike got, though:

We are definitely prepared!

Last night we were thinking about how we spent all our anniversaries so far. For our first, we were still living in San Luis Obispo, but couldn’t remember what we did (but probably nothing too thrilling). For our second, we were living in Seoul, South Korea.

I don’t think I could pick a single favorite food from Korea because I loved so many different things, but this would definitely be in the top 3. We made it at home, had it from street carts while we were shopping, and went to a street full of restaurants solely dedicated to it (which I wrote about here).

I’ve probably made this at least a dozen times since we got back from Korea, but never bothered blogging it because some of the ingredients are hard to find. If you have a Korean grocery store nearby (which, luckily, we do!) it shouldn’t be hard to get these three things:

Tteok (or ddeok) are rice cakes. They can be cylinders or disks, and may be either fresh (which cook much faster), or dried in the refrigerator case.
Gojuchang is a sweet and spicy chile paste. It’s highly addictive.
Gochugaru is red pepper flakes (but they’re not the same as the ones that you put on pizza)

I love this dish for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s SUPER easy – you just combine everything in a frying pan and simmer until it’s done. Second, it’s total comfort food, with just enough spice (and it’s surprisingly filling). Third, it’s customizable. I’ve included ramen (Mike’s favorite), mushrooms, and different vegetables. The possibilities are almost endless (but I kept it pretty simple here).


about 1 1/2 lbs tteok (rice cake)
2 cups water (plus extra, if needed)
4 tbsp gojuchang
1-2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tbsp gochugaru (depending on how spicy you want it to be)
3 green onions, sliced in 1″ pieces (plus extra for garnish)
1/4 head cabbage, roughly chopped
3 hard boiled eggs, halved

Combine all ingredients (except eggs) in a large frying pan and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and the rice cakes are tender (adding additional water if necessary. Taste and adjust for spiciness/sweetness. Stir in the eggs and serve with some green onions on top for garnish.

Sesame-Gojuchang Tofu

The first time I tried it, I had no idea what gojuchang was. It was on our flight to Thailand a couple years ago, which just happened to go through Seoul. It was served with bibimbap and came in a little tube like toothpaste. At the time I had no idea at the time that I’d end up living in Korea for awhile, or that I would become so addicted to the sweet, smoky red pepper paste.

But here I am (back in California), happily living half a mile from a fabulous Korean grocery store where I can buy as much gojuchang as I want! If you’re not quite so lucky, I’m sure you can order some on-line, and trust me, it’s worth it. It’s not exactly hot sauce because it’s not that spicy, but the flavor is unique and totally irresistible. Here I just made a simple marinade for some tofu, which I baked and then served over rice with some sliced green onions. It’s got a flavor kind of similar to deokbokki, which I also happen to love, but is definitely healthier.


20 ounces extra firm nigari tofu
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 tbsp gojuchang (Korean red pepper paste)
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp chopped green onion (white/light green part)
steamed rice and sliced green onion for serving

Cut the tofu into 1″ square slices that are about 1/2″ thick. Stir together the garlic, gojuchang, sugar, soy sauce, and sesame seeds, and pour over the tofu. Mix well so that all pieces are well-coated. Cover and marinate for 1-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 F and grease a baking dish big enough so that all the tofu pieces can fit in one layer. Bake for about 20 minutes, then serve over steamed rice garnished with slices of green onion.


Spicy fermented cabbage doesn’t seem like a good idea, and the first time I tried it, I wondered how it had possibly gotten so popular in Korea. But after prolonged exposure during the time we lived there, I came to love it. I may not miss my life in Korea very much, but I really do miss the availability of kimchi with every meal.

My first attempt at making my own was pretty much horrible. Not enough salt, the wrong kind of chili powder, and a pretty major miscalculation when scaling the recipe left me with a bland jar full of mushy cabbage. No thanks.

This time I pulled from a bunch of different places, recalled what our downstairs neighbors always did on Sunday nights, and bought some gochugaru, which is ESSENTIAL (order it online if you can’t find it in the store). This batch is much better, and now I can have a nice big jar of kimchi in the fridge at all times!

1 very large head Napa cabbage or 2 medium-sized heads
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 tbsp flour
1 cup water
3/4 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp sugar

Cut the cabbage vertically in quarters. Place in a large bowl.

Put the salt between each of the leaves, weight with a heavy pot, and let sit for about 4 hours.

Rinse the cabbage several times.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, water, gochugaru, ginger, garlic, and sugar so you have a paste. Spread a little of this between each of the leaves, then pack very tightly into a large, clean jar. Press down firmly, then add just enough water to cover (which shouldn’t be much if the cabbage is tightly packed), seal the jar, and leave on the counter to ferment for two to three days. (Less time if the room is warm, more time if the room is cool).

Transfer to the refrigerator and allow to age for at least a week. It should keep for about a month or two.

Kimchi Chigae

I still can’t really believe that with all the cooking I did in Korea, I never made my own kimchi. A few weeks ago I picked up a GIANT head of Napa cabbage (practically the size of my torso) at the farmer’s market and decided it was time to make some. I used a recipe out of one of my Korean cookbooks, but figured I didn’t really need gochugaru (ground Korean red pepper), I could just use regular red pepper flakes instead. WRONG. That kimchi left a LOT to be desired, because it’s basically totally lacking in spiciness. I didn’t want to throw it away, though, so I bought a big bag of gochugaru (like I should have done in the first place) and decided to add it in whenever I use kimchi from this batch. That’s what I did here, and it worked perfectly.

I ate a lot of kimchi chigae in Korea. It’s just the right amount of tangy and spicy, and if you believe the students I taught, will cure absolutely any ailment you may have. I don’t know about that, but I do love the stuff. I found a recipe for it on No Recipes, and with a few changes, had this beautiful bowl of vegetarian kimchi chigae steaming in front of me in about 30 minutes. Every bowl of it I ate in Korea had silken tofu, which was delicious, but all I had on hand was extra firm, and I like how hearty it makes the soup, especially since I didn’t use any meat. I started with 1/2 cup of kimchi juice (just the liquid left over in the package or jar) and 1 cup of water, but as you can see in the picture, it’s not terribly soupy because I got distracted and let it boil a little too much. If yours starts looking dry, just add a little extra water or kimchi juice. I also completely forgot to add the gojuchang listed in the original recipe, and it still tasted great.

If you’re a strict vegetarian, read the label of your kimchi carefully – a lot of brands use fish products. I highly recommend making your own, and as soon as I make an acceptable batch, I will post a recipe!

(adapted from No Recipes)

Serves 2-3

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups kimchi, sliced
1/2 cup kimchi juice
1 cup water
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp yellow miso (or if you want to be really authentic, use doenjang)
pinch sugar
a few spoonfuls of gochugaru (if you want it spicy)
10 ounces extra firm tofu, diced
3 tbsp thinly sliced green onions

Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat.
Add the onion and cook, stirring until soft.
Stir in the garlic and kimchi and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until very fragrant.
Add the water, kimchi juice, ginger, wine, soy sauce, miso, sugar, and gochugaru (if using) and stir well.
Mix in the tofu, then partially cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add additional liquid if it begins to look dry.
Sprinkle the green onions over the top, and serve alongside bowls of steamed rice.

Tuna Gimbap


Anytime I travel somewhere, I tend to latch onto one particular food and eat it far more than anything else, so that inevitably, when I go home, eating that food immediately transports me back. When I visited Norway, it was mussels and smoked salmon (I made sure to eat one or the other, but preferably both, every single day of the trip). In Uganda, it was chapati rolled up with fried egg (mainly because it was more appetizing than goat stew, which always included either jawbones – teeth still intact – or pieces of stomach), and here in Korea, it’s tuna gimbap.

At the ubiquitous Gimbap Heaven franchise (which is open 24 hours and seems to never be more than 3 blocks away, no matter where in the city you are), these rolls are only a couple dollars and keep me full for hours. Although the ones I usually get include some fried egg and mayo, I left them out when making them at home because I wanted to lighten them up a little.

You can make gimbap with just about anything. I’ve seen it with ground beef and processed cheese, which I really don’t get excited about, and with just tuna and vegetables, which I love. If you have trouble finding yellow pickled radish, it can be left out, and if imitation crab meat is not your thing (which is understandable… I’m not sure why I like it and yes I know it’s probably worse for me than hot dogs), omit it! You don’t need one of those fancy sushi rolling mats either… I just made this directly on my cutting board and had no trouble rolling it up.

4 sheets of nori (about 8″ x 8″)
2 cups freshly cooked short grain white rice
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar
6 shiso leaves, torn in half
1 can of tuna (packed in water), drained
1 carrot, cut into long, thin strips
1 cucumber, seeded and cut into long, thin strips
4 strips yellow pickled radish
4 long strips ham
a few strips of imitation crab meat

Prepare all ingredients and have them nearby.

Mix the rice with the sesame oil and rice vinegar. Add a little extra oil if the rice seems especially sticky.

Put about half a cup of white rice on a sheet of nori and spread it to a thickness of about 1 cm. I like to use a piece of plastic wrap between my hands and the rice so I don’t end up with a sticky mess. Leave an inch or two of the nori uncovered.


Arrange the shiso leaves on top of the rice.


Sprinkle 1/4 of the tuna over the shiso evenly. You can add a little mayo here if you like.


Line up a few pieces of crab (or Krab)


Add the strips of carrot and ham…


…then cucumber…

…then radish if you can find it (check Asian grocery stores)


Carefully roll it all up
then slice with a sharp knife and enjoy

Jijimi (Korean Vegetable Pancakes)

When I thought about moving to Korea, I imagined that I would become an expert on cooking Korean food. I knew I’d have a kitchen and full access to all the ingredients I might need to make just about any Korean dish I wanted.

I didn’t really think about the fact that I might not feel like making Korean food every day, or that what I’d end up craving about 80% of the time would be comfort foods from home (including things I never really even ate when I was still in America). But instead of making my own kimchi or perfecting bulgogi, I have been sticking to pretty basic non-Korean food.

I saw jijimi (also called buchimgae, according to my students) listed on a few menus (mostly drinking places, because apparently it’s usually a bar snack), and thought it sounded like something that was worth a try. I did a little web research, and ended up making this, which seems to be a cross between Japanese okonomiyaki and jijimi. There are numerous possibilities for adapting this recipe to include different vegetables and toppings, and I fully intend to experiment with it some more. I think it’s pretty tasty dipped in soy sauce mixed with vinegar or topped with kimchi, and of course, a nice cold beer would be a welcome accompaniment.


1 egg
1 cup flour
1 cup water
a generous pinch salt
2 c thinly sliced cabbage
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp vegetable oil

for serving:
soy sauce and rice vinegar

Whisk together the water and egg, and gently stir in the flour and salt. Fold in the vegetables and sesame seeds. It won’t look like typical pancake batter, it will probably look more like coleslaw.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over high. Swirl the pan so the oil is evenly distributed. Pour the cabbage mixture into the pan and spread to the edges so it is evenly thick.

Cook 3 to 4 minutes each side, or until golden brown. If the bottom begins to burn but the top is still very runny, turn the heat down.

Flipping can be a bit of a challenge. If you need to, slide the pancake, cooked side down, onto a plate, and then invert back into the pan to finish cooking. When cooked through and golden on both sides, cut into quarters to serve.

Mix the soy sauce and rice vinegar in a one-to-one ratio for dipping, or top with kimchi.


Quick Japchae

Korean cuisine can be difficult for vegetarians. With slabs of meat being grilled up on practically every corner, a vegetarian can feel a little left out. But there is a whole lot more to Korean food than barbecue. There are some fantastic vegetarian rice and noodle dishes, and here’s an example I recommend you try as soon as possible!

Japchae is one of my favorite Korean dishes, but the first version I made was extremely time consuming. I wanted to try making something similar, but that didn’t take two hours and require millions of pots and pans. I’m pretty happy with what I came up with.

Korean red pepper paste might be available in your local Asian grocery store, but if it isn’t, you can use a few dashes of Siracha. The flavor won’t be the same, but it will still add a nice kick.

Sweet potato vermicelli comes in a package that looks like this:
This package was 300 g and I used half of it. If you can’t find these, any noodles would be nice with the vegetables and sauce.

I’ve been using a lot of tofu lately, because I can get very cheap freshly made tofu at my local grocery store. If you’d prefer meat, you can easily just dice up a little beef or chicken and use it instead. Just cook it with the garlic first, and once it’s fully cooked, continue with the recipe as written.

The great thing about this dish is the flexibility when it comes to the vegetables you include. Spinach, napa cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots, and bell peppers all work well. The shiitake mushrooms add a really nice earthy flavor, but you could use regular mushrooms instead.


3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp Korean red pepper paste
2 tbsp sesame oil, divided
150 grams sweet potato vermicelli
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 1/2 pound Protein of your choice (chicken/tofu/beef), diced
1 carrot, julienned
about 10 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, julienned
1 large sweet onion, cut into thin wedges
1 medium bunch spinach, leaves only (about 10 ounces)
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Whisk together soy sauce, sugar, Korean red pepper paste, and 1 tbsp sesame oil, and set aside.
Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling water for 6 minutes or until soft, then drain and rinse with cold water.
Heat the vegetable oil and remaining sesame oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook for a minute or two, then add your protein. Cook until tofu is browned on all sides or chicken or beef is cooked through.
Add the carrot, onion, and mushrooms and cook until soft.
Add the soy sauce mixture and spinach, and stir until spinach is wilted.
Add the noodles and toss well, and once the noodles are heated through, transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bean Sprout Rice (Kongnamool Bap)

I admit, the title of this recipe could be more enticing, but this is actually a nice, simple one-dish meal and it makes a lot of food. I’m still really excited about the fact that I can make edible rice without a rice cooker! I know white rice is pretty much a nutritional wasteland, but since we bought a GIANT bag of white rice when we first moved in (and it cooks nice and quickly) I need to find lots of ways to use it up.

I love the sauce for this, and next time I’ll probably double the amount I make. It’s superb with a few dashes of hot sauce, if you like spicy food!

(Adapted from Cooking Korean)

2 cups white rice
2 cups water
2 cups bean sprouts
1 pound ground pork

3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp minced green onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp sesame oil

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp chopped green onion
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Wash the rice several times, then combine with water in a saucepan.

Combine pork and marinade ingredients and set aside.
Mix ground pork with marinade ingredients and set it aside.
Spread the bean sprouts on top of the rice.
Spread the marinated ground pork on top of the bean sprouts.
Put the lid on the pan and bring to a boil. Turn down to medium and boil for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until rice is soft. Remove from heat and stir well. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Mix together all the sauce ingredients, and serve alongside the rice.


Gimbap, Take One

After eating gimbap at least once a day for the first four days we were here, I knew I had to try and make it myself. I didn’t have too many interesting ingredients for the filling, so I wanted to make a simple roll as a trial run.
I browned some sticks of tofu
and cut a cucumber into long, thin pieces.
I also cooked up some short grain rice and bought some 8″ x 8″ squares of nori.

I found this absolutely GENIUS recipe for cooking rice without a rice cooker: (It works really well if you have a pan with a glass lid, so you can see how much water has absorbed)
1. Rinse about 1 1/2 cups of short-grain rice
2. Place in the bottom of a saucepan, put your hand flat on top of the rice, and fill the pan with water just until your knuckles are covered.
3. Cover the pan, put over high heat, and boil for about 6 minutes
4. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.
5. If it looks like all the water has been absorbed, turn off the heat and let the pan sit for about 15 minutes. If there’s still water, simmer until it’s gone, then let the pan sit for about 15 minutes. Don’t remove the lid!
6. Give the rice a good stir with a wooden spoon before serving.

Here’s the general idea:
1. Mix about 1 cup of cooked rice with about a tablespoon of rice vinegar
2. Place a sheet of nori in front of you, and spread about 2/3 of it with rice (the rice should be about 1 cm thick)
I learned through trial and error that you want the side with the rice toward you, and the uncovered nori away from you.
3. Put a few pieces of cucumber and a few sticks of tofu along the middle of the rice, and carefully roll it up. You don’t need one of those fancy looking sushi-mats, just your own two hands.
The end doesn’t look that pretty, but it’s okay.
4. Cut into slices about 3/4″ thick and enjoy!
Now that I know how easy it is, next time I’ll branch out and use some more interesting fillings.


This is an absolutely DELICIOUS dish, but it is very involved.  Give yourself about two hours from start to finish.  Every ingredient is seasoned and cooked individually, then they are all mixed together in a huge bowl.  In the process you will dirty a TON of dishes, but don’t let that deter you – the great blend of flavors and textures is completely worth it!  
(adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall)
4 tbsp rice wine or vermouth
3 tbsp sugar
8 green onions, white and pale green part only
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sesame seeds
8 oz chicken breast, sliced into 1/8″ by 3″ strips
8 oz lean beef tenderloin, sliced into 1/8″ by 3″ strips
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 oz dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for about 2o minutes, then drained
3 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp sesame oil
1 lb napa cabbage hearts, stem part only, cut into 3/4″ by 3″ strips
1 lb spinach leaves, cut into 3 inch pieces
8 oz sweet potato noodles
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 jalapeno, cut into thin strips
To make the seasoning for the meat: combine 2 tbsp vermouth, 1 tbsp sugar, 4 green onions, 2 cloves garlic, lemon juice, sesame seeds, and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper.  
Stir well, then pour half into each of two bowls.  
Toss the chicken in one bowl and the beef in the other

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet, then add the chicken and cook for about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl.

Wipe out the skillet, heat another tablespoon of oil, then add the beef and cook until done.
Place in the bowl with the chicken.
Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the mushrooms, then cut into slivers.
Toss with 1 tbsp vermouth, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 2 green onions, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp sesame oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in the skillet, add the mushrooms, and cook for 10 minutes.  Transfer to the bowl with the meat.
In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil.  Blanch the cabbage for about 3 minutes, then drain and plunge into cold water.  
Squeeze out as much moisture as possible, then add to the bowl with the meat and mushrooms.
Fill the pot with water again, and blanch the spinach for about 10 seconds.
Drain, squeeze out all the water, then transfer to a bowl and toss with 1 tbsp vermouth, 1 green onion, 1 clove garlic, 1 tbsp sesame oil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
Add to the bowl with the other ingredients, then add the peppers.
To cook the noodles, boil 3 quarts of water and add the noodles.  Boil for about 5 minutes, then drain.  Add to the bowl with meat and vegetables, add all remaining ingredients, and toss well.


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