Easy Kimchi and Other Noob Korean Cooking

I’ve been pouring over a couple of Asian cookbooks I have over the past few days, between conversations on what book we need to pick for our second potluck. Suraj has bought me Cook Korean! for my birthday, earlier this year, and I’d promised him we’d do a grill once we had our new place set up. But we have two hyperactive kittens and we’re overprotective parents, like that, so we’re a little skeptical about setting the grill up just yet. Suraj was craving a good biryani, but I just wanted to spend hours cooking and prepping several things and decided to sample Cook Korean! instead. He readily agreed.

Cook Korean! by Robin Ha
Cook Korean! by Robin Ha

He picked the Sweet and Sour Pork and I picked the Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps. And we also decided to make some easy kimchi… because why not?

The book – it’s interesting. It’s very interesting. The author, Robin Ha, has interspersed Korean cultural and traditional tidbits along with detailed recipes on how to make most Korean dishes. It starts off with a little prologue of how the author spent some time in college missing mom-made food from when she was little… until she figured it was high time she learnt how to do it herself, instead of relying on eating out all the time. That’s exactly how I started cooking too. When I moved away from home for the first time, I realized I’d have to learn how to cook, if I wanted to eat home-like meals. I’m pleased at how THAT turned out.

The author introduces a little girl named Dengki then, and she takes us through the rest of the book –  a chapter on what a typical Korean pantry and refrigerator might contain, another on cooking styles and key ingredients and finally, a few dozen recipes.

What the book is missing, perhaps, is a section on dessert. I absolutely loved the look and feel of the book, how content was organized and how everything just read like a breeze. Cooking Korean looked easy. And fun. There had got to be a catch. So, being the sceptic that I am, I looked up similar recipes online and  the recipes in the book match some of the best rated recipes on the internet spot-on.

Since we’ve only just moved (back) to Pune and are not quite sure of where to buy pork from, we decided to order online at http://meatroot.com/ and we weren’t disappointed one bit with their delivery timeline or the quality of the meat we got.

Cooking together with Suraj after several weeks (months, perhaps!) was fun. Our kitchen here is a little smaller than our Bangalore place (though far bigger than the one we cooked in before we got married, haha!), so we had a couple of nasty exchanges, but we’ll figure things out over the next few weeks, I’m sure.

The kimchi mix tasted great when I mixed it in with the napa cabbage and we opened the jar the following evening. It hadn’t fermented as much as I’d expected it to and didn’t tasted as awesome as I might’ve liked it to, so we’ve decided to let it sit around for a couple of days more and we’re hoping it’ll taste just the way we want it to. A few days later, it just didn’t seem right and we had to toss it away. Maybe the right way to do this, is to not use an “easy” recipe and just do it the authentic way it should be done. Or then, maybe there’s something out there waiting for my terrible kimchi streak to be broken!

I prepped everything Suraj needed for his sweet and sour pork because he was a little caught up with work. And at around 8 pm, when we started frying the pork, it tasted so good, we couldn’t keep our hands off it. We did behave like good kids though, and saved up enough to go with the veggies and the pineapple. We loved how it tasted. But there were leftovers, so we mixed them up with some spices and par-boiled rice for lunch the next afternoon and turned it into a yummy Asian rice! All is well that ends well, I guess.

The lettuce wraps were a mighty interesting experiment too. The pork belly was boiled in a yummy broth, which I warmed up and drank for breakfast the following morning because because everyone needs to start their mornings with something rich and wholesome, right? The belly took longer to cook through though, than the 30 minutes mentioned in the recipe. Adding another 15 minutes to our cooking time wasn’t really a problem at all though. I wish I’d kept aside more lettuce for the wraps though, because we ran out and then polished the pork belly off without folding it into wraps with lettuce and slaw. The radish slaw was almost like an instant kimchi without the napa cabbage, and at least THAT turned out awesome, even if my kimchi bombed.

Here’s a picture of the lettuce wraps and the sweet and sour pork. All in all, a fantastic dinner date at home –  we cooked together, we drank some good beers, watched some TV and sat around talking until bedtime (okay, yeah, boring!).

Sweet and Sour Pork and Boiled Pork Belly Wraps
The Sweet and Sour Pork in the foreground and the various parts of the Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps behind

I hope to be cooking from the book again, probably after the monsoons kick in or towards the end of the year when the whether in Pune gets nice and chilly. The kids will be a little over a year old by winter, and hopefully a little well-behaved. That way, maybe we can get our little barbeque out and do some grilled Korean meats. I have a feeling it might be fun.




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