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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Korean Supper Club

Two years ago, after graduating from law school, my friend Lindsay and I started a little supper club as a commitment, or tradition, to explore cooking centered around vegetarian foods around the world. And maybe an excuse to make sure we saw each other fairly regularly. Occasionally, it involved a few card games along with some arguments about said card games. Sometimes, at the end of the night, we were so full of delicious food that all we could do was quietly clasp our hands around our bellies and smile and sigh.

Back in September, during what would be our last supper club, my friend, Lindsay abruptly announced (over a rather heated game of Settlers of Catan, actually) that she and her husband just bought a house in Fort Collins, Colorado and they were moving at the end of October. And just like that, as I reached for more of the raspberry wine to wash down the news, our two and a half years of supper club has come to an end.

Maybe we could call it a hiatus instead, separated only by a couple of states and some serious mountains. During that time, Jason and I managed to cook our way through the foods of Japan, Mexico, China, Hawaii, Korea, and even some Jewish cuisine. Lindsay and Patrick cooked up feasts from the South, the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy and France. It was a good run, I must say.

While I am sad to see them move so far away, I am so grateful for the friendships that have been nourished by our dear supper club. Bon voyage, friends!

Besides being exceptionally spicy, Korean food is really centered around banchan--lots of little dishes with explosive flavors. If you've ever gone to a Korean restaurant and balked at the menu prices, it's because no less than five to eight little dishes also accompany your meal. Think of it as free appetizers.

From top to bottom: Kongjaban (black beans stewed down in a sweet soy syrup; recipe here); Quick-pickled cucumber (I made this one); and boiled peanuts in a soy glaze.

Besides some jap chae, I had never cooked an entire Korean meal. Or a vegetarian Korean meal (who knew that most prepared kim chee has anchovy or shrimp powder in it?). I didn't have it in me to make nine or ten dishes in my small San Francisco apartment kitchen, so, to make things a little easier, I picked up some ready-made banchan from Woo Ri Food Market and First Korean Market. These stores have such a wide selection of prepared food, you could eat lunch or dinner at the grocery store.

Now, the banchan pictured below typically comes in one of my favorite korean dishes-Bi Bim Bap, which is a sizzling rice bowl decorated with these delicious crunchy veggies and various BBQ meats or tofu. At a restaurant, they will sometimes crack open a small raw egg (sometimes a quail egg) on top of the hot rice and the pot is so hot that it cooks as you stir it all up. The bowl is so hot that it also creates a nice crispy rice crust along the bottom.

From clockwise: boiled bean sprouts; cold seasoned spinach (sigumchi namul); spicy pickled daikon; and Kongnamul--boiled mung bean sprouts.

These dishes might not look like much, but, added to your rice or tofu dish, they are packed with flavor and add the perfect crunchy texture to balance things out. It also helps that they are all cold dishes to cool down the heat in other spicy dishes.

Another classic Korean dish is pajeon, which is typically a seafood and vegetable pancake similar to the Japanese Okonomiyaki or the Chinese Scallion Pancake. I had been wanting to make this ever since Namu, a modern Korean restaurant, started selling these tasty pancakes and other street food items at the Thursday Ferry Building Farmer's Market. Namu's pancake costs just under $10 and comes heavily adorned with Kewpie-mayo, a savory soy glaze, bonito flakes, shredded nori seeweed and a fried egg.

While this pancake can easily be made with flour, eggs and water, it is much easier and far tastier to buy a package of Korean pancake mix and save yourself the hassle. I just made some batter with the mix according to the directions on the package and added in some sauteed vegetables (I used a mixture of cabbage, carrots, onion and flat scallions). I cooked it on a hot griddle just like you would cook a pancake, then I drizzled some Asian Kewpie-mayo on top of the pancake and topped it off with shredded nori seeweed.

I also made a classic spicy tofu stew, which was gobbled up before I could take any pictures.

It was a really good meal. We followed it up with some Korean dessert treats such as banana milk and choco pies.

Oh, and I lost at Settlers of Catan.


ChelsEats said...

You will have to send her my way sometimes. I still have never been to Fort Collins and I've lived out here for over 2 years! Since your visit, I find that I think of the Denver food scene in a different way, a way that involves how I would explain it to a serious foodie from a serious foodie city like SF.

Sorry your friend is moving away. To the friend, congrats on your house and your new adventure! Morgan said your new home is beautiful. And always, yay for a new post. Maybe I should write one of those myself one of these days...

Jason said...

I'm already getting antsy to visit Ft. Collins for some Supperclub and serious brewery touring :)

Lindsay said...

WOW Morgs, what a moving tribute to Supper Club! This Korean meal was particularly fabulous, though they were all unbelievable :9 We are already missing you absurdly, as it was a truly special and memorable (not to mention delicious) relationship! We are anxious to host you and Jase for GERMAN Supper Club, along with some serious brewery touring here as soon as possible! We'll have to have ChelsEats join-thanks for your sweet words ChelsEats! You are always welcome here to engage in foodie-ism in FoCo!