It wasn't that long ago when diners started discovering Korean cuisine, especially popular dishes like Korean barbecue (kalbi, bulgogi), bibimbap, and kimchi. As a Korean-American, I've eaten my share of Korean food, almost all of it made by my mother during my childhood or eaten out at Korean restaurants. I admit that my taste buds tend to crave non-Korean cuisine, but every once in a while, there's a deep longing for the food of my ancestors. I typically satisfy that need by dining out but to be honest, I'm also a little lazy when it comes to cooking Korean food myself, mostly because I have no idea what to do. That's about to change, thanks to Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee's new cookbook, Quick & Easy Korean Cooking (Chronicle Books).
Much of the book's appeal for me is its inclusion of dishes I grew up eating like Rice Cake Stick Snack (Ddukbokgi), Bean Sprout Soup (Kohng Namool Gook), and Seasoned Tofu (Dubu Jolim). For me, the mystery that has shrouded Korean cooking has been unveiled, and I find that terribly exciting. Lee also includes recipes that are completely unknown to me, such as Spicy Stewed Mussels (Hong-ap Jjim) and Seasoned Fried Chicken (Yangnyeonm Dak). I found her ingredient glossary to be the most helpful of all. And her short introductions for each section and recipe sets the stage for understanding what it is you're about to cook and eat.
Ultimately, what sold me on the book was the recipe for my very favorite Korean drink, Chilled Cinnamon-Ginger Tea (Soojong Gwa). Whereas many of my Korean-American friends prefer shik hae (also spelled shik kae) a sweetened rice drink, I prefer the soojong gwa of my childhood to which my mother added dried persimmons. Here it is:
Mrs. Sung's Soo Jong Gwa Recipe
One 2 3/4-inch cinnamon stick per every 4 cups of water, or to taste
- 1/2 inch-thick knob of fresh ginger, thinly sliced per every 4 cups of water, or to taste
- Dried persimmons, rinsed (may be sliced if desired)
- Honey, to taste
- Pine nuts
Add cinnamon sticks and ginger to a pot. Add one gallon of cold water, and bring to a boil.
When the air is fragrant, turn off the stove and let the pot cool for a few minutes before adding the dried persimmons.
When the pot is cool enough to touch, add honey to taste. Make sure to mix thoroughly.
Before serving, sprinkle a few pine nuts. If persimmons were left whole, dole out one whole persimmon per cup.
So if you enjoy Korean food, and want to recreate it at home, let Lee help you along. It's certainly going to be the Holy Grail of Korean cooking in my kitchen.
by Esther Sung
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