I knew I had it. There were only three others left in the competition and I knew I could beat each one of them. Meek Leah was just holding on after a near miss in the last round. Hasty Stephen always made his move without thinking. Lucky Betty always got the easy ones.
My heart started racing. I licked my lips, clawed my knees and perched myself on the edge of the stool for the kill.
Finally, my turn. A hush fell over the audience. The pointy face moderator’s voice had an unexpected baritone, Darth Vader-like quality over the mic. “The word is KITCHEN,” he boomed. “Spell KITCHEN.”
Smirk. Hair toss. Straight back. Voice rising, I snapped out, “Kitchen. C-H-I-C-K-E-N. Kitchen.” I stood there, arms crossed, left leg extended, leaning right, toes tapping.
“In-COH-RECT,” he announced. Incorrect?! How could this be? Kitchen is one of the easiest words on the spelling bee study sheet. Darth Vader needed to recheck HIS spelling. After my mind stopped swirling and my heart started ticking at its normal pace, it donned on me. I spelled chicken. What a dope.
With my head down and spirits dead, I somehow managed to drag my 50 pound feet off the stage. I had to sit and watch lucky Betty wipe out meek Leah with the word fudge. If only I had one more chance, I could prove to the world that I was the spelling bee champ.
My mom was 12 years old when her father died and her world disappeared.
It was a hot, humid day and the small windowless room was suffocating. She wrapped her infant sister in the patchwork sling, strapped it around her shoulder and went out on the maru. She thought she would have better luck getting her sister to sleep out on the porch. The maru had old wooden floors and was situated in the middle of the house with open entrances in the front and the back. It wasn’t much cooler but at least there was some air circulation.
She was trying to soothe her crying sister when she heard her mother scream. She picked up the baby and raced to the back of the house where she almost tripped over the washboard that was thrown aside. The soapy water in basin was still swirling around and a garment clung on the edge. A freshly washed sheet hung loosely on the clothesline with only a pin securing the corner while the rest of it dragged in the dirt.
She looked ahead a few yards and saw the two women crouched over something. The first mother was standing behind her mother, one hand over her mouth and the other on her mom’s shoulder.
She watched quietly trying to make sense of the scene. Her mom’s face was buried but she could hear her muffled cries of, “Please come back! Please come back!” After several minutes of confusion, she finally realized what was lying on the ground. She felt the ground shaking and her head started spinning. She couldn’t catch her breath and wasn’t sure if she was still breathing. She clutched her sister harder as she stood there helplessly weeping.
Shortly after my grandfather died, my grandmother remarried and left her two daughters with their uncle and his family. After three years of bloody hands from dried, cracked skin; beatings for chores not completed satisfactorily; and meager servings of rice after every family had their share, my mom planned her escape.
The picture is (left to right) of my dad, sis, mom and me. The tree behind us was planted by my grandfather. After he died, my mother and her baby sister were sent off to live with their uncle’s family. The creek on the left was where my mother hid, waiting for the hay truck to make her getaway to #Seoul in search for her mother.
With June 21 the official first day of summer 2015, I’m kicking off grilling season today. Today was low 60s and chilly, and I have summer on the brain. Thoughts of picnics, bbqs, and lemonade stands are swirling in my head. Planning summer menus for various events is like putting together an outfit, but tastier and more satisfying.
Kalbi and naeng myeon is a classic summer combo, kinda like Dior black dress and Louboutin slingbacks.
Mom’s kalbi and naeng myeon (from the archives) are classics. If you can find an outdoor venue for grilling the kalbi and enjoying cocktails… even better.
4 Pounds of thinly sliced short ribs
3 Tablespoons honey
1/2 Cup dark brown sugar
1/2 Cup sugar
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon dashida (Beef flavor)
1 Cup soy sauce
1/3 Cup water
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
3 Tablespoons soju (Korean wine)
2 Teaspoons Korean dark sesame seed oil
2 Tablespoons black pepper
1 Medium size red onion
10 Cloves fresh garlic, grated
1 Bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Asia pear, grated with juices
1/4 Cup roasted sesame seeds
In a large pot, add meat and enough water to cover the meat. Using a colander, rinse and drain the meat at least three times to remove small shards of bones.
In a large mixing bowl or pot, whisk together the honey, brown sugar, sugar, rice wine vinegar, dashida, soy sauce, water, ginger, soju, sesame seed oil, and black pepper until thoroughly combined and brown sugar is dissolved.
In the same bowl or pot, add scallions, onions, garlic, Asian pears and sesame seed and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour the marinade over the meat. Gently toss until the ribs are thoroughly coated.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. For best results, marinate overnight.
Heat grill to high. Remove the ribs from the marinade and grill until slightly charred, about 3-5 minutes and flip. Grill for another 3-5 minutes. Timing depends on the thickness of the ribs so watch it closely.
Mul Naeng Myeon
Mul naeng myeon (mul means water, nang means cold and myeon are the noodles in Korean) is a cold broth-based buckwheat noodle dish that originated in the northern part of Korea and was traditionally served in the winter.
The broth is served ice cold and most people even add more ice. This is a tangy dish brimming with garlic, red pepper, and cucumbers. It’s refreshing and great on a hot summer day.
It is traditionally served with kalbi, making it a perfect for your summertime barbecue menu. If you’re looking for a unique barbeque idea, serve mul naeng myeon and kalbi at your next cookout.
Dark sesame seed oil (depending on if you like sesame seed oil)
Pound flank steak
Rice wine vinegar
Cloves garlic, minced
Medium onion, diced
Cucumbers sliced into thick matchsticks
Asian pear, peeled and sliced
2 Hard-boiled eggs, cut in half
Kochu garu (Korean red pepper powder)
Two bags of buckwheat noodles (Soup base and wasabi oil are included in the noodles package)
Cook the noodles as directed. When the water starts foaming and rising up, grab a handful of ice and throw it in the pot. It will keep the water from boiling over. I like my noodles al dente and cook them for only about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse the noodles in ice-cold water immediately until the noodles are completely cooled. These noodles cook quickly and get mushy easily.
Separate the noodles by rolling them into four equal batches. Set aside.
Soup Base Directions
1 32-Ounce chicken broth
4 Cups water
Packets of the soup base (You will need all the packets that come with the noodles including the wasabi oil.)
2 Tablespoons distilled vinegar
1/3 Cup young radish kimchi juice
3 Tablespoons dark sesame seed oil
3 Tablespoons sugar
In a large pot, bring chicken broth and water to a boil. Let it simmer for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and let it completely cool. Once it’s cool, add the packets of the soup base. Add the vinegar, kimchi juice, sesame seed oil, sugar and the wasabi oil, which is included in the noodles. Add the ingredients a bit a time, tasting after adding each to suit your taste. Whisk until the sugar and soup base have dissolved. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
1 Pound flank steak, cut into cubes
2 Tablespoons dark sesame seed oil (Use only 1 tablespoon if you don’t like sesame oil.)
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon white sugar
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 Teaspoon ginger, grated
6 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Medium onion, diced
4 Scallions, chopped
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
Whisk together the brown sugar, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and ginger. Set aside.
On medium heat, sauté the garlic and onions in sesame seed oil until onion is opaque. Add steak and sauté until the meat is no longer pink. Drain any excess liquid. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook for 5 minutes. Add scallions and stir until combined. Top with sesame seeds. Set aside.
4 Cucumbers sliced into thick matchsticks
1/4 Cup salt
4 Garlic cloves, finely minced
1Tablespoon dark sesame seed oil
3 Tablespoons white sugar
2 Teaspoons distilled vinegar
1/4 Cup kochu garu (Korean red pepper powder)
3 Scallions, chopped
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
In a mixing bowl, add cucumbers and sprinkle with salt. Toss until thoroughly coated. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. Rinse the cucumbers in cold water at least three times. Grab a handful of cucumbers and squeeze as hard as you can to get all of the water out. You don’t want watery cucumbers.
In the same mixing bowl, whisk the garlic, sesame seed oil, sugar and vinegar. Add the cucumbers, scallions and kochu garu. Mix until thoroughly combined and the kochu garu is pasty. I usually put on disposable a polyethylene plastic glove and use my hand to mix the cucumbers. You want the mixture to be completely absorbed by the cucumbers. Set aside.
Radish kimchi, thinly sliced (Some radish kimchi comes pre-sliced)
Asian pear, peeled and sliced
2 Hard boiled eggs, halved
Putting It All Together
In four large bowls, add one bundle of noodles. Ladle the broth over the noodles. Top with meat, cucumbers, radishes and half of an egg. Add 2-4 ice cubes if you want it cold.
Serves 4 normally but in our family, we don’t understand the concept of dainty portions and this will feed only two of us.
The Air Refinery was about 15 minutes away from our childhood home, and where mom spent 60 hours a week earning minimum wage. I still don’t know what she made at the Air Refinery. What I do know is after a 12-hour shift, mom came home with black glue all over her fingers and smelling of burnt rubber. From 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., mom was on her feet assembling Air Refinery products. From 6:00-6:30, mom assembled tasty meals for her four kids and husband. I don’t complain about my work or having too much to do when mom is around.
One of mom’s go-to side dishes (bon chon) were steamed eggs. The eggs are traditionally made in a dolsot pot. If you don’t have one, a casserole dish or large ramekins work just as well. This is a super quick, super easy to make side dish, and one that always reminds me how hard my parents worked to put a simple dish like this on the table.
4 Large eggs
1/2 – 1 Cup water
1 Stalk scallion, chopped
1/4 Cup buchu, chopped (Korean chives)
1/4 Cup carrots, grated
1 Red pepper, thinly sliced
1 Teaspoon sehwoojuht (Salted shrimp. You can find this in the pickled section at an Asian market.)
Black pepper to taste
Whisk together the eggs and water. Using a sieve, strain the mixture into a ceramic or dol sot pot. Repeat. This will help make the eggs smooth.
Add scallions, buchu, carrots, red pepper, sehwoojuht, and pepper. Mix lightly until combined.
Cover the pot with plastic wrap. In a steamer, bring water to a boil and set the pot on top of the basket.
Close the lid, reduce the heat and cook covered for 10-15 minutes.
Here is a super simple meal with a super crazy kick. Breaking it down: rice, pork belly, red leaf lettuce and slivers of garlic. The condiment is the key. It’s a combo of #kochu jang and dang jang. It’s like Superman of #Korean condiments.
Rice (1/2 to 1 cup per person)
1 1/2 to 2 Pounds pork belly
2-3 Bunches of red lettuce
1 Bunch of perilla leaves
1-2 Bulbs of garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
3-6 Korean finger peppers, sliced
1/3 Cup sesame oil plus 1 tablespoon
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Cup kochu jang (Korean red pepper paste)
1/4 Cup dang jang (Korean fermented soy bean paste)
1 Teaspoon soy sauce
3 Stalks of scallions
Make the rice
Slice the pork belly into 1-inch pieces. Grill the pork belly until the edges turn golden brown.
Wash the peppers and slice
Wash the red leaf lettuce and perilla leaves. Spin dry or blot dry with paper towel.
Combine the sesame oil and salt
Prepare the condiment
Combine the kochu jang, dang jang, 6-8 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce and scallions. Combine into a nice paste, until ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Putting It All Together
Grab a lettuce leaf. Lay it flat on the palm of your hand. Place a perilla on top. Add rice, pork belly, the condiment, a slice or two of the peppers, and a sliver or two of garlic. OR, dip the pork belly in the sesame oil and salt mixture. Wrap in lettuce and perilla leaves. Wrap it up and chow down.
Growing up, somen and ramen noodles to us were like mac and cheese was to our American friends. Guk su is super easy to make and always satisfies my nostalgic cravings. Guk su, or somen noodles, is versatile and can be prepared in hot and cold broths and spicy pepper mix. When it is freezing, and sleeting and snowing, I opt for the hot, spicy chicken broth.
It’s super easy to make. From prep to ladling in the noodley goodness is about 20 minutes. I made beef topping for this one, but you can go veggie and leave out the topping.
4 Bundles somen noodles
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons sesame seed oil
1 Medium yellow onion sliced
7 Cloves garlic, minced
(1) 32-ounce beef broth
2 Cups water
1 Teaspoon dashida (I use anchovies flavored.)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon kochu garu (Korean red pepper powder.)
1-2 Tablespoon(s) salt
1 Tablespoon black pepper
4-5 Scallions, 1-inch strips
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Cook noodles according to directions. Set aside. Time the noodles so that it’s ready at the same time as the broth.
Crack the eggs open and add to a small bowl. Break the yolks and give it a quick whisk. Set aside.
In a pot big enough to boil 32-ounces of chicken broth plus the water, add the oils. Heat on low and add the onions and garlic. Stirring frequently, cook until the onions and garlic until soft and the onions are slightly browned on the edges, about 5 minutes.
Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and season with dashida, soy sauce, kochu garu, and black pepper. Add the salt a teaspoon at a time. Adjust according to your taste. Let the broth simmer for about another 5 minutes.
Quickly add the eggs and give it a quick mix until the eggs are folded in.
Serving It Up
Place about at least a cup of the noodles in 4 large bowls (If the people you’re feeding have healthy appetites, this could just serve two instead of four.) Ladle in enough broth to submerge the noodles. Top with sesame seeds and scallions. Serve immediately. You don’t want gluey noodles.
My parents’ answer to a cold, stomachache, toothache or whatever ailment is jook. As a kid, I didn’t like the mushy texture and associated it with being sick. As an adult, I love the soothing, warm texture of the smooth rice, and the rich flavors of the broth make me feel whole again.
The best part about this dish is its versatility. You can top it off with grilled pork, chicken, beef or veggies, and flavor the stock with beef granules, scallions, garlic, no garlic, ginger… the options are endless. Bonus: it’s super easy to make.
1 Cup white rice, uncooked
4 Cups water
1 32-ounce carton chicken broth
5 Cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1-Inch ginger, peeled
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 Cup frozen peas
2 Eggs, fried and julienned
2 Stalks scallion, chopped
2 Chicken sausages, grilled and sliced. (You can top it off with meat of your choice. I also top it with Spam or Jimmy Dean’s breakfast sausage.)
Rinse the rice until the water is clear. In a large pot, add all the ingredients except the pea, sesame oil and toppings. Mix gently.
Bring the pot to boil. Turn the heat to low and cook uncovered for a about an hour and half or until it’s the consistency of a think broth. Jook should not stick to spoon or spatula. You want a silky texture. Take out the ginger.