Spicy Korean Soup on a Cold Winter’s Night? (aka the “Riff on Sundubu” Post)

Why should big, bold, beautiful flavors be complicated? The answer is — they don’t have to be. In this simple soup recipe, inspired by sundubu jjigae, a traditional spicy Korean soup made with tofu and kimchi, a few authentic ingredients do the heavy lifting.

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The key to this recipe, which comes together quickly, is to prep all vegetables in advance of cooking. Additionally, homemade stock adds complexity and deliciousness. Choice of add-ins means that this soup can be vegetarian — or not. We used leftover braised leg of lamb and it was absolutely delicious.

Spicy Korean Soup (aka Sundubu)
Serves 4

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili pepper, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 T anchovy paste
6 c. homemade stock (chicken, pork or veg.)
2 T Korean hot pepper paste (also known as kochujang or gochujang)
8 oz kale, chiffonaded
Salt and pepper to taste (alternatively, soy sauce and pepper)

Suggested add-ins: 
Soft or silken tofu, cubed
Kimchee (to taste)
Shredded chicken, pork, or leftover braised leg of lamb — at room temp
Glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles or bean thread noodles)

Optional toppings: 
Thinly sliced Serrano peppers
Sliced scallions
Toasted sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes

Directions: Sauté garlic, serrano pepper and onion in 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stock pot for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant; add anchovy paste and stir until combined. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook until beginning to soften, approx. 5-7 minutes. Add stock, cover and and bring soup to a simmer; stir in Korean hot pepper paste until combined and add kale. Cover and simmer until kale is wilted, approx. 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prep soup bowls with add-ins of choice. Once soup is ready, ladle soup into bowls and add toppings (optional). Enjoy!

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Pickled Carrots, Onion, Jalapeño (aka the “Homage to Humble Taqueria Carrots” Post)

Those spicy carrots. As ubiquitous as fresh chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and an assortment of salsas at any hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Southern California worthy of its Mexican stripes. 

Approaching 10 years of living in NYC, and spicy, pickled taqueria-style carrots are one of the food memories that haunts this California expat yet, go figure.

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I’ve dabbled with pickling jalapeños, pickling carrots and the sum of these parts before. I highly recommend Momofuku’s pickled carrots — the brine has a sweetness thanks to rice vinegar and sugar, and just about anything else you have on hand can go into it, in addition to carrots.

This time, though, I was on a hunt for auténtico. When I discovered a post on Tasting Table for “Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots,” adapted from Kevin West, a Los Angeles-based blogger and author of “Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving” — I knew I was on the right track.

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I stayed mostly true to the recipe, skipping the sterilization step as these carrots will live in the fridge for the duration of their short life (they’re already quickly disappearing) and also amping up the spice quotient. I used a mishmash of carrots that we had in the fridge and rough-chopped them to approximately the same size. I also used a white onion.

The brilliance of West’s technique lies in toasting the cumin seeds and crushing the peppercorns, two simple steps that really open up the spices and cause them to bloom, so to speak, in the brine.

Here’s the recipe, simplified and slightly modified:

Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots
(Adapted from Kevin West via TastingTable)
Makes 2 quarts

2 lb. (approx. ) raw carrots, use whatever you have on hand, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
4 to 6 jalapeños, sliced thinly
8 cloves garlic

2 c. water
2 c. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. peppercorns, lightly crushed (mortar with pestle)
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin seeds

1) Toast cumin seeds in a small skillet until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

2) Combine water, vinegar, kosher salt, oregano and peppercorns in a saucepan; bring to a boil at high heat. Add onion and jalapeño and turn off heat.

3) Separately, bring salted water to boil, add carrots and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain in colander and add to onion and jalapeño in brine; return to a boil and then turn off the heat.

4) Divide cumin seeds and garlic cloves between empty jars. With a slotted spoon, divide carrots, onion, jalapeño between jars. Top off with brine and let cool to room temp before fastening lids and storing in the fridge.

**Pickled carrots will be ready to eat in 24 hours and will take on greater intensity the longer they are in the brine — but good luck keeping them around!**

Now, bring on the tacos… 

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Recipe: Quinoa, Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad (aka the “Budget Lunch on the Fly” Post)

Today’s mission: Make something out of nothing. That’s good for you. And do it fast.

I’m on a shoestring budget this week, which means it’s about time to get into the bag of quinoa that’s been sitting in my cupboard. I’ve long been fascinated with the South American grain (pronounced “keen-wah”) as it tastes good (it has a light,  nutty flavor), and it’s incredibly good for you — quinoa is packed with protein and amino acids. When cooked, the small, round grains become light and fluffy. Think of quinoa as the couscous of the Andes.

A quick survey of what else fresh I had on hand — some baby heirloom tomatoes, broccoli — and a bit of hand-holding from the ever patient Mark Bittman, whose tomb “How to Cook Everything” I frequently turn to for basic techniques, and, voila.

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Quinoa, Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad

This easy, breezy, colorful dish would do as well served warm or at room temp, and would play nicely with a beautiful piece of protein.

Ingredients:

2 Tbls. E.V.O.O.
1 1/2 c. corn kernels, rinsed and drained
3/4 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 c. stock or water*
1 c. small broccoli florets
12 small tomatoes, halved (I used baby heirloom tomatoes)
block of Parmesan (always best freshly grated)
sea salt, pepper to taste

Directions:

1.) Heat E.V.O.O. in a large skillet; sautee corn over medium-high heat until it begins to turn golden, approx. 10 minutes. Add a dash of salt and pepper.

2.) Add quinoa; sauté mixture until grains begin to brown, approx. 5 minutes. Add a dash of salt and pepper.

3.) Add stock or water. *I didn’t have stock and so cheated a bit by adding in a chicken flavor seasoning packet left over from a packet of ramen noodles.

4.) Once water begins to boil, give the mixture a final stir. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and let cook for 15 minutes.

5.) While quinoa cooks, boil water in a saucepan. Blanche broccoli florets 2 minutes, or until they turn bright green. Immediately drain into strainer and run under cold water.

6.) Test quinoa for doneness: grains should be fluffy and soft. If the kernels are still hard, add a touch of liquid to the pan (so that the bottom stays moist) and return to heat for another 3-5 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and grains are fully cooked.

7.) In bowl, top quinoa and corn mixture with broccoli florets and tomato halves. Grate with fresh Parmesan to taste.

Serves: 2