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Spring time is for…

sugar snap peas

sugar snap peas from my garden

Fresh sugar snap peas! Right from my vegetable garden. Last winter, I planted strawberries, sugar snap peas, spinach and romaine lettuces. None of them died but except for the sugar snap peas, all the other vegetables didn’t really grow…I didn’t consider the change of sun exposure in the winter and they are just not getting enough sun. The lettuce is now finally growing with the weather getting warmer…

But I am certainly enjoying a bountiful harvest of snap peas. I have stir fried them with some beef, added to my fried rice and just ate them raw with some sour cream dip. So crunchy and sweet!

And… spring time is also for spring cleaning, right? Well, I have been doing that in my house but I have also started some redesigning and reorganizing of my Korean Food at Home blog. I’m sure you noticed my new theme. Do you like?

I will be going through my recipes and adding a Print Recipe feature (some have been asking for it) too. Hope that’s helpful to some of you.

Happy Spring Everyone!

Stir-fried cucumbers (오이나물 oyi namul)

cucumber namul

cucumber namul

This Oyi Namul(오이나물) is also sometimes called Oyi Bokkeum (오이볶음) which literally means cucumber stir fry. When you saw the name of the dish, you might have thought – “What? Stir fry cucumbers? How can that taste good?”.  But you will be surprised how good this tastes – the slightly pickled cucumbers have such a wonderfully crunchy and chewy texture. Any raw cucumber taste (that some people don’t like) is nicely smoothed out by the cooking process. Even my husband, who frowns when I give him the little bit of fresh cucumbers that go on top of Zazang Myun, ate these and thought they were ‘pretty good’.

Since I had such an abundant harvest of cucumbers this year – just from one plant, I think I harvested more than 20 cucumbers so far – I have been busy trying to eat all the cucumbers. I shared some with my neighbors of course. Then I made 2 batches of the summer soy sauce pickles, used them in salads, ate them raw with gochujang, ..etc. I remembered that I had some leftover stir fried ground beef from some Dduk Gook I made recently and then remembered how I loved to have oiy namul when I lived in Korea. Now, all I had to do was to cut, pickle, squeeze the cucumbers and stir fry them with the beef!

Prep time: 2 min (if you already have the cooked ground beef, 8 min)

Cooking time: 3 min assuming you have the beef already cooked

Servings: 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 1 cucumber (Korean, English or Persian)
  • sea salt for pickling (1 tsp sea salt per 1 C of sliced cucumbers)
  • 2 T Korean seasoned ground beef (optional)
    • quick recipe for Korean seasoned ground beef
    • 1/3 lb beef  ground beef
        • 2 tsp soy sauce (Kikkoman)
        • 2 tsp sugar
        • 2 tsp rice cooking wine
        • 1 tsp sesame oil
        • 1 tsp minced garlic
        • 1/8 tsp garlic powder (optional)
        • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

About cucumbers: Having the right kind of cucumber and using good quality sea salt is really is the key here. The best kind of cucumber is Korean (of course) and then English or Persian. Choose ones with as little wax on the skin as possible (using the skin adds additional texture) with the skin not being too tough or thick. If the skin is tough, that means the cucumber is too mature which often leaves a bitter taste in your mouth – which is not good.. If you can’t buy any of this variety, small pickling cucumbers will also work. If the skin is still too tough, peel the skin before you use it.

Directions

1. Cut the cucumbers into 1/8 inch thick slices. I usually don’t emphasize the thickness but it’s kind of important here because how well the cucumbers pickle will depend on the correct thickness. Too thin, and it will actually rip apart when you squeeze it later. Too thick, and it will take a long time to pickle. And try to cut with even thickness throughout so they all pickle evenly.

sliced cucumbers for oyi namul

sliced cucumbers for oyi namul

2. Put the sliced cucumbers in a bowl. Sprinkle the sea salt and toss the cucumbers to make sure the salt is evenly distributed. Let it sit for 5-7 minutes until the cucumbers are easily bendable without breaking.

3. You can reheat the leftover already cooked, seasoned ground beef in a pan on medium heat. If you don’t have any leftovers, just season some ground beef (use my recipe above) and stir fry it in a pan on medium high heat until the beef is all cooked.

Korean seasoned ground beef in pan

Korean seasoned ground beef in pan

If you like mushrooms, you can also add some sliced mushrooms to the ground beef as I did here. When the beef is nice and hot, turn the heat off and let it wait until you get the cucumber ready.

4. Squeeze out excess water from the cucumbers. You can just take a handful in your hands and squeeze the water out as much as you can (the more you squeeze the liquid out, the crisper the cucumbers will be). You can also use a cheese cloth to wring out the liquid like below:

Wringing out excess liquid from cucumbers in cheese cloth

Wringing out excess liquid from cucumbers in cheese cloth

Put the cucumbers in the cheese cloth and wrap it into a ball. Hold one end with your left hand and the ball shaped end with your right hand (if you are right handed) and twist the liquid out (like you wring out water from your clothes).

cucumbers (before)

cucumbers (BEFORE)

cucumbers (AFTER)

cucumbers (AFTER)

5. Add these squeezed, pickled cucumbers into the pan and stir fry the beef and the cucumbers together for 2 min or so on medium high heat.  You don’t want to cook the cucumbers too long. Just long enough for them to lose their raw taste. Sprinkle some crushed roasted sesame seeds and now you have your oyi  namul!

stif fried cucumbers and ground beef

stif fried cucumbers and ground beef (oyi namul)

Oyi namul tastes great at room temperature so it’s another great side dish or banchan for doshirak. You should store it in the fridge because of the beef and it will keep well for days. Another way to eat the oyi namul is to make bibimbap out of it. Just mix some rice and the oyi namul with some gochujang and sesame oil and it will be another simple and quick meal.

Fantastic Summer Pickles (장아찌 Jangahjji)

Korean Summer Pickles - Jangahjji

Korean Summer Pickles – Jangahjji

Pickles..pickles…so delicious, so crunchy, tangy, sweet, salty and even a hint of chili flavor it simply tastes divine. Summers are pretty hot in Korea and when it’s so hot, you often don’t have much of an appetite. But..get a bowl of ice cold water, put some rice (room temp) in it and eat the rice in water with these pickles. Yum! This was a true summer time staple in the good old days.

So, I decided to make some pickles this summer, from a recipe I got from my mother-in-law during my last visit to Korea. It was pretty simple and quite easy to do.

There are many different ingredients you can make pickle out of and here are a few very traditional and authentic ingredients : cucumbers, garlic, garlic scape(stems), onions, green chili peppers and radishes. Broccoli stems and chayote are some new ingredients that Korean Americans discovered and began to pickle very recently.

Depending on their flavors, you can mix various vegetables and pickle them in the same jar. Note that adding garlic or garlic stems will add a garlic flavor to the whole pickle jar so think about it before you mix garlic with other ingredients. I wanted to keep my cucumbers separate from the garlic so I made two jars – one with cucumbers and green peppers and another with garlic and garlic stems. So here’s what I did:

 

Prep Time: 10 min                       Cooking Time:  10 min                              Pickling Time: 7 days

Ingredients for  Korean cucumber pickles (오이 장아찌 Oyi Jangahjji)

  • 4 Korean cucumbers (오이 Oyi) (Persian or Pickle cucumbers also OK)
  • 5 green chili peppers (optional)
  • 3 C soy sauce (approx)
  • 3 C sugar (approx)
  • 3 C rice vinegar (approx)
  • handful of rough sea salt
  • glass jar for pickling (I reused a Kimchi jar)

Directions

garlic stems, cucumbers, green chili peppers

garlic scapes, cucumbers, green chili peppers

The amount of pickle juice needed varies based on the amount of ingredients and the size and shape of your glass jar. All of the vegetables must be totally submerged in liquid for them to be pickled properly without getting mushy. So the best way to determine how much pickling liquid you will need is to actually put the vegetables in the jar first, then pour enough water in the jar to totally cover all the vegetables. The amount of water poured is the amount of pickle juice you will need then measure the amount of water you used. Then you can calculate back from that how much pickle juice you will need to prepare. For the amount of cucumbers I had, I needed about 6 cups of liquid which then made me figure out that I needed 3 cups of soy sauce and vinegar each to make the 6 cups. The amount of sugar needed just follows the 1:1:1 ratio of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar.

1. Mix soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a pot and let it come to a boil. When it boils, turn the heat off and let it sit.

2. In the mean time, grab a generous pinch of sea salt and clean the cucumbers by rubbing each one with salt. This is like giving the cucumbers a good exfoliating massage. :) Rinse the cucumbers with water and pat them dry. You can then cut the cucumbers into bite size pieces or keep them whole. I like cutting them because it saves me the trouble of cutting them later. Traditionally, whole cucumbers are used – I have heard that it keeps the cucumbers crunchy longer.

cut cucumbers and put them in the jar

cut cucumbers

3. Wash the green chili peppers. Whole peppers can be used or can be cut into pieces. When using whole peppers, make a hole in the pepper by piercing it with a sharp skewer or toothpick. This helps the pickling juice to be evenly absorbed into the pepper. I like using Korean green chili peppers because they are not as spicy but you can also use Jalapeno peppers or other peppers. A good substitute for a Korean chili pepper is the Anaheim green chili pepper.

cut green peppers and put them in the jar

cut green peppers and put them in the jar

 

punch a hole in the pepper

punch a hole in the pepper

5. Put both the cucumbers and chili peppers into the jar. Now pour the soy sauce mixture onto the vegetables. The sauce should be quite hot – the hot temperature of the sauce shocks the vegetables and makes them crunchy so make sure it’s nice and hot!

jar of Korean cucumber pickles in soy sauce

jar of Korean cucumber pickles in soy sauce

6. Just find something to weigh the vegetables down and you are almost done! When I was little I saw my mom use a stone to push everything down into the liquid. She would just get a clean smooth stone from the garden, then wash and boil it in water before using it. You can still do that – I’m sure there are benefits to using a natural stone..If you don’t feel comfortable using a stone, just find a saucer or little sauce dish to push things down before putting the cover on.

7. Let it sit for 3 days in room temperature and then drain the liquid out, boil it and then add it back to the jar while it is still hot. Leave it for 4 more days.

Korean cucumber jangahjji (오이 장아찌 Oh-yi Jangahjji)

Korean cucumber and chili pickles (오이 장아찌 Oh-yi Jangahjji)

Here is how the pickles look after a week or so. Yum… my mouth is watering just looking at this picture.

Garlic pickles (마늘 장아찌 Mahneul Jangahjji) and garlic scape pickles (마늘쫑 장아찌Mahneul jjong Jangahjji) are another favorite pickle among Koreans and they go really well with grilled meats such as Kalbi, Bulgogi or Ssam-gyeop-ssal. Fresh garlic scapes are not always available, but my local Korean market was selling them few weeks back so I grabbed a whole bunch! Garlic scapes are immature flower buds that form on garlic plants that (when harvested young) have a wonderfully delicate garlic flavor.

1. Prepare peeled garlic cloves and garlic scapes. Wash them in water and let them dry. Cut the garlic scapes into 1 1/2 in length pieces:

cut garlic scapes (마늘쫑 Mahneul Jjong)

cut garlic scapes (마늘쫑 Mahneul Jjong)

2. Get a glass jar or container, add the cut scapes and garlic cloves and pour the hot soy sauce+vinegar+ sugar mixture:

garlic scape pickles (마늘쫑 장아찌 Mahneul-jjong Jangahjji)

garlic scape pickles (마늘쫑 장아찌 Mahneul-jjong Jangahjji)

3. After 3 days, drain the liquid, boil it and add it back. Leave it for 4 more days.

Korean garlic and garlic scape pickles

Korean garlic and garlic scape pickles

This is how it looks after a week! You have to try this – the garlic scape has such a beautiful delicate garlic flavor with a perfect crunch in every bite.

A fantastic medley of Korean summer vegetable pickles (Jangahjji)

A fantastic medley of Korean summer vegetable pickles (Jangahjji)

* Serving: you can just serve as is or sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on top. You can also add some seasoning such as sesame oil, red chili powder and chopped fresh green onion.

* Storage: you can store these Korean jangahjji at room temperature for weeks without the taste changing at all. No fridges in the old days.

* Taste: adjust the amount of vinegar and sugar to taste. I have seen recipes which uses less vinegar and sugar (1/3 of amount used here). I personally prefer the 1:1:1 ratio since these are meant to be sweet and sour.

* What do you do with the leftover Korean soy sauce pickle juice? : make more pickles by just getting more vegetables and then re-boiling the juice before making a new batch. The soy sauce mixture does seem to become less salty with the water coming out from the vegetables during the pickling process so you may want to add additional soy sauce mixture to bring up the level of salt.

Happy Summer!

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