Anyone who knows me will attest to my passion for components. I can’t be a purist, I’m a bicoastal hapa mutt! I like tapas, dumplings, potlucks, tasting menus, and crafting the perfect bite. I also favor this aesthetic in non-edible realms. Gift basket > single gift of equal value. Variations on a theme > pièce de résistance. Mini-kits, grab bags, and starter sets? Awesome.
So Korean food makes me giddy, because every Korean meal involves multiple small dishes of food, served family-style. These dishes, known as banchan, accompany a bowl of meat or stew. Each diner defends his/her own bowl of rice and plucks morsels from the shared plates. Dinner at home might have only a few banchan, while formal meals could feature ten or more!
Banchan are a great way to introduce healthful variety into your routine. And what do you know? One of my culinary enablers recently lent me The Korean Table. Authors Debra Samuels and Taekyung Chung advertise 100 simple Korean recipes ranging “from Barbecue to Bibimbap.” I made three of their banchan, which, when paired with brown rice, make even workday lunches feel special.
The first is namul, which generally means “seasoned vegetables.” A mix of sesame seeds, sesame oil, garlic, and gochugaru (Korean red pepper) can flavor anything from seaweed to sprouts. I like the refreshing, peppery, slightly bitter taste of dark greens with the nutty namul seasoning, and creamy egg yolk paired especially well with it. Plus, mustard greens cost only $0.59/pound in Chinatown! Woohoo!
Kimchi, another all-purpose term for fermented vegetables, is spicy, salty-sour, and incredibly nutritious. There are countless types, but this batch is mainly daikon radish, plus some baby carrots because I didn’t have enough daikon. Oyster sauce and fish sauce make this particular kimchi non-vegetarian but exceptionally savory. I accidentally tripled the ginger, but it turned out pungent and delicious, if a skosh salty for my taste.
Oi gaji salad is the only banchan here I hadn’t eaten before. The gaji (eggplant) is grilled or broiled till brown outside but tender and creamy inside, then marinated with a soy-scallion-gochugaru sauce and tossed with cucumber (oi). The cool crunch of the cucumber tempers the powerfully flavorful eggplant in an unusual pairing of textures and tastes. I ate the whole batch in two days. That’s three Japanese eggplants and four Persian cucumbers!
Oh dear me, how terribly tragic that all the oi gaji is gone. I guess I just have to make more banchan!