A whiff of Korean in your kitchen

Published: Oct 26, 2013, 01:06 IST | Soma Das |

On Friday, Korean chef Yeo Kyung Lee regaled Mumbai's aspiring chefs with a workshop on vegetarian and non-vegetarian Korean cuisine. Speaking with Soma Das, she reveals the secrets of Korean cooking, and throws in a simple and quick recipe

Korean cuisine spans centuries, and is based on agricultural and cultural traditions of Korea. There is a special emphasis on rice, meats, vegetables and side dishes. That’s the message that Chef Yeo Kyung Lee has been trying to spread through her cooking workshops, one of which took place on Friday at Studio Fifteen and was organised by Comida.

A Korean spread includes rice, meat, vegetables and side dishes

Titled Hwan Nyung Hap Ni Da, the workshop instructed participants on vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations as well as desserts including Pajeon (green onion pancake), Japchae (stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables and meat), Bulgogi (marinated beef), Bibimbap (one of the signature dishes in Korea, rice topped with vegetables and meat), Sigeumchi Namul (a spinach side dish), Yeonkeun Jorim (sweet soy glazed lotus roots) and Hoddeok (sweet pancakes with brown sugar syrup filling).

Bibimbap is a signature Korean dish of rice topped with vegetables and meat

Lee has travelled extensively to experience different cultures around the world. She graduated from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) and has worked with hospitality companies worldwide, including Grand Intercontinental Seoul, where she assisted in terms of F&B, the Djibouti Palace Kempinski, and in Emotion Publicis Event Korea as a project manager. Excerpts from an interview:

Japchae or stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables and meat

Can you tell us some lesser-known facts about Korean cooking?
Traditional Korean condiments, which are present in all Korean cuisines, are the top secret of delicious and unique Korean dishes. As long as you have the list of commonly used Korean condiments (given alongside) in your well-stocked pantry, you are ready to cook authentic Korean food anytime you want. Also, there are some basic ingredients, which are frequently used in our cuisine, including rice, garlic, ginger, onion, spring onion, toasted sesame seeds, tofu, dried anchovies, dried seaweed sheet, and shitake mushrooms.

Korean Bulgogi or marinated beef

What are the highlights of Korean cooking which differentiate it from cooking in the neighbouring countries?
I tried various cuisines in many different destinations so far. In Korea, Japan and China, food is seasoned with soy sauce instead of salt. Food cultures in these three countries are similar, yet slightly different. For instance, Chinese soy bean paste is made from fermented beans and flours. In contrast, Koreans use fermented beans. Japanese mix beans, rice and barley and use different types of yeast to produce soy bean paste. The most distinctive highlight in Korean cuisine is the unique cooking method.

Chef Yeo Kyung Lee
Chef Yeo Kyung Lee 

Due to their different climates and environment, a lot of Chinese dishes are cooked with oil at a high temperature, and many foods are preferred to be served uncooked or briefly cooked in Japanese cuisine. Korean cuisine, on the other hand, prefers to steam or poach food and mix or dry in Korean seasoning; therefore, it can be preserved a bit longer and also carries the original taste of the ingredients. As a result, Korean food is well-known as one of the healthiest world cuisines.

Is it possible to tweak around Korean and Indian recipes?
Generally speaking, I found Indian chillies are spicier than common chillies in Korea. If you are looking at the Korean recipes that are created based on Korean standards, try to use half amount (or two third) of chillies. Recently, I was in Goa and I found a few Goan dishes could be well-harmonised with Korean dishes if there is a bit of a nice twist between them. For example, put less masala and tomatoes, and add more vegetables (including minced garlic) in Vindaloo dishes. I have no doubt that your palette will be delighted with fusion Indian-Korean.

What are some of the similarities between Indian and Korean cooking?
Both have a good selection of vegetarian dishes as well as a decent amount of spicy food.

Must-have Korean condiment list
> Go-chu-jang (Korean chilli pepper paste)
> Doen-jang (Korean soy bean paste)
> Gan-jang (soy sauce)
> Go-chu-garu (Korean chilli powder)
> Cham-ki-reum (sesame oil)
> Jeotgal (salted fermented food made of seafood, such as small shrimps, anchovies, sand lance, fresh raw crabs and so on)

Spinach side dish

1 bunch of spinach
2 cloves of garlic
1 green onion
1.5 tbs of soy sauce
1/2 tbs of sesame oil

> In boiling water, add a teaspoon of salt and blanch a bunch of spinach for
30 seconds after removing dead leaves and roots.
> Drain the cooked spinach and rinse it in cold water.
> Cut the spinach a few times and set it aside.
> Place minced garlic, chopped green onion, soy sauce and sesame oil in a large bowl and mix them all up with a spoon.
> Place the spinach into the sauce and mix them together.

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