I’ve always been a dreamer. Imaginative, fanciful even. At seven I was packing up my pink pleather suitcase, bedazzled no doubt, with all I’d need for a life on the road. My brother had broken the tire on my Barbie Corvette and I, well I just couldn’t live with that. I neatly packed a peanut butter and fluff sandwich, Wedding Day Barbie, Teddy Ruxpin, the 64 pack of Crayola crayons, and my recorder, and set out on foot. Thank God I had that recorder, so I could play the blues like B.B. King. Though, I’ll admit that something is amiss when you’re using an out of tune flute.
I was going to be a runaway, headed east. Mom saw me trying to shove my suitcase through the front door and asked me where I was going. “Mash,” I replied matter of factly.
“Mash, like the show?…You’re walking to Korea?” Mom asked.
I’d just spent the night before watching M*A*S*H with my dad. I got the feeling that Korea was not only the farthest and most exotic place in the world, but that it was dad’s escape too. And from the way he laughed, I was sure it must be fun. What could be more fun than entering a war zone?
I got as far as the Weagles’ house and had to take a break. Three houses away is three weeks when you’re living on the street. Punky Brewster would understand. By the time I ran out of Boku and ran through the short list of songs I knew how to play, I turned back.
I burst through the front door and mom asked where I’d been for the last two hours.
“Oh, is that right?” Mom smirked.
“Yup. You should go sometime. They have lots of stuff there that only some people know about.” So gifted with words.
“Okay, maybe Dad and I will go someday. Get ready for dinner.”
“I already ate. Korea food.”
Thankfully I wasn’t pressed as to what that Korean meal was. My story might have folded. I’d guess something along the lines of pisketti with brown sauce and pancakes with only the marshmallows from Lucky Charms. Real Asian delicacies.
For the rest of the night I sat in my room and cut out shapes and colors and glued them to the wall. Memories from my trip east. I made my brother jealous with stories of the meals and snacks and desserts in Asia. I wonder what I knew about Korea when I traveled there in my mind at seven. My taste buds had never traveled beyond Ireland and Italy.
You see, my childhood kitchen was classically American. A Norman Rockwell of the dining table crowded roast beef, potatoes, and corn, creamed. No simmering curries, no exotic spices peeking out of the spice cabinet. China was a local area code and a white paper box scrawled with red symbols.
No one told me that coconut existed outside of Almond Joy and custard pie. That peanut butter cheated on jelly for soy sauce. That ginger, lemongrass, and tamari were friends.
Not until I moved into my own apartment did I realize that I could love foreign fare. I browsed books. “Borrowed” a couple from the library (don’t ask about my blacklisting). Spent a cool million at the Asian market, loading my shoebox of a pantry with fish sauce, oyster sauce, and toasted sesame oil. It wasn’t immediate immersion. I spent years learning how the Thai, the Chinese, and the Japanese craft such luscious stir fries. What is that flavor that I’m missing in my own kitchen attempts? Soy sauce, check. Ginger, check. Sesame oil, check. Sugar, check, check , check (an admitted sweet seeker, here). What I’ve discovered, other than that soy sauce doesn’t rinse out of my favorite white button down, is that these dishes achieve that brilliant balance of sweet and savory with the addition of a few splashes of ingredients like fish sauce, oyster sauce, and chili paste.
These meals that I make now, in my newly acquired culinary language, are expressions of the same imagination I had at seven. They transport me to a time, a place, a feeling. An exotic destination that I can only dream to be true. Today, that place is Korea. An homage to my littler self, who ate pisketti and marshmallows from the Lucky Charms box with Korean children in her mind.
It’s a wonder I’ve never tried my hand at Korean food. When I set out to tackle it, I pored over recipes online. What are the key flavors of the cuisine? What meats and vegetables are popular? I found pictures of beef bulgogi and ate it with my eyes. Delicious looking must translate to delicious tasting, I thought. And so it began.
At the market I filled my basket with flank steak and ginger, soy sauce and fish sauce, cabbage and toasted sesame oil. The makings of a true Korean classic. With Andrea flair.
This is Korean Beef Bulgogi, and it is outrageously flavorful. I marinated the flank steak in soy, sesame, sugar, and chili, and grilled it until the edges charred. The result is an unbearably tender, succulent bite of beef. I decided to pair it with a zesty ginger slaw, and the brightness adds such a beautiful dimension to the meal. To serve, I wrapped the steak and slaw in corn tortillas, to create, a fusion of Asian and Mexican cuisines. This is a flavor marriage I began loving here in Seattle, a city where food trucks reign and plates of hot Korean tacos are gobbled up by the dozens. Enjoy!
inspired by Week of Menus
- 1 lb flank steak
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup chopped scallions
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 TBSP soy sauce
- 2 TBSP cup sesame oil
- 2 TBSP rice wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons chili sauce (I like Sambal Oelek)
Crush the garlic by wacking the heel of your palm against the flat side of a large knife. This will break the skin of the garlic, and let you slip it off easily.
Now mince them finely. Or use a garlic press to make the task much much easier.
Add the minced garlic to a bowl or large measuring cup. This is what you’ll combine all marinade ingredients in.
Plop them into the bowl.
And soy sauce
And sesame oil
Then add chili sauce and give it a good whisking.
Place your beef in a wide, shallow bowl. I used flank steak and cut the beef in half, along the grain, so that it would be easier to manage the large size.
Pour the marinade over the beef, making sure all parts are well covered. Wrap the bowl plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
Now make the slaw. Gather your ingredients for the sauce.
Zesty Korean Ginger Slaw
- 1 clove garlic, minced finely
- 1” piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- 3 TBSP fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 TBSP rice wine vinegar
- 1 TBSP sesame oil
- 1 TBSP sugar
- 2 TBSP chili sauce
- 1 head napa cabbage, shredded
- 1 carrot, grated
- 4 radishes, cut into matchsticks
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
Whenever you’re making a sauce that will not be cooked, I recommend grating the garlic, rather than mincing it with a knife. Garlic is pungent and sharp, so biting into raw pieces can be unpleasant. The smaller you can mince it or grate it, the better.
Now peel a 1″ knob of ginger and grate it just as you did the garlic. Ginger is softer, so it will release juices as it’s grated.
Add the garlic and ginger to a clean mixing bowl or measuring cup.
Add your sugar
And finally chili sauce. Give this mixture a whisk to combine.
Now chop up your vegetables.
A medium sized head of napa cabbage
Four or five radishes cut into matchsticks.
Toss them into a large bowl with 1 grated carrot, 1/2 cup of red bell pepper (sliced into matchsticks), and chopped scallions.
Pour the sauce on top and toss to coat all of the vegetables. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Now let’s get the grill heated up. Remove the flank steak from the marinade and grill it for 5 minutes per side on a gas grill with the burners set to medium.
Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing verrrry thinly against the grain.
Now let’s plate ‘em. Arrange a mound of slaw and a few slices of beef on each tortilla.
This is my official entry into Challenge 2: The Classics of Foodbuzz’ Project Food Blog, a competition to find the Next Food Blog Star. Voting for this second round of the contest begins Monday, September 27th at 6AM Pacific Time through Thursday September 30th at 6PM Pacific Time. Click here to see my profile and if you’d like, vote: CanYouStayForDinner. Here is my entry page: Korean Beef Bulgogi