Korean Spaghetti (a La Kim)
Asians invented noodles; Marco Polo brought them back.
The rest is history -- at least after the tomato was introduced to Europe from the New World.
But here is an absolutely delicious version that is new to New World/European tastes. The rest of the world will find some new things in it also. Add to this that the dish is very easy to prepare -- then you really have something worth trying.
"Spaghetti," by the way, is used here in the generic American sense as a stand-in for any type of pasta. Linguine, in fact, is particularly appropriate for this dish, but other types of pasta -- including spaghetti -- are delicious also.
Korean spaghetti (a la Kim)
The featured players
The key ingredient here is sesame oil. This can be found generally in small bottles in supermarkets and at Trader Joe's, but your best bet is to find an Asian market someplace near you and to buy a generous can of the stuff. That is not much more expensive than the little bottles and is an investment in a future of good eating.
Soy sauce, of course. Garlic, of course.
Some kimchi or, better, some Gochujang (or Kochujang) paste: made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Red pepper flakes can be used instead if that is what you have at hand.
Not shown: rice vinegar. This can be omitted, but in fact its sourness adds taste. It can be combined with sugar; some people think this makes for a richer taste. Other people just add a bit of sugar without the vinegar. I prefer just the vinegar.
Supporting cast and recipe
* 1 lb ground beef (80/20)
* sesame oil
* soy sauce
* garlic, smashed
* rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
* roasted sesame seeds (if available)
* cut-up green vegetable(s) (eg, zucchini, green beans, scallions, broccoli, even lettuce)(carrot for color)
* red pepper flakes (or other source of heat) (optional)
* black pepper, freshly ground from a mill
* pasta (eg, linguine, but any pasta will work)
Cooking it up: First Steps
1. Boil water for the pasta.
2. In a large frying pan,
- pour out enough sesame oil to cover the bottom. Add
- some soy sauce and
- an equal amount of rice (or any white) vinegar*
- the rest of the ingredients, but not the vegetables
Stir all together with a fork.
3. Add the ground beef, mashing the beef into the sauce until it soaks up the liquid.
4. Fry this, adding the green vegetables when the beef loses its redness and cook them a while.
5. Add the pasta to the boiling water. Drain when done and fork out one serving on each plate or bowl.
Spoon the beef out onto each plate as if it were tomato sauce.
Here a bit of kimchi, but red pepper flakes are another possibility.
So too is Guochujang (though that would be added in the first steps), a spicy paste which adds considerable heat to any dish. It is a very distinctive Korean ingredient (see "Parting facts," below).
Serve with kimchi
Kimchi.. This is the most Korean of all: usually some form of oriental cabbage pickled in red chili pepper flakes (radish or scallions can be substituted for the cabbage). Kimchi may first have been made 3000 years ago -- though without the red pepper, which only came in upon contact with the West. You can find kimchi in the refrigerated section of most supermarket fresh vegetable displays.
You can certainly find it in any Asian grocery store. And if you can't find it, I have known Koreans who -- stranded in an area where kimchi cannot be readily found -- substitute a dill pickle, particularly if it is the crunchy kind.
Omit the rice vinegar, or add sugar as well as rice vinegar, or just add sugar.
Of course, many of the other ingredients can be varied as well: for example, you could add some thin slices of baby carrots for color.
Maybe even tomatoes -- green ones, of course!
Nobody shows you leftovers and what they look like five days after the main event.
But I do!
Admittedly, there wasn't much left over -- the dish is just too good. But there was a little left over on this rare occasion. And here's what it looked like -- together with a generous helping of kimchi. Just as good as on Day One.
The multiplicity of Korean dishes, all of them delicious, is so great -- and each one so distinctive -- that one sometimes has the impression Koreans do nothing but eat all day. Kimchi for breakfast, imagine that.
The impression of multiplicity is reinforced, of course, any time you go to a Korean restaurant by the large number of side dishes that are placed on the table even before the main course arrives.
Other cultures use sesame oil, but Korean cuisine features it most prominently. Koreans of course make use of soy sauce, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, but more distinctive ingredients include doenjang (a light brown fermented bean paste), and gochujang (fermented red chili paste). (When Korean ingredients are transliterated, spellings can vary).
Real Meal. Unlike fancy food mags, where images are hyped and food itself is secondary, all pix shown here are from a real meal, prepared and eaten by me and my friends. No throwing anything away till perfection is achieved. This is the real deal --- a Real Meal.
Thank you, Mr. Kim.