Happy New Year! I’m a bit late, but better late than never I say. Not sure what 2009 will bring, but as always, I’m optimistic. 2008 is so last year anyway. Bring it 2009!!! Bring it! Now on to the food.
On Thanksgiving, my family does the traditional American turkey thing, but Christmas and New Year’s is a strictly Korean affair. This year, after the Thanksgiving cooking marathon, I told my mom we should keep it simple on Christmas and just eat some samgyupssal (삼겹살, uncured pork belly) and galbi (갈비, beef ribs). Of course, my mom always cooks up a storm anyway and made a million other dishes, but as requested we ate a lot of galbi and samgypsal (pictured above). Nothing makes me more happy than samgyupsal, except maybe samgyupsal and soju. We eat so much samgyupsal at my parent’s house, that David (who doesn’t eat pork), complains that anything we eat on the table-top grill now tastes and smells like pork after we cook it. Personally, I think this is a good thing.
Samgyupsal is not marinated, except in it’s own naturally delicious juices, so for extra flavor, it’s dipped in dark sesame oil with salt and pepper before it’s wrapped with either lettuce or thin slices of pickled radish. My mom makes her own pickled radish at home. Usually I alternate between the two.
Besides the meat, we also had some vegetarian-friendly dishes. Pictured above is nokdoo mook muchim (녹두묵무침, mung bean jelly). The nokdoo mook is made from mung bean starch and has the consistency of harder jello. It’s pretty flavorless alone, and the flavor of the nokdoo mook muchim is derived more from the soy sauce vinaigrette and the vegetables. It’s nice and refreshing when you’re eating so many heavy dishes, but I have to admit, I hardly ate any of the nokdoo mook that day because I was too busy eating the samgyupsal. Gotta reserve prime real estate in the belly.
We also always have some sort of soup or stew. This time we had chungukjang (청국장, soybean stew) with zucchini and pork. Chungukjang is made from fermented soybean paste; think miso intensified to the nth degree. The Japanese version is natto. It’s extremely smelly, but also extremely tasty in a very warm and savory way. A lot of Korean people don’t like chungukjang because they find it too stinky, but I love it. Unfortunately, I don’t get to eat this enough unless I go to my parent’s house in NJ. My LES apartment has no ventilation whatsoever, so I’m sure my neighbors would call the police if I even attempted to make this at home. Don’t want to start a race war now over chungukjang.
And no Korean meal is complete without kimchi. My mom makes killer kimchi, but the one pictured was store bought. Even on Thanksgiving we always have kimchi. This Thanksgiving, next to the turkey, ham, and stuffing, we had two types of kimchi on the table, if not more.
For dessert, my mom made yakbab (약밥, literally medicine rice). Yakbab is a Korean dessert made with sticky rice, chestnuts, pine nuts, jujubes, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little soy sauce. I like my mom’s version because she doesn’t skimp on the chestnuts. Salty, sticky, and sweet, yakbab is a nice way to end a meal.
On New Year’s Day, we may have had even more food than Christmas, so I’ll just write about my favorites.
It’s Korean tradition to eat Ddukguk (떡국, rice cake soup) on New Year’s Day. It’s basically a warm comforting bowl of beef broth, soft chewy rice cake slivers, beef, and egg, garnished with roasted seaweed and scallions. Dumplings are optional. They say you have to eat ddukguk to become a year older, so people often joke that they stay young by not eating ddukguk. Yes, it’s a lame joke, but you are bound to hear it on New Year’s.
My mom also made ggotggeh jigae (꽃게찌개, crab stew). She actually made this on Christmas also, but on Christmas she added fish and I told her I like it better with just crab, so for New Year’s she made me a version with just crab. Isn’t she great?! This is one of my favorite Korean dishes. It’s very spicy with tons of onion and garlic, which makes for some messy eating, but I think it’s worth it. I think I sat at the dining room table for almost two hours eating this.
For my brother, who doesn’t consider it a real meal without any meat, she made galbi jjim (갈비찜, braised short ribs). Galbi Jjim differs from galbi in that it is braised in liquid with root vegetables instead of grilled. My mom’s version contains chestnuts and radish, and it is always fall-off-the-bone good.
There were more dishes including kimchi jun (김치전, kimchi pancake), haemool jun (해물전, seafood pancake), chwee namool (취나물, sauteed wild Aster scaber), and grilled croaker (조개구이). Everything was, as usual, delicious. People always say their moms are the best cooks, but in my case I think it’s true when it comes to Korean food. Of course, if you don’t agree, we can take it outside. My dad says at night, before my mom goes to sleep, she reads everything on the Internet related to food. We have that in common. I think one of these days, I’ll have my mom guest blog. You guys will love her. If not, again, we can take it outside.
So happy new year (새해 복 많이 받으세요) and special thanks to all my readers out there. My new year’s resolution is to get off my lazy ass and go out more often, so I hope to bring you more tales of culinary adventures and food porn in 2009. Happy eating!