When you sit down to your first korean meal, you will probably immediately notice the similarities to other asian cuisines. The koreans eat with chopsticks, which means their easy korean recipes are usually cut into bite sized pieces.
Rice and kimchi are the two foods that the korean kitchen is never without. In fact, kimchi is the korean national food that is served at every meal. There are dozens of variations of this famous pickle, which range from mild to very spicy. You can make a simple kimchi from cabbage alone, or you can substitute any combination of turnips, radishes, and cucumber for all or part of the cabbage. It can be seasoned with green onions, garlic, red pepper, and ginger root. Salted fish or shrimp can also be added. Remember, the longer kimchi sits, the spicier it will be.
Autumn is the time to prepare kimchi for the winter. Each year after the kimchi is mixed, it is placed in large jars and left to ferment for weeks. Some jars hold kimchi that is very spicy, while other jars hold milder versions. It is traditional to bury jars of kimchi in the ground to maintain the correct temperature until the pickle is ready to eat.
Korean salads, or namul, are probably very different from the salads you are used to. Namul usually feature fresh or lightly cooked vegetables such as bean sprouts, carrots, cabbage, and cucumbers. But unlike most salads, namul can be very spicy and are eaten in very small portions with rice.
Soup can be served as a main dish at any korean meal, including breakfast. Most soup stock is made from beef, but fish or chicken is also used. There are two categories of soup: light, clear soups seasoned with soy sauce or salt, and hearty soups that are often made with soybean paste. Traditionally, clear soups are served in the morning, and the heartier soups are for lunch or dinner.
Chicken, fish, tofu, and eggs are the everyday protein foods of Korea, while beef, the favorite, is reserved for special occasions. Chicken, plentiful and inexpensive, is popular because it can be cooked so many ways. Since it is mild in flavor, it takes on spicy korean flavorings well. Chicken on the bone goes into easy long-cooking dishes, and boneless, cut-up chicken goes into quick-cooking foods.
Fish and seafood are seen in all the markets in Korea. They come from the waters that surround the peninsula nation. Salted, dried shrimp and crayfish are just as common as fresh fish. These shellfish, called crustaceans, are used as seasonings in soups and sauces.
Tofu, the white curd made from soybeans, has an unusual texture, which allows it to take in seasonings, such as soy sauce, yet stay firm enough to slice. Korean cooks often extend meats by using half meat and half tofu in stir-fries and casseroles.
Eggs are used every day in the korean kitchen. Egg pancake is a favorite garnish. Beaten eggs do many jobs, from helping to seal dumplings to coating fish before frying.
Though pork, chicken, and fish are served often, beef is the korean meat of choice. Since red meat is expensive, large amounts of beef or pork are seldom served. Instead, small portions of meat are combined with lots of vegetables and traditional seasonings in combinations such as mixed vegetables with noodles.
Another thing about koreans' use of meat is that they will use both the meat and the vegetables that look best at the market, cooking them slowly or quickly, as dictated by the day's activities. Thus barbecued beef may be made with sliced pork or tofu rather than beef.
Some of the most popular korean dishes are charcoal grilled, a delicious way to cook meat. You can also broil these dishes.
Koreans prefer to use very little oil in their cooking, even when frying or stir-frying. Stir-frying is a favorite way to cook vegetables because they remain crisp and colorful. Because it's such a quick method, be sure to have all your ingredients chopped and ready before you start to stir-fry.
Celebrating holidays and festivals is a favorite activity for koreans, whatever their age. Besides the typical celebration foods described in the introduction to this book, family favorites would be prepared and served, too.
Foods which can be taken along for a picnic on an outing, such as seaweed rice rolls, are enjoyed often from July 15 to August 15, when families take vacations.
Companies plan workers' vacations during this time because that is when children have school holidays and when the weather in the cities is very hot. University students leave their books behind for two months in the summer, going to the beach, climbing mountains, and going to temples with their classmates.