Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vegetarian Bibim Naengmyun

I've developed a fascination with Korean food. These days, it's extremely rare for me to be actually taken aback by a combination of flavors. I'm a well-seasoned (pardon the pun) cook and consumer of numerous different cuisines -- French, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish -- you name it, I eat it. But then, I started reading up on Korean food.

It started out innocuously enough, which is to say, I had bulgogi and bibimbap a few times at restaurants -- the gateway drugs of Korean cuisine. I picked up some gochujang and made this stir-fry, plus I tried my hand at bibimbap. With extra kimchee and gochujang in my fridge, I started to look for new things to make.

Browsing Wikipedia's list of Korean dishes, I became strangely mesmerized. There's a certain -- and I mean this in the most politically-correct way possbile -- grossness to Korean food that feels alluring and decadent. It's difficult to articulate, but it feels...uninhibited. Simmered ox leg bone? Pork vertebrae? A thick, spicy stew -- with raw egg yolk on top? How can I not try my hand at this stuff?!?

Rather than jump in head first, I decided to make something with an unusual flavor combination for a Westerner, but lay off the offal and such for now. I settled on naengmyeon. It contains soba noodles with Asian pear, pickled vegetables, a boiled egg, and sometimes a few slices of simmered beef. Mul naengmyeon is a traditional summer dish, served in a bowl of slushy (as in ice chips) beef broth. I haven't yet worked up the courage for cold soups beyond, say, gazpacho, so I decided instead to do bibim naengmyun, where the broth is replaced by a thick gochujang dressing.

I couldn't find a good recipe, so I did some research and ended up putting something together that had all the aspects which appealed to me. I didn't feel like making beef, so instead I simmered handmade tofu in a beefy-tasting broth and sliced it thinly. So here you have it. If you want to use beef, just find a recipe for Korean brisket.

Serves 2

For the noodles:
-4 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles
-3 heaping tablespoons gochujang
-1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
-4 tsp rice vinegar
-4 tsp honey or agave nectar

Boil the soba noodles, then immediately refresh in cold water and chill. Combine the remaining ingredients. You may not use all the dressing on the noodles; just toss until well-coated and serve the rest on the side.

For the pickled vegetables:
-1/2 hothouse cucumber, sliced thin on a bias
-1/4 medium daikon, peeled and sliced thin on a bias
-1 tsp kosher salt, divided into two half teaspoons
-2 tsp rice vinegar, divided
-2 tsp sugar, divided
-1/2 tsp Korean red chili powder (or regular chili powder)
-1/2 tsp dark sesame oil

Keep the vegetables seperate. Toss the cucumber and the daikon each with 1/2 tsp salt, and let stand for five minutes. Rinse and squeeze dry with paper towels. Combine each with 1 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar. Mix all of the chili powder with the daikon and all of the sesame oil with the cucumber. Set aside.

For the tofu:
-1 block firm tofu, preferable handmade, cut into thin pieces about the thickness of a pat of butter
-3 cups vegetarian beef broth, such as Better Than Bouillon vegan no-beef
-1/4 cup doenjang or miso paste
-1 4" piece of dashi kombu (seaweed)
-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
-2 whole dried red chilis

Bring everything except for the tofu to a boil in a saucepan. Add the tofu, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for five minutes. I let this chill overnight with a little broth ladled on top. This made more than enough for two people, so just use however much tofu you want and halve the broth recipe if you'd like.

For serving:
-1/2 an Asian pear, quartered, cored, and sliced thin
-2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and halved crosswise
-Any banchan, or side items, that you like. I just picked up a jar of this cabbage kimchee, but you can serve whatever you like. The most disappointing thing about making Korean food at home instead of going to a restaurant is that the table isn't covered with tiny delectable little side items. My favorites are pa kimchi, kongnamul, sigumchi namul, and whatever that sweet julienned daikon is called. But I digress...

Top the soba noodles with cucumber, daikon, pear, tofu, and the halved egg, keeping everything separate. Drizzle with a little extra gochujang and serve!

This is my entry for Presto Pasta Nights.


Ruth Daniels said...

Great post! So informative and the bibim looks delicious. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

Anonymous said...

interesting. soba has such a different texture than naeng-myun. a more chewy consistency. also, wouldn't honey would distort the flavor of the gochujang? anyway, good luck! and very interesting post!

tastingkorea said...

I think the word you were looking for is rawness, not grossness. Yes, Korean food has a dynamic vitality that makes it stand out from some other cuisines. I will have a post that touches upon this on my blog having to do with how Koreans love to mix things in our cooking.


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