Last year, we spent a crazed 36 hours in Seoul. Korea had never been on my “list” of places to see, but when we booked our flight home from Uzbekistan and faced a 9 hour layover in Seoul, we decided to make it a bonafide stopover, and tear through the city in two days.
I had zero expectations for Seoul. In fact, having left China three weeks earlier, I was worried that due to its proximity to China, it would be like China (and I had had enough of China). It wasn’t – at all. We landed on an extremely hot, humid and rainy day – but there was something about the airport that told me this was going to be a great mini-trip. Maybe it was the raspberry yoghurt and skim milk I bought for breakfast (after being dairy deprived for 5 weeks), or perhaps it was the extreme efficiency with which everything ran, but I was impressed before even walking out of the airport.
We spent the next two days jet lagged beyond belief – taking turns falling asleep on the hop-on-hop-off bus, dodging torrential downpours in the relatively abandoned gates and palaces that dot the city landscape…and, of course, eating. Although Toronto is full of Korean restaurants, never had I thought of really exploring the culinary world of Korea! Oh for the wasted years! Our first real taste of Korean food was in Korea – perhaps that’s how it should always be – and it was love at first taste. It’s a very healthy cuisine overall – high on flavour and spice and low on fat and calories. Most Korean dishes seem to be centred around the spicy red pepper paste known as “gochujang” and on our flight from Tashkent to Seoul, we were given a small tube of it, which was our first real exposure to the wonderful world of gochujang.
Since returning from Korea, we have purchased a Korean cookbook and have experimented our way through barbecued Korean chicken, kimchi and bi bim bap. But today I want to share with you a slightly different recipe – this one was not found in our Korean cookbook. It’s a variation of a recipe I found on a blog called Fat Free Vegan Kitchen (original: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2008/03/korean-noodle-stirfry.html). I borrowed the concept from her, but experimented with the main ingredients.
Science tells us that humans can sense four different tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. It was been suggested that savoury and spicy be added to this list. Culinary experts will tell you that a successful dish merges several of these elements. What I like about this recipe that follows is its balance between spicy, sweet and salty. The butternut squash provides the sweetness, the soy-marinated tofu the saltiness, and the gochujang turns up the heat.
I’ve prepared it with a very simple Japanese inspired edamame salad with miso-soy dressing – in part because Koreans and Japanese share and borrow many culinary traditions from one another (sushi being the obvious one that comes to mind).
You can get gochujang in the Korean section of any Asian grocery – it has a long fridge life, and is easily stored. Buckwheat soba noodles can also be found in the Korean or Japanese section of the grocery. Use any iron and fibre-rich green you wish – I used spinach because I always have it on hand. As for the tofu, you can sometimes find ginger-sesame marinated tofu. This works really well in the recipe – and if you use it instead, you can skip the soy sauce part.
½ butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tsp olive oil
1/8 tsp sesame oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
8 oz extra-firm tofu, diced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp water
½ package of buckwheat soba noodles, cooked
8 oz baby spinach
1 ½ tbsp gochujang
3 tbsp water
1 tsp honey
Sesame seeds to garnish
Begin with tossing the butternut squash in small amount of oil. Put it in a pan and bake in the oven at 350 until tender (usually ½ hour). Remove.
Heat sesame oil in a wok and add tofu pieces with garlic and ginger. Toss gently for a moment or two. Add soy sauce and water and cook tofu until soy mixture is almost completely absorbed. (Remove the ginger and soy if you are using pre-marinated tofu). Remove to a plate.
Gently scrape butternut squash into the wok, then add the cooked buckwheat noodles and spinach. Meanwhile, use a whisk and blend the gochujang, water and honey until it is in a sauce-like consistency. Add it to the wok with spinach. Return tofu to the pan. Toss until noodles are coated. Transfer immediately to plates, and sprinkle sesame oil and seeds to garnish.
1 cup cooked edamame
4 spring onions, diced
Sesame seeds to garnish
½ avocado, diced
1-2 tbsp olive oil (or sunflower oil)
1 tsp soy sauce
11/2 tsp miso
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Spritz of lemon
1 crushed garlic clove
Assemble the salad and then mix dressing in a bowl, using a whisk to combine all ingredients. Pour dressing over salad just before eating.