Sunday, December 30, 2007

Entertaining Friends, Korean Style

I remember my mother and aunties laboring over food preparation whenever we have family gathering. It was fun for me. They made it something enjoyable, a lot of laughter, greetings, and many other fun. But now I know enough it was not always the case; it is hard, bone-braking work, which they themselves seldom present at the table. I don’t like this. Who would?
Even though I enjoy challenges in cooking, I also love very easy recipes. At the end, it is all about seeing the faces of loved ones brighten up and their eyes widen with joy and excitement.

I prepared vegetarian dinner for my friends. Small dinner gathering is something I really enjoys. It was quite cold winter night, so I try to come up with something that worms up. Being said that, what is better than soup?

First course was Hobakjuk, traditional pumpkin porridge, served as the soup course. It is very simple and straight forward. There is nothing complicated about it. Kidney bean is boiled in water with little bit of brown sugar. Pumpkin is pureed smoothly. Sweet rice powder gives silky texture. Hobak means pumpkin. It is also slang for not-so-nice looking face. If you call a Korean girl Hobak, you may make a enemy of life. I have often called and been called at this when I was young.
But I like this vegetable. Bright orange color and delicious both in savory and in sweet, it has such a wide range of usage.
I used to play with big orange colored blossom of Korean pumpkin and dark green leaf from the garden. It made excellent cup and plate for child’s play. I used to eat the leaves of this plant. Steamed and wrapped the cooked rice, it makes nice summer dish. It was nice surprise when I discovered that the flower also makes nice dish.

Second course was Savoy cabbage roll with spicy relish. I put barley and mung bean sprout inside of cabbage. Cooked barley is summer dish. Barley grows during the bitter winter of Korea and is harvested early summer. It was the staple for the poor people otherwise starved till the new rice harvest after they run out of the rice. Now, it is eaten as cool summer treat. Steamed barley wrapped in various leafy vegetables such as red lettuce or pumpkin leaves and put spicy bean paste and a bite of fresh green chili is the taste of summer for me. Here I served it with spicy relish which I also use to season Kimchi with. The relish is made with Korean pear, green apple, daikan radish, garlic and ginger seasoned with Korean chili powder.

Main course was steamed rice with green peas served with Korean eggplant and wild mushroom with soy sauce. Korean main course usually involves steamed rice and some side dishes, which usually served all together. Meal served in course is something new concept in Korean meal.
I adopted this recipe from one of my favorite cookbook from Korea. The author used beef and daikan sprout, but I substitute it with Poy-go (Shiitake) and Pang-ee (enoki).

Preparing this meal was quite nice for me. Many thing can be done ahead of time which helpd you to be calm during the day of the dinner: cabbage role and the porridge can be prepared in advance. Cooking always gives me Gen-like experience. It is also an aroma therapy: when onion, garlic and ginger hits hot sesame oil, the aroma is incredible. When my friend arrived, they found my house filed with welcoming smell of food. At the end, the plates were emptied, stomachs were full and smiles were on the faces. What makes the dinner truly wonderful is having a good time.

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