Monday, March 31, 2008

Omelet Rice, Chicken Soup, and Spicy Rice Cakes

The Korean food experiment continues (today is day 20), even though I'm not blogging about it as frequently. My cold/spring allergies has made me much less of a cook recently than I would have liked to have been. Oh well. Here's a long-overdue update on how things are going.

East Asians are very creative at using up their leftover rice. After a while, cooked rice starts getting dry and even more bland, so what do you do with it? There's always the fried rice route, which is very common. Koreans call it 볶음밥 ("bokk eum bab"), which means 'mixed rice'. JunkMale's dad is an expert at making kimchi fried rice. One of the other great ways to use up old rice (and the one that I used recently on our old rice) is omelet rice. Koreans and Japanese make this dish, and both cultures call it omurice. In Korean circles, it's often written as OM rice (as in the recipe here, which also happens to the be recipe I used). It's a wonderful meal, and you couldn't even tell that our rice was old, dry, and tasteless. JunkMale enjoyed his OM rice with ketchup and hot sauce, although he also says that using gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste) is really good. I just had mine with ketchup. I don't usually like ketchup with my eggs, but I must admit that with the fried rice, it worked really well. This dish is one of the American-palate options. There's nothing strange to us Americans about fried rice, and adding an omelet to it makes it sort of a cross between fried rice and egg foo young. If you use the healthier brown rice and beans option rather than white rice, you might even find that this becomes a very healthy dinner.

One of my all-time favorite Korean foods is 닭죽 ("dak jook"). That literally means chicken porridge, and it's essentially chicken and rice soup with enough liquid boiled away to make it a porridge consistency. Similar to dak jook, but this time a soup rather than a porridge, is another dish we had recently: 삼계탕 ("sam gye tang"). Samgyetang is a famous dish in Korea, usually eaten on the hottest days of the year. The soup consists of chicken, sweet rice (I used brown), lots of garlic (I used an entire bulb), one or two pieces of ginseng, and about 5 or 6 dried jujubes. The recipe I followed called for about 5 or 6 chestnuts as well, and it's not uncommon for samgyetang to call for a whole cacophony of Chinese medicinal herbs and roots. Samgyetang is traditionally a medicinal soup that you eat in order to ward off disease.

You're supposed to stuff the cavity of the chicken with the rice, but honestly, when using brown rice you get a better end result if you just put the rice in the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Here's how simple samgyetang is: add all ingredients to a stock pot. Add water to cover, bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour. Serve. Many Korean soups and porridges are traditionally served unseasoned. The diners then add salt and pepper to their own bowls to suit their taste.

JunkMale and I don't really like the jujubes, so in the future we would not use them. JunkMale thinks that samgyetang is not very filling, so be forewarned - the men out there might need some more substantial side dishes. Personally, I love a good soup for lunch; it's so satisfying!

Lastly, our dinner tonight: 떡볶이 ("ddeok bokk ee"), which means something like mixed rice cakes. This is a VERY spicy dish that is extremely popular with especially young ladies in Korea. Ddeokbokki is commonly served by street vendors, and there is some amount of pride in who can handle the spiciest ddeokbokki (not me!). I may not be able to handle a lot of spice, but I do certainly love my ddeokbokki! The ddeokbokki I made tonight was the least spicy I've ever had it. That's a good thing for those in our reading audience (Mom!) who might have some trouble with spices.

Tonight I actually made rabokki, which is simply ddeokbokki with ramen noodles added (just the noodles, not the spice pack - and I was sure to check the ingredient list to make sure there were no undesirables in it!). I took her suggestion and cut the sugar down to 2 Tbs. It was plenty sweet for us. Also, I found that I needed an extra 1/2 cup of water and one extra scoop of gochujang to make it taste like 'real' ddeokbokki. True connoisseurs would probably say that this was bland, not nearly spicy enough. The noodles were a nice addition; an extra 300 calories or so spread out the entire dish for only $0.14. It was a bit strange; when I had a taste of some noodles that were very thickly covered in the sauce, it reminded me a bit of Chef Boyardee spaghetti. Not the flavor, per se, but the texture was just right.

The current expenditures total $190. There are officially only 8 days to go (and if it only lasted us that long, we would still come in at budget), but there is food enough for at least 17 more days. Probably longer; in 3 weeks, we have eaten through 7 of our 10 main dishes. I will need to make another trip to the Korean market soon to buy mung beans (for mung bean pancakes), tofu, and lotus root. We will need to buy eggs, at least two more gallons of milk, radishes, beef, garlic, onions and potatoes before we're through with the experiment. Other than that, I think we're sort of coasting. The estimated cost of all this comes to approximately $30. For five weeks, that would average $44 a week. If the food lasts for six weeks (as I'm expecting it to), it would average $37 a week. For perspective, we spend an average of $50 a week on American food, and I had to buy a lot of our Korean food at once during the big shopping trip. Much of that food will not need to be bought again for a long time. So, all initial results suggest that this experiment will be a great success.

Seriously; you should try it, too. ;-)

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  • Laura

    Ooh... you can get ramen without undesirables? I've been craving some good ramen! (Erm, the spice packet may be part of the craving, but I'll survive without it, I guess.)

    I think I've found only one soup that my dh considers a filling meal by itself: corn chowder. Even chunky beef and vegetable soup isn't quite enough. (And this from the guy who used to skip dinner all the time because he would forget to eat. *grin*)