Before tackling our convivial Korean menu from the September 2012 issue (pick up your copy on Eastern newsstands July 30th and Western August 6th!), you will likely need to stock your fridge and pantry with a few new staples.
Maangchi, the food blog of Toronto-raised and New York-based Emily Kim, is an invaluable resource for Korean cuisine. Kim also has a YouTube channel called Korean Food with Maangchi, which has over 16 million hits. On her blog, you will find a helpful list of stores across the globe where you can source Korean ingredients.
There is a lot of crossover between Korean and Japanese kitchens. In both, you will find soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, ginger and green onions.
For our September menu, you will need a few distinctly Korean ingredients. Starting at the left and going clockwise, they are gochugaru (chili flakes), vermicelli made with sweet potato starch, gochujang (chili paste) and the beloved kimchi.
There is an undercurrent of heat that runs through Korean food and the primary source is a coarse chili powder called gochugaru. It's finer than traditional chili flakes, and since it's also milder, it can be used in greater quantity. It turns many Korean dishes that bright red hue you probably associate with their cuisine. It also happens to be my go-to condiment for take-out pizza.
Korean vermicelli are long thin noodles made from sweet potato starch that are glassy in appearance and have a pleasantly chewy texture. They are used in japchae, a popular appetizer.
Gochujang is a miso-like chili paste made from gochugaru, glutinous rice and fermented soybeans. Spicy, sweet and intensely savoury, it makes just about everything it comes into contact with taste more delicious. It's sold in various levels of heat with the highest being incendiary. Essential for the sauce that dresses Korean fried chicken, it's also the main flavouring agent in Korean soft tofu stew.
Finally, kimchi is a piquant condiment of fermented cabbage that is served with every meal. Sour, salty, spicy and emboldened with garlic, it's an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, you're addicted for life. Korean food shops sell it by the tub, but here is an easy recipe, if you want to try making it at home.