Category Archives: Eastern Asia

Rhubarb’s Silk Road History in Zester Daily

Everything you wanted to know about rhubarb’s Silk Road history, from its origins in Tibet and early use as medicine to its adoption as a food, in Zester Daily. A great recipe for savory lamb and rhubarb stew included! Read all about it HERE.

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Curry Through Foreign Eyes #5: Japanese Curry

The next stop on our exploration of Indian Curry Through Foreign Eyes is Japan.  Curry came to Japan by way of British sailors and merchants in the mid-19th Century.  This happened sometime after Commodore Matthew Perry landed at Kurihama in 1853, and opened Japan to the world after centuries of isolation.  The first recipe for curry in Japanese was published in 1872 by the renowned writer and satirist, Kanagaki Robun, in his Western Food Handbook or Seiyo Ryoritsu.  The recipe is for a mixed-seafood curry with large quantities of fresh ginger and a little butter, salt, and curry powder.

First Japanese Curry Recipe (1872)

First Japanese Curry Recipe (1872)

Following the publication of the first recipe, Japan went curry-crazy.  In 1877, the Ginza Fugetsudo Restaurant first listed curry rice on its menu.  Despite being almost 10 times more expensive than noodles, curry quickly grew in popularity.  The first domestic curry powder went on sale in Osaka in 1903, sold by the company that is now Bee Foods, and the first curry shop – a restaurant devoted solely to curry dishes – opened in 1910, also in Osaka.

Curry took Tokyo by storm in 1927 when the Hankyu Market Restaurant started to serve curry.  Demand for curry dishes was so high that a direct farm-to-table supply of ingredients was secured to feed the 25,000 customers a day (65,000 a day on Sundays) who ordered curries.  The modern age of curry was ushered in 1950 when Bell Foods started selling curry powder mixed with flour in a chocolate-bar form, now called curry-roux. All home-cooks needed to do now was to break off a few squares of spice and add them to whatever they wanted to “curry”.

Ad for Bon Curry in 1960s

Concomitant with its increasing popularity in the general public, curry rice and other curry dishes also became mainstay meals in the Japanese military.  In addition to feeding the troops in the field and at mess, this also allowed conscripts from all over Japan to experience curry – facilitating its further acceptance.

From its humble beginnings in 1872, curry has become one of the most popular of Japanese dishes. Over the years, curry has been adapted to Japanese tastes and cooking methods, and today there are over 80 different kinds of Japanese curry, from curried rice, and curried udon or soba noodles, to bread with curry sauce or kare pan, and tonkatsu cutlet curries.  Press surveys report that the ‘average’ Japanese person eats curry 84 times a year – or more than once a week.

Japanese Curry Rice

Japanese Curry Rice

Today’s Japanese curry has little in common with its Indian ancestor. It is almost uniformly sweeter than any Indian curry I’ve had, and often has apples and honey added to it to tame the sharp edges of the spices in the curry–roux mix.  In general, there also seems to be a lot more sauce in Japanese curries than in Indian ones.  There are also special dishes representative of the areas they come from, like Sika-Deer Curry from Hokkaido and Natto Curry from Ibaraki Prefecture.

What strikes me as very strange is, if curry is so popular in Japan, why is it so under-represented in Japanese restaurants in the west? We have a few large Eastern Asian markets in our area that have food courts, and some of the food stalls serve a couple of Japanese curry dishes. Other than that, there is no Japanese restaurant from Baltimore to DC that has Japanese curry on its menu. Most offer sushi and the Japanese-American food-theatre known as hibatchi (which is really teppanyaki-style cooking). Although I haven’t done a thorough survey of Japanese restaurants in the US, I suspect that Japanese curry is difficult to find on most menus.

So, on to the first Japanese curry recipe.

The First Japanese Curry (1872) 

Ingredients
1 raw cibol, finely-chopped (Allium fistulosum)
1/2 ginger race, minced
1 piece of garlic, finely-chopped
1 tablespoon butter
shrimp
oyster
sea bream
reddish-brown frog
1 teaspoon of curry powder
appropriate quantities of salt
2 tablespoon wheat flour, mixed with water
270ml water

Method
1. Heat butter in a pan and cook raw cibol, ginger, garlic 2. Add 270ml water, shrimp, sea bream, frog and boil 10-20 minutes 3. Add curry powder, salt and boil 1 hour 4. Add water-mixed flour and stir.

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There were several issues with the original recipe that required interpretation and/or revision. The first issue was deciding how much ginger was in a “race.” Luckily I got some assistance on that matter from Kathleen Wall of Plimoth Plantation who shared with me the amount considered a “race” by the cooks interpreting recipes at Plimouth. Half a race still seemed like a lot of ginger, but that is what I used. The next issue I had was that I needed to add more water than called for, because more moisture was needed to create a curry sauce from the spring onions, garlic and ginger. The next problem was what seemed like excessive cooking times for the fish. I opted to add the fish and shellfish after the curry sauce had been made and only cooked them for a few minutes. This is the method I generally use for modern curries with similar ingredients.

One thing that continues to vex me about trying to re-create this recipe is that to a large degree, a curry is made by the masala, the mix of dry spices used, or in the ingredients in the commercially prepared curry powder. In the original recipe, there is no information given about the make-up of the curry powder. I did some research, but had little luck finding information on what might have been used. Ultimately, I had to resort to a modern product and so chose the turmeric-laden S&B Oriental Curry Powder. If another product were used, say some break-off squares in a House Foods – Vermont Curry block, the taste would change according to the makeup of the product used.

Lastly, I had to omit the red frog. I simply didn’t know what species it might be, and didn’t want to take any chances. The resulting recipe follows:

First Japanese Curry (1872) (Interpreted)

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoons butter
1/2 ginger race (slightly more than 1/2 cup), peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, finely-chopped
1 small bunch of spring onions (about 6 stalks), chopped
2 cups water
3-4 teaspoons of curry powder
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 – 1½ cups medium shrimp (10-12 shrimp), peeled and deveined
1 sea bream (porgy), cleaned and chopped
1 cup oysters, chopped
2 tablespoons wheat flour, mixed with water

Method
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and sauté the spring onions for about one minute over medium heat. Then add the ginger and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until they start to color. Add water and stir well until warm. Let cook for 3-5 minutes and add the curry powder and salt and stir well. Cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes over medium-low or low heat, stirring often until sauce begins to form.

Add fish and cook for 3 minutes, then add shrimp and oysters and cook for another 3-4 minutes until shrimp are pink and curled. As fish and shellfish are cooking, mix the flour and water together until smooth. When the mixture is smooth, stir it in a bit at a time to thicken the curry sauce. You may not need to use all of the mixture. Cook for a few minutes to banish the “raw” flavor of the thickening mixture.  Remove from heat and serve with rice.

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The First Japanese Curry

The First Japanese Curry

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The taste of the curry is very good. Although very much influenced by the ratio of ingredients of the curry powder, the mingling of fish and shellfish flavor with the curry powder is delicious. There is also an interesting, almost buttery flavor to the curry, which is surprising given the modest amount of butter used in the recipe. Lastly the large amount of ginger used cooks down nicely and adds a light gingery taste to the curry without being bitter. The garlic and spring onion, while adding depth to the curry are undiscernible as individual ingredients.

The first Japanese curry also differs a great deal from modern Japanese curries, which come in several distinct commercial varieties.  These range from “spicy” Java curry to sweet Vermont curry, with Torokeru and Kokumaru falling in between the other two.  Golden curry is a muted, less distinct alternative than the other types.  To complicate the situation, most Japanese curry cooks, both at home and in curry shops, blend the curry-roux blocks to make distinctive or signature flavors for those enjoying their dishes.

There seems to be a movement amongst younger Japanese cooks to try to make curries from “scratch” – by creating their own mix of spices.  Sometimes these recipes are both good and interesting and offer a mix of standard curry spices.  At other times, recipes simply add a lot of garam masala to the pot, replacing one commercial spice mix with another highly variable spice mix.  Interestingly, almost all of these new recipes use some sort of roux (cooked tan or brown) with spices to thicken the dish instead of the white-wash or slurry of flour and water used in the first Japanese curry recipe.

There are also a wider variety of vegetables used today than in the first Japanese curry recipe.  For example, a seafood curry recipe from the House Foods website has several yellow onions in it, some white wine and uses a Kokumaru curry-roux block.  Other recipes I’ve seen include a mix of vegetables, such as zucchini and eggplant in addition to the onions, still other add potatoes or carrots.  So you see, even though a commercial spice mix is at the heart of modern Japanese curries, there is a lot of variation still to be experienced in the dishes, with the results depending upon the imagination of the individual cook.

(Words, recipe interpretation and cooking by Laura Kelley.  Photo of Seiyo Ryoritsu text taken from a PDF of the manuscript by Laura Kelley, photo of Bon Curry advertisement borrowed from the Kikkoman website, photo of Japanese Curry Rice by Torsakarin@Dreamstime.com, and photo of The First Japanese Curry by Laura Kelley.  Special thanks to Mr. Hiroo Watai who found the first Japanese curry recipe for me and translated it.)

Rice Omelets, Yōshoku, and A Little International Understanding

2014 began with our family hosting a Japanese college student for a brief homestay.  A Facebook friend of mine had a daughter studying in the United States; she had some time on her hands over the Christmas break, and she decided to spend some of it with us.  Despite the arctic cold front that hit the area and talk of, “polar vortexes,” moving through the area, we toured around some of the monuments and museums of Washington DC that week, and also visited the beautiful aquarium in Baltimore and George Washington’s estate Mount Vernon in northern Virginia.

During Hiyori’s visit we ate a mish-mash of Asian and European food.  On a couple of mornings I made a nice Japanese breakfast with homemade miso soup, rice, natto, baked fish, and some other small dishes which she loved and ate heartily.  There were also some good steaks, some kimchi chigae, tandoori chicken (which she also loved) and my husband bought her a hot dog from a street-cart outside the Smithsonian on a cold afternoon.

Knowing how it feels to be away from home for a long time and to simply want the comfort of the familiar, I told Hiyori that if there was some type of food that she really wanted, to let us know and that we would try make it for her.  She got a serious look on her face, thought about it for a little while, and declared that what she really wanted was an Omu-raisu (オムライス) a Japanese rice omelet.

Japanese Rice Omelet

Japanese Rice Omelet

For those of you unfamiliar with rice omelets, they are simply omelets stuffed with rice and flavored with ketchup.  The rice is often leftover from other meals, and a variety of other fillings can accompany it, such as vegetables (especially onions, carrots and peas), chicken or pork, or fruits, like tomatoes and mushrooms.  They are a mainstay of Japanese homecooking as well as a menu staple in casual restaurants and diners.  Variations include using tonkatsu sauce or demi-glace in the place of ketchup for a slightly more high-brow taste.

For a dish so simple and unassuming, it is steeped in history.  Rice omelets first started to be made in Japan around the turn of the 20th Century, but they are part of a much larger trend of the introduction and adaptation of western dishes to Japanese tastes that began during the Meiji Restoration in the late 1860s.  At the beginning of this period, Japan’s national seclusion was eliminated, and the Emperor declared Western ideas central to Japan’s future progress. As part of the reformations, the Emperor lifted the ban on red meat and promoted Western cuisine, which was viewed as the cause of the Westerner’s greater physical size.

The first curry recipes, which entered Japan via English sailors, appeared in 1872. Within a decade, curries proved so popular that they were on the menu at several Tokyo restaurants. Katsu, beefsteak and Hayashi rice are other examples of western dishes that were introduced during this period that have since gone on to be known as a subset of Japanese cuisine known as yōshoku (洋食) or western food.

To us, it was fascinating to discover that the one dish our Japanese guest wanted above all others was an omelet.  How very western, we thought.  But that’s just it, because it turns out that these omelets have become so integrated into modern Japanese food culture that they are as Japanese are cherry blossoms.  Here is the basic recipe.

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Japanese Rice Omelet

Ingredients (for 1 omelet)
1 onion, minced
2-3 tablespoons oil
1½ cup precooked Japanese rice
1 cup of ketchup
2-3 eggs, whisked until frothy
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Oil a medium sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of oil and sauté the onion over medium heat until it becomes translucent and starts to color.  Then add rice and the ketchup and stir well.  Allow mixture to cook for a few minutes and then remove from the pan and set aside.

In a cleaned or fresh pan, add the remaining tablespoon of oil.  Pour in frothed eggs, cook over low-to-medium heat until the bottom is firm and only a little bit of moisture is left on the top. Take care not to burn the bottom of the omelet.

Place the onion and rice mixture on a line down the center of the eggs, leaving at least ½ inch from both edges. Mound the mixture as best as you can and fold the edges of the omelet over the filling.  Slide the omelet out onto a plate.  Garnish with extra ketchup and serve leftover filling as a side dish.  Often served with cucumbers or pickles and shredded cabbage dishes.

N.B.  If you have a seasoned omelet pan, use it.  You will need less oil if you do.

Variations: As noted above, additional ingredients can be included. These are added after the onion cooks and before the rice and ketchup are added. It is also fine to use seasoned rice in the omelet. I usually use a shiso seed-based furikake on my rice. This works fine as filling for the rice omelet as well.

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One of the nice surprises about rice omelets, besides the fact that they are very easy to make, is that all that ketchup is not as “ketchupy” as you might think.  Somehow all that Heinz 57 cooks down a bit to taste more like a semi-sweet tomato sauce.  Also, if folding omelets is something you find challenging, acceptable modern presentation of the dish in Japan include lightly-set eggs set onto the top of rice mounded on a plate.  No folding and breaking, or filling falling out with that method.  Not quite an omelet, perhaps, but the taste of the egg-topped rice is virtually the same.

So much a part of Japanese food culture, the rice omelet was featured in the 1985 foodie movie, Tampopo. In the movie, a hobo father breaks into a kitchen after hours to cook a rice omelet for his son. In the movie, the hobos are the master chefs from whom Tampopo learns how to really make soup. It is a fabulous movie, that tells a number of food-related stories. It also uses camera cuts to create what seem like accidental changes in he narrative. These “accidents” are really sophisticated visual choices on the part of the director and are simply brilliant. But I digress.

In addition to being Japanese, rice omelets are also important parts of Korean and Taiwanese cuisines. They were introduced by the Japanese in the early 20th Century in those countries, so that the roots of the recipe as Japanese may have been forgotten.

Fancy or plain, the modern Japanese (or Korean or Taiwanese) rice omelet is a result of west-east cultural connections that enriched both groups. The Japanese have made it a popular dish in their own cuisine, and westerners are rediscovering it and making it their own once again. (Words by Laura Kelley; Photo of Japanese Rice Omelet from iStock; and video excerpt from Tampopo from You Tube.)

Culinary History Mystery #6: Tomato Eggs

Chinese Eggs with Tomatoes

Chinese Tomato Eggs

Tomato Eggs is a home-cooked Chinese dish that reminds students, travelers, and those living abroad of home.  Just a whiff of this cooking and folks will tell tales of sitting in or near the kitchen as a kid as a parent made this dish – and how good it tasted!  it is simple, elegant, and savory, and less than 10 – 15 minutes from wok to table.  Chopped green onions are almost always used. Sometimes garlic or onion is added, and often there is a blast of shaoxing, rice vinegar, or even oyster sauce to add flavor.  Some recipes also add sugar to counter the acidity of the tomatoes, but the memorable taste of the dish usually just comes from the combined flavors of the fresh ingredients.

The form of the dish can be dry, like in the picture above, or is can be moist with a thin tomato sauce, or even soupy. It is often served over or with rice or fresh noodles. My travels tend to make me think that presentation varies mostly by individual preference and not by geography, because I have had both dry and wet forms in a number of different places.

I’ve enjoyed this dish all over China, from Beijing and Xian to places much further west and south.  Although the Chinese regard this as a quintessential Chinese dish, my favorite thing about tomato eggs (蕃茄炒蛋/西红柿炒蛋) is that it is probably Arab in origin.

Saudi Tomato Eggs: Shakshouka

Saudi Tomato Eggs: Shakshuka

The Arab dish that Tomato Eggs most resembles is Shakshuka. This dish is eaten all over the Saudi Peninsula, North Africa, and the Levant. Turkey even has its own version called Menemen. Although the form varies a great deal, from the dry, Saudi version pictured here, to poached eggs over a spiced tomato sauce as in Egypt and Israel, to a complex ragout of vegetables (with lots of tomatoes) and sometimes bits of meat or sausage bound together by eggs.   It is almost always served with pita bread or naan.  Onions are almost always used and sometimes garlic is as well.  Spicing can be just salt and pepper with a little bit of chopped parsley or cilantro as in Oman to a dish flavored with cumin, or dishes with oregano and other herbs.  Chili peppers or ground chilies are often added, but I have never had a Shakshuka that I could call hot.  These days, cheese is sometimes added, but that is a modern addition and not found in traditional recipes for the dish in any of the cultures that now enjoy it.

A comparison of the Saudi and Chinese recipes show that the recipes are nearly identical, although the Chinese use a two-step cooking process:

Saudi Shakshuka
Chinese Tomato Eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small white onion, minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
4 eggs

Heat oil in a small-to-medium sauté pan. Add onions and garlic until tender. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and cumin and stir well. Cook 2-4 minutes until tomatoes soften.

Break eggs over mixture and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until done. Stir with a spatula to mix or slide onto a plate and serve.
3 tablespoons cooking oil
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon shaoxing wine (optional)
3 dashes white pepper powder
8 oz. fresh tomato (cut into thin wedges)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons water
Some chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (garnish, optional)

Break the eggs into a bowl and use chopsticks to beat the eggs until they break thoroughly. Add salt, sesame oil, shaoxing wine, white pepper powder, and lightly beat to blend well. Set aside.

Heat up a wok with 2 tablespoons cooking oil. Add the egg mixture into the wok, and use your spatula to spread the eggs. Keep stirring until the eggs form lumps. Gently break the lumps into smaller pieces. As soon as the eggs are cooked, dish out and set aside.

Clean the wok and heat it up again with 1 tablespoon cooking oil. Drop the tomato wedges into the wok and do a few quick stirs. Add sugar and water into the tomatoes. Cover it with the lid and let it cook for about 30 seconds. Transfer the eggs and chopped scallions into the tomatoes, stir-fry for 30 seconds or so, dish out and serve immediately.

The main reasons why this is probably another west-to-east spread of a recipe is the commonality and variations of the dish in the Muslim Mediterranean, Suez and Persian Gulf,and the unusual nature of the dish in China’s litany of egg recipes. Another reason why it is likely a dish with an “Arab” origin is that Muslim people took to the tomato very early on in its introduction in the Old World. While the Europeans were generally skittish about eating this member of the nightshade family, and raised them as curiosities or ornamental garden plants, the Muslims dove right in and cultivated them as food early on in their arrival in the Eastern Hemisphere. The Spanish were the only Europeans who generally took to eating the tomato in the 16th Century. This is probably because they saw them being cultivated and eaten in the New World and knew that they were not harmful.

Apples of Love (Tomatoes), Gerarde, 1597

Apples of Love (Tomatoes), Gerarde, 1597

The Spanish were said to particularly enjoy them with cooked with oil, salt, and pepper as a sort of stew, and also to make a sauce out of them with vinegar added to the ingredients above and to use that sauce on their meats (Gerarde, History of Plants, 1597). Gerarde also notes that tomatoes or “Love Apples” grow well in warm climates like Spain and italy. Of interest, perhaps, is that Gerarde describes both red and yellow tomatoes.

Although there is mention that the Italians also ate tomatoes in 17th Century botanicals, this is repetition of incorrect information. The original citation says that the Italians ate, “Eggplants”. This, even in historical documents became misreported as, “tomatoes”, and the error continues to proliferate today.

Evidence for the early Arab love of eating tomatoes can be found in John Parkinson’s 1629 Earthly Paradise, in which he reports that tomato plants grow well in hot climates like those in, “Barbary and Ethiopia”. Parkinson’s 1640 Theatrum Botanicum expands this range of growth in the Old World to, “easterly countries such as Egypt, Syria and Arabia.” His 1629 work notes that tomatoes are much eaten in the hot countries where they grow well.

Lancelot Addison’s 1671 work, An Account of West Barbary, notes that tomatoes are eaten raw with oil along with other, “salads.” In 1710, Dr. William Salmon’s Herbal notes that the Spanish ate tomatoes boiled in vinegar with pepper and salt, and served up with oil and lemon juice (possibly a poached tomato); and that they also eat tomatoes raw with oil, vinegar, and pepper.

Red Tomato

Red Tomato

By comparison, the earliest European mention of tomatoes growing in Asia (Malaysia) can be found in Georg Rumphius’s 1747 work Herbarium Amboinense. Rumphius notes that the natives cultivate two varieties and that both are used in cooking. In 1790, a brief mention of tomatoes growing well in the fields and gardens of Cochin, China is found in Louriero’s Flora Cochinchinensis.

So, from all this information, we can infer that the Arabs were eating tomatoes in the 16th century – at least the Morisco’s in Spain were – and possibly so were people across a broad swath of the Muslim World from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and into the Levant. More evidence for Tomato Eggs having Arab roots. Tomatoes may have been eaten in Ming China, but the earliest evidence I can find in a language I can read comes from well into the period of Qing rule. That said, however, we know that the Chinese were trading with the pre-Islamic Arabs and that trade between the peoples only flourished after the adoption of Islam, with the influence of foreign Muslim peoples in China reaching its peak probably in the Yuan Dynasty.

What I love most about Culinary History Mysteries like that is that hundreds of years later, the history of the interaction between the Chinese and the “Arabs” lives on in the foods people eat. Another enduring testament to the power of the Silk Road in the lives of the people.

(Words and recipe analysis by Laura Kelley. Photo of Chinese Eggs with Tomatoes by ppy2010ha@Dreamstime.com; Photo of Saudi Tomato Eggs: Shakshuka by Noor AlQahtani. Recipe for Saudi Shakshuka from Noor’s site, Ya Salam; Recipe for Chinese Tomato Eggs from Rasa Malaysia)

Communist Kimchi!

DPRK Kimchi recipe

DPRK Kimchi recipe

You may recall that in the Kimchi Chigae post I mentioned that I was developing a North Korean kimchi recipe. Well I worked the handwritten recipe with no ingredient amounts that you see here through three iterations – each less spicy than the last. And with some description and input from food and travel writer, Michael Y. Park, who brought the recipe out of North Korea, I did it. I recreated North Korean kimchi, or at least, according to Michael, I came very, very close.

According to Michael, communist, North Korean kimchi is, in general, less salty, less spicy, more watery and more fishy than the democratic kimchi in South Korea. Internet searches simply confirmed Michael’s observations, so his words were all I had to go on. My read of the North Korean recipe was that it had three major differences from South Korean recipes. The first difference was a long time – 24 hours – for salting/brining that preceded the seasoning of the cabbage. The second one was that fishy flavor, and the third was that after three days of fermenting, the jars were opened and topped with beef or fish broth and then re-sealed.

Now, my South Korean kimchi recipe, usually packs a bit of a wallop of spice, but has only a couple of tablespoons of salted shrimp or anchovies in it. The fish makes it a bit more savory, and helps to balance the red pepper and ginger, but it doesn’t impart a “fishy” flavor, so that was the first challenge. The second challenge was the 24 hour salting/brining that the North Korean recipe calls for. That seemed like a long time to brine cabbage, I usually only brine for about 3 hours maximum. Some South Korean recipes don’t brine the cabbage at all. I wondered just how much of the vegetable I would have left after 24 hours. Expecting to over fulfill the plan, I bought a lot of sprats. I chose sprats because they are small and cheap, and I could get them fresh.

For the first iteration of the recipe, I kept the ingredients the same as my S. Korean kimchi and used the North Korean salting procedure along with about 3/4 of a pound of fresh, cleaned sprats. This was good, not to fishy, and very spicy. I thought that if I decreased the spiciness and saltiness, the fish flavor would shine through more. So, I tried again. The second iteration of the recipe looks like this:

DPRK Kimchi – 2nd Iteration

Ingredients
2 Napa Cabbages, washed and cut in half (four halves)
1/2 cup coarse sea salt, divided into four 1/8 cup batches

Kimchi Seasoning
1 bunch of spring onions (6-8 onions)
1 leek
2-3 cups Korean radish, peeled and matchsticked (not daikon)
¾ -1 cup medium to large garlic cloves, peeled
1 piece of ginger – 4-5 inches by 1.5 inches
1/3 cup coarse red pepper powder (Gochu) (generously measured – i.e. “heaping”)
2-4 tablespoons coarse sea salt, or to taste
4-8 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
3/4 pound fresh sprats
Beef-flavored Dashida to taste

I tasted it about 10 days after adding the broth on day three of the refrigerated ferment. This recipe yields a savory, umami, gingery kimchi that is delicious, but not particularly fishy. Based on Michael’s description, I thought that it would still be too flavorful to be anything like North Korean kimchi, so I went back to the drawing board to try again.

DPRK Kimchi – 3rd Iteration

Ingredients
2 Napa Cabbages, washed and cut in half (four halves)
1/3 cup coarse sea salt, divided into four batches

Kimchi Seasoning
1/2 bunch of spring onions (4-6 onions)
1 leek
2-3 cups Korean radish, peeled and matchsticked (not daikon)
1/2 cup medium to large garlic cloves, peeled
1 piece of ginger – 3-4 inches by 1.5 inches
1/4 cup coarse red pepper powder (Gochugaru) (generously measured – i.e. “heaping”)
1-2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, or to taste
2-4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
3/4 pound fresh sprats
Anchovy-flavored Dashida or Japanese Hon-Dashi to taste

Method
Cabbages were washed and drained. Then the leaves were salted. All four halves were placed in a covered container with no water. The next morning a significant amount of water had accumulated. The cabbage halves were shifted several times to allow those pieces on top some time in the brine. Cabbages were brined for approximately 24 hours.

When the brining is completed, the cabbage should be pliable as if it had been parboiled. Place cabbages in a colander and let drain. The, one-by-one, immerse the cabbages in a vessel filled with fresh water. Turn faucet on and allow water to run into vessel as you work the water around the leaves for a minute or two. When done, place cabbages in a colander and let drain. Do a second rinse and let cabbages drain as seasoning is prepared.

Trim the roots from the onions and leeks and remove any damaged greens. Wash both vegetables very well – especially the leeks. Trim onions into 3-4 inch segments, then cut in half lengthwise. Separate the leek greens from the base and quarter the base. Then trim the base segments into 3-4 inch strips and slice lengthwise. Trim the leek greens in a similar manner. Add match-sticked radish to the vegetable mix.

Peel the ginger, roughly chopped and place in the food processor along with the garlic cloves. Pulse these until very fine, but not quite a paste has formed. Add to the vegetable mix along with the gochugaru, sea salt and sugar and mix well.

Then clean the sprats. Rinse and pulse in the food processor until very fine. Add the ground sprats to the vegetables and seasonings and mix well. Cover and set aside for at least ½ hour.

After ½ hour, stir the seasoning mix. You could coat the cabbages with it, or let it sit for more time and become juicier. I usually let mine sit for an hour or two, stirring every half hour, before moving on to the next step. When ready to season, take up the halved cabbages, one-by-one and slide the seasoning between each row of cabbage leaves, coating the leaves evenly with the spices. When the cabbage coating is done, slide them into jars, placing an extra bit of the seasoning mix in the jars as well – no more than 1 or two tablespoons. You can cut the cabbages into smaller bundles if desired as well. Pack the jars more lightly than when making South Korean kimchi to allow for the addition of broth in three days time.

Rest the jars overnight at room temperature to get the fermentation going, then refrigerate to slow fermentation.

At day three, remove the jars from the fridge and allow them to rise towards room temperature. Make Dashida broth or Hon Dashi according to taste or use about 2 teaspoons of dehydrated stock to 2.5-3 cups of water. When the kimchi AND the broth are at or near room temperature, open the jars in the sink and allow them to bubble up. If necessary, remove some kimchi from the jars to leave about 1.5 – 2 inches of space at the top of the jar. Pour the broth into the jar and insert a spoon to make sure the broth penetrates to the center and bottom of the jar. Repeat another time or two, top off the broth and seal the jars. Wash and dry the jars and place back in the refrigerator at the earliest time possible. Wait 3 days to 1 week and North Korean kimchi is served.

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North Korean Kimchi - 2nd and 3rd Iterations

North Korean Kimchi – 2nd and 3rd (R) Iterations

As you can see the North Korean kimchi samples are much lighter in color than South Korean kimchi – owing to the much lower amount of red-pepper and possibly of salt in the Northern recipes. Interestingly, I found that between 3/4 pound and 1 pound of sprats did not produce a fishy flavor. All this fish just made the kimchi more savory and added a bit of an umami factor – especially to the 2nd iteration sample. The fishy flavor, came from the addition of the fish broth after a few days of fermentation.

When all was said and done, Michael held a Kimchi Smackdown in New York City to compare the taste of my North Korean kimchi samples with a family South Korean recipe and some store bought kimchi from Koreatown.  You’ll have to go to Michael’s write up of the Smackdown to see which kimchi won, but I will tell you that the “3rd Iteration” recipe above was the closest to the kimchi Michael ate over in North Korea.

Most of the tasters did NOT like the limp texture of the North Korean kimchis, but you can correct for this by salting or brining for less time than 24 hours. Try, say 3-4 hours instead and your kimchi will be much more crisp and crunchy. I like the 2nd iteration sample over the third and may even make it instead of my usual S. Korean recipe from time to time.

This was a fantastic experience which I enjoyed immensely – and would do again in a heartbeat.  It is wonderful to learn about another culture through their cuisine, and this was particularly interesting because of the lack of information about foods of the North.

In closing, I’d like to remind everyone that kimchi of any sort is extraordinarily good for you as well.  It is packed full of probiotic organisms, such as Lactobacillus species as well as millions of bacteriophage to get the gut going and keep them going.  A great deal of our front-line immune defenses are also in the gut, so a diverse population of microorganisms down there make for a stronger immune response (at least in part).

(Words and recipe development by Laura Kelley. Photo of Handwritten North Korean Kimchi Recipe by Michael Y. Park; Photo of North Korean Kimchi 2nd and 3rd Iteration by Laura Kelley. Thanks to Michael Y. Park for sending me the recipe and allowing me to take part in his Kimchi Smackdown, and thanks to Elliot, Seungah for hosting the Smackdown and Rahul for lending his tastebuds to the task. Special thanks to Ms. Kim Nesbit for her assistance and advice during recipe development.)

Kimchi Chigae

I love kimchi.  I have several jars of kimchi in my refrigerator at all times.  Kimchi of Napa cabbages and Korean radish, cucumber kimchi, and now, thanks to food and travel writer Michael Y. Park – kimchi from North Korea as well.

You see, Michael recently returned from a trip to North Korea with a handwritten recipe for North Korean kimchi in hand. He sent it to a few people, and in September, we are going to have a North-South Kimchi Tasteoff in New York.

To clear space in the refrigerator for incoming batches of North Korean kimchi, I had to part with some older ones.  A couple of these had gone sour, so I decided to make, a big pot of the delicious kimchi soup - kimchi chigae - out of them.  My husband was away on business for a few days, so soup was also a great way to cook once and eat several times during his absence.

Kimchi Chigae with Gim

Kimchi Chigae with Gim

Well-made kimchi is usually a balance between sweet, salty, sour, spicy and hot flavors. (See my basic recipe with information about variants - here)  Fermentation is temperature controlled and after no more than a day or so at room temperature, the kimchi is placed in a cool or refrigerated spot.  There are also special kimchi refrigerators that can be used to assist in the fermentation, with the correct temperature for the type of kimchi set by pushing a few buttons or turning a dial.

When a batch of kimchi has been allowed to ferment too long, either because it was kept warm for too long before refrigeration, or simply because it has been in the refrigerator too long, it goes sour.  Some Koreans call this sour kimchi, “crazy kimchi” and won’t eat it.  Being a practical people, the Koreans came up with a wonderful solution to this.  Namely, they make a delicious and nutritious soup out of the sour batches – kimchi chigae.

Another thing about this soup, like many Korean soups, is that it is on the table in a little more than a half-an-hour from start to finish. My recipe is a little more elaborate than the bare-bones traditional recipe, but I think it is worth it. The added ingredients give it a depth of flavor and savoriness not found in the more simple recipes. I hope you like it!

Laura’s Kimchi Chigae Recipe
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil
1/3 pound pork bellies sliced
1 medium-large onion, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small bunch spring onions (5-6 onions)
3 cups sour kimchi
5-6 cloves garlic, sliced
Water to cover meat and vegetables
1 tablespoon gochugaru
2 tablespoons gochuchang
2 teaspoons doenchang
1-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, or to taste
A teaspoon of dashi (optional)
½ pack tofu, sliced

Dry roasted sesame seeds for garnish
Roasted seaweed slices (gim) for garnish (optional)

Slice the pork bellies into bite-size pieces. In a large sauce pan, heat the sesame oil and sauté the pork over high heat until it becomes opaque and starts to color. When done, remove from pan and set aside. In remaining oil, add the sliced onion and stir briefly but well. Add half of the sugar and stir again. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let onion begin to caramelize. Stir or shake only once or twice for 15-20 minutes. When the onion is soft and beginning to color, add the green onions and stir well.

Chop kimchi well so that diners will not have to struggle with large pieces. Add kimchi and any juice to the onions in the pot and stir well. Let kimchi and onions heat for a few minutes over medium heat stirring occasionally. Add cooked pork and sliced garlic and stir again. When meat and vegetables are warm, add enough water to cover and stir again. If making soup, add more water than if making a thicker stew. Cover and heat over medium-to high heat.

Add gochugaru, gochuchang and doenchang and stir well, taking care to break up the paste and stir into the soup. (One way to do this is to ladle a bit of soup into a small bowl and whisk or stir the pastes into the soup. When fully dissolved, return the soup to the bowl and stir well.)  Add salt, remaining sugar, and if using, a bit of dashi and stir again. Reduce heat, cover and let cook at a low-to-medium simmer for 20 minutes. When time has elapsed, taste the soup and if necessary adjust the flavors.

Slice tofu into bite-size pieces and add to the soup. Cover and let cook another 5-8 minutes. When done, let sit uncovered for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with rice, if desired.

__________

I hope you make and enjoy this soup.  I know I will as I continue to develop the recipe for North Korean kimchi. The first batch was very good, but I think it was had too much gochugaru and salt.  I’ll be making another batch with less of everything, except the fish, and perhaps try a few white- or water-kimchi varieties as well.

Michael will be writing about the North-South Kimchi Tasteoff at some point, and may give me permission to write about the recipe development at a later date.  Until then, if you would like to read more about his food adventures in North Korea, he wrote an excellent piece for Epicurious about his trip. (Words and development of traditional recipe for Kimchi Chigae by Laura Kelley; Photo of Kimchi Chigae by Laura Kelley.)

Food and Wine Frescoes from the Wei and Jin Tombs

Desert Near Wein-and-Jin Tombs, 2012

Desert Near Wei-and-Jin Tombs, 2012

In an inhospitable area between the Gobi and the Taklamakan Deserts northeast of Jaiyuguan, China a time capsule was buried almost 2000 years ago. Underneath the treeless, grey sand that blankets the region today are a series of over 1000 tombs from the Wei-and Jin period (265-420 ACE). The walls of the tombs are decorated with frescoes that depict details from everyday life in a land that was temperate, fertile and teaming with life. Images of farming, hunting, animal husbandry, cooking, feasting, and playing musical instruments adorn the walls; there is even an image of China’s early pony-express mail delivery that shows a galloping horse and a man carrying a letter in his hand with an urgent look on his face. Paintings filled with the nuances from the everyday lives of the people who lived near one of China’s main Silk Road corridors in the remote hinterlands of the dynasty.

Many of the frescoes have to do with gathering or preparing food. The one depicted below shows a woman and a girl picking mulberries or mulberry leaves. The fruits could have been used to make jams, juice, sauces, desserts or wine; or they could be dried and eaten like raisins. The leaves could have been used to give a sour flavor to food and salads, used to make tea, used as anti-inflammatory medicine, or if of the correct species to feed hungry silk-worms and provide a place for the metamorphosis of next season’s egg-laying moths.

Mulberry Picking

Mulberry Picking

The girl is wearing wearing ribbons and both she and the adult female have short hair which identify them as from the Qiuci ethnic group. The Qiuci were Indo-European settlers in ancient China who spoke an Indo-Iranian dialect, traded on the Silk Road, and eventually became part of the early Uyghur empire. Many historians believe that they arose from the people who first brought Buddhism into China from India and Pakistan. Given the Indo-European roots of the Qiuci, the mulberry leaves could have been used as a flavoring for bread, as is done in some Indian parathas today.

Cooking

Cooking

The second fresco presented here show servants preparing a meal. The head cook is picking meat from bones on a board to the right. Possibly recycling meat for another meal from uneaten parts of a roast, or preparing bones for soup. Mutton is hanging from hooks on the ceiling to age, and another cook is stirring a pot to the left. In the foreground and background there appear to be steamer trays lined with dumplings or buns.

Warming Wine

Warming Wine

The third fresco shows a maid warming wine. She holds a tray with cups in her right hand and with her left she reaches for a ladle to fill the cups with wine from the warmer. Grape and raisin production and wine-making is an ancient industry in Xinjiang and Gansu and this painting shows the popularity of wine in the Wei and Jin Dynasty.

Dining on Kebaba

Dining on Kebabs

The last painting shows two men having dinner together. The man to the left is the host of the meal and perhaps a noble because he is sitting on a low-bed or a couch. His guest is someone of relatively equal importance because he is depicted at the side of the host and more or less the same size as the host (other frescos denote a marked difference in the size between master or mistress and their servants). The guest proffers a large trident-like skewer with bite-size bits of meat on it – kebabs. Although evidence for kebab eating goes back to Akrotiri, Greece in the 17th Century BCE, and possibly earlier to Ancient Mesopotamia, this fresco gives a solid date range to the food in western China at almost 2000 years ago. Introduced to China by Indo-Europeans coming across the main track of the Northern Silk Road (the Uyghur word is kewap), kebabs are now enjoyed all across China.

Many other images are captured in the tomb paintings: dancing, raising chickens, a Bactrian camel on a lead, and herding horses. To preserve the paintings, only one or two tombs are open to the public at a time and different tombs are open on a rotating basis to allow for repeat visits. One has to descend almost 30 meters beneath the arid surface to enter the cool, damp rooms of the tombs to view the frescoes, but it is a unique way to experience life in ancient China. Where there is now barren desert, there were rich farms, pastureland, and trading posts teaming with travelers and traders, moving goods, ideas and culture around on the Silk Road. (Words by Laura Kelley; Photos from postcards of the Wei and Jin Tombs by Laura Kelley (photography is not allowed in the tombs)).

Making 1000 Year Eggs

So, as promised, I spent several hours yesterday making 1000 Year Eggs.  That is, I coated a dozen and a half duck eggs with caustic mud, rolled and pressed them in rice chaff, and set them aside to dry.  Later I placed them in a soil-lined ceramic crock and will let them sit for three to three-and-a-half months, before checking to see if I did it right.  I’m sure if they start to rot instead of chemically change, we will be aware of it.

To start off, the eggs in the mud looked like this:

Duck Eggs Caustic Mud

Duck Eggs Caustic Mud

Then one thoroughly (and evenly) coats them with the mud:

Coating the Eggs

Coating the Eggs

And lastly, after they are covered with rice chaff, they look like this:

Eggs Coated with Mud and Chaff

Eggs Coated with Mud and Chaff

And now we wait. . . three whole months for the chemical conversions to take place inside the egg. After the ingredients to make pidan are mixed, the following chemical reactions take place:

CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2
Ca(OH)2 + Na2CO3 -> 2NaOH + CaCO3
Na2O3 + H2O -> 2NaOH + O2
K2O + H2O -> 2KOH

*The Na2O3 and K2O are from the plant ash

Because of the porosity of the egg shell, NaOH is first adsorbed to the surface, and, owing to a change in the osmotic pressure, NaOH enters the egg through the pores and subsequently penetrates the semi-permeable membrane, coming into contact with the egg protein, causing it to become denaturized and hydrolysed into polypeptides and finally into amino acids.

The result is that 1000 Year Eggs are much higher in protein and much lower in carbohydrates than unpreserved duck eggs. Other nutritional elements such as amino acids and fatty acids are about equal between the two egg forms, although the preserved egg generally has a bit less of everything in it.

The recipe follows:

1000 Year Eggs

Ingredients
3 – 4 cups black tea brewed very strong + strained tea leaves
2/3 cup sea salt
3 cups wood ash
3 cups charcoal ash
1 ¾ cups quicklime

18 fresh duck eggs
2-3 pounds rice chaff
Latex gloves

I procured all of the ingredients from internet retailers except the wood and charcoal ash which our neighbors were generous enough to donate to the project in exchange for a chance to taste the bounty of the experiment. We also had the sea salt and tea on hand.

Method

  1. Brew the tea. I used at least a cup of loose tea leaves for 8 cups of water (I did say strongly brewed, right?) Let the tea sit for at least an hour to get really strong. In the meantime, find a large, non-reactive vessel (like a plastic painter’s bucket or other very large and deep bowl) and put the salt, ashed and quicklime into the bowl. When the tea is done, add about 3 cups and stir well. Then strain the tea, preserving both the liquid and the solids and add the spent tea leaves to the mud mixture. If necessary, add more brewed tea until the mud is a thick, but not watery solution.
  2. Put on latex or other protective gloves. The mud is caustic and will cause skin discomfort.
  3. Place the first batch of eggs into the mud and coat them well. I let mine sit for about 15 minutes before moving on to the next step. Find a large, deep bowl and fill it with rice chaff. After the eggs have rested in the mud, take them up one at a time and make sure they are completely coated. I found that the mud was a bit sticky and almost serous and didn’t want to adhere to the surface of the shell. When the coating is more or less uniform, place the egg in the chaff. Wipe excess mud off of your gloves by scraping on the edge of the vessel holding the mud. Then take handfulls of chaff and cover the egg with it completely. Pick up the egg and put chaff on the reverse side if needed. Then lightly compress the egg in your hand to try to get the chaff to bond with the mud. Remember the egg is raw and don’t squeeze too hard. When the chaff fully coats the egg (add more chaff if necessary), set it on a plate and move onto the next egg.

When all of the intended eggs are coated with mud and chaff, clean up. I let my eggs sit overnight before burying them in soil and lime. I used soil from outside (not potting soil) to fill the crock to get some natural microorganisms in the mix. If you have a choice of soils around your yard, use one with a high clay content. Set crock in an out-of-the-way place outside and wait a few months. I placed my eggs in a decorative sort of crock and put the crock in the garden as an ornament. Water is crucial to the process and the crock needs to be open to the rain to get wet and dry in cycles.

The reaction that causes the preservation proceeds more rapidly in warmer weather than in colder weather, so I will be waiting the full 100 days before checking on the eggs. Then you can look forward to posts exploring the flavor of these, wonderful ancient delicacies. (Words and recipe by Laura Kelley; All Photos by Laura Kelley)

What Am I Making? #1: 1000 Year Eggs

The correct answer is indeed 1000 Year eggs! (Contest closed: January 26, 2013)

Ingredients for Dish

Ingredients for Dish

The ingredients listed from left to right are: Duck eggs, rice chaff (for coating the eggs), black tea, lime and ashes (a combination of wood ash and charcoal ash.)

1000-year Old Eggs

1000-year Old Eggs

For those of you not in the know, 1000 Year Eggs, or Century eggs are a Chinese delicacy, eaten all over the country, except perhaps in the western, Turkic parts of the country. (As least I have never encountered them in the west). They are made by coating the eggs with a mud-like mixture of the ingredients above, along with a large amount of salt and burying them or aging them in a crock with soil for several months. The coating with caustic mixture and sodium and aging makes the firm ‘white’ of the egg turn amber and gelatinous and the yolk a dark, sea-mud green as shown in the photograph.

An egg processed thus tastes nothing like an egg. It has a sharp, almost cheesy flavor and a strong almost ammonia-like odor. Despite the description they are quite tasty and are enjoyed en seul, or with a variety of vinegar-based dipping sauces, drizzled with sesame oil, served with pickled ginger and tofu, served with a stir-fry of pork and spring onions (along with tofu and other ingredients). 1000 Year eggs can also be cut up and added to almsot any dish. They are commonly added to savory congees and tofu dishes.

As soon as it warms up enough to spend an extended period outside, I’ll be putting up a batch. I’ve got all the ingredients, its just a matter of letting the snow melt some. Of course, I’ll photograph the production and the harvesting of the eggs – sort of like how I recorded the making of garum the traditional way.

Great answers, everyone! Thanks for guessing!

I will giveaway two books – why not, right? Ellen and Mike, please send me your postal addresses and I’ll get your books in the mail ASAP!