I cooked up a birthday dinner for my mom yesterday. I usually cook non-Korean food at home but I decided to go traditional this year and make my mom miyeok guk, a traditional birthday soup made with seaweed, along with other goodies. Newborn mothers are fed this soup for its nutritive values including a high amount of iron and its aid in cleansing the blood. So in connection with that tradition Koreans have miyeok guk as part of their birthday celebration.
Miyeok guk is quite easy to make and it is truly a comfort food. I soaked dried seaweed overnight in cold water. I cut up a piece of beef brisket into bite-sized pieces and tossed it with sesame oil and a tiny bit of soy sauce and sauteed it until browned. Then I added the seaweed, thoroughly drained and cut to few inches in length, and sauteed it with the beef for a few minutes. I added minced garlic and cold water to cover and boiled it for about thirty minutes and seasoned it with salt.
For the main dish I immediately thought of doejji bossam which is a pork belly lettuce wrap. It’s properly served with salted napa cabbage, sengchae (marinated shredded daikon), salted baby shrimp sauce and if you wish raw oysters. It’s definitely one of my favorite Korean dishes ever and there is a bossam specialty restaurant only two minutes away from my place so hooray.
I asked my mom how I should boil the pork belly and she said “juk-dang-ee” which means just the right amount. Not too much, not too little.. the reasonable amount. Other Korean kids know when they ask their mom or relatives how to make a dish “juk-dang-ee” will be the most common answer. This can get frustrating but you just learn to cook with your senses. I never use measurements when cooking Korean food. I’m sure it’s the same for other people cooking their own cuisine.
I cut the pork belly into large chunks and boiled it in water with onion, ginger, scallion, a few garlic cloves and a pinch of salt for about 45 minutes. My mom forgot to tell me that I’m supposed to also add a spoonful of doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) in the cooking liquid. Doh. Next time. Also bring the water and vegetables to a boil before putting the pork belly in. After it’s done cooking let it cool for few minutes on the cutting board before slicing it up.
For the sengchae I shredded daikon on the deathly mandolin and tossed it with a little bit of sugar, salt, gochugaru (Korean pepper powder), minced garlic, and a touch of rice vinegar. I added a sliced jalapeno to this mix. It could have used a few more though. I like spicy. This needs to marinate overnight in the fridge to draw out the water from the daikon and let the flavors soak in.
I served the pork with ssamjang instead of salted baby shrimps but you can serve it with either. My mom says the salted baby shrimps is the preferred pairing for the boiled pork belly. I made the ssamjang simply from doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) and gochujang (red pepper paste). The doenjang was of such good quality that I didn’t want to add anything except a touch of gochujang. Usually I mix doenjang with a bit of gochujang, garlic, thinly sliced scallion, sesame oil and sesame seed. It’s a variation of the bean sauce you get at Korean bbq joints for your grilled meats.
And lastly for the lettuce wrap I made pa chae (scallion salad). You can buy shredded scallion at Korean markets or you can shred it yourself at home with a scallion shredder. I seasoned this with sesame oil, gochugaru, sesame seed, minced garlic and a pinch of salt.
Now for the final wrap. I mentioned before that doejji bossam is usually served with salted napa cabbage. I love fresh lettuce wraps so I decided to skip the salted napa cabbage this time. Take a kkaennip (Korean perilla leaf) or a piece of red leaf lettuce, layer a slice of pork belly, a smear of ssamjang, a bit of sengchae and scallion salad. Such a great combination of flavors. You can even do a double wrap with a red leaf lettuce and perilla.
I also made pa jun (scallion pancake) and gool jun (egg battered oyster). I used a batter mix for the pa jun. I sliced scallions into about two inch lengths then laid them in a hot pan with a bit of canola oil. Then poured the batter over it and cooked it on both sides til browned. For the gul jun I dredged the oysters in flour, dipped it in egg, fried it in canola oil and topped one side with chili threads. My mom said I used too much but I was all in a hurry at that point and just grabbed a pinch for each oyster. I used frozen oysters from the Korean market and they were surprisingly good. Worked perfectly for the gool jun.
Dipping sauce for the jun was made with soy sauce seasoned with sesame oil, sesame seed, gochugaru, and sliced scallion.
My mom’s got quite a sweet tooth so a dessert was a must. One great thing about going to the Galleria Market is stopping by Cake House on the way out. It’s hard to resist with all that sweet bread aroma floating around you. The strawberry head totally caught my eye and I had to get it. It’s quite funny. Unfortunately when it got boxed the eyes got stuck to the top of the container and I had to stick them back on. The cake’s name is Fresia and it was awesome. Simple strawberries and cream flavor but sooooo good and not too sweet. I’m not a huge sweets person but I can’t wait to get this again. The other one I also got because it was made me chuckle. Its name is “Ghetto Mocha”. Haha I don’t know why it’s named that. Perhaps something got transliterated incorrectly.
My mom loved the dinner and was quite impressed with the spread. I should start cooking Korean more before I move out.