One of the things I love best about my husband is his love of all foods Asian. Asian flavors are my default setting: Garlic, ginger, soy, and sesame are what I reach for when I crave comfort.
While we live in a very rural setting, I am thankful that on the days he works out of his office, he is less than a city block away from an extremely well-stocked Asian foods market.
Hardly a week goes by that I don't send a text to him while he's at work that reads something like this: "I'm making jangsanjeok for dinner. Desperate for gochujang!" or "Hey! You want egg rolls tonight? Can you get me wrappers?" More often than not, he's willing to pick up the goods because it means he's going to love dinner.
This last weekend was my sweetheart's birthday. In keeping with our family tradition, I asked him what he would like for dinner. His response was not at all surprising; he wanted his all-time favorite dish of Japanese Salmon over Linguine. I knew that was coming, but when I asked him what he wanted to go with it, he said, "I don't know. How about something that goes well with it?"
Well, that was specific.
Unfortunately for me, he wasn't working from the city between the time of our conversation and when I was going to make his birthday feast. Luckily for him, though, I had a few ideas that were totally Asian in flavor but easily made from ingredients I could find at the marginally well-stocked local grocery store only 20 minutes from home.
You don't have to live near a major urban center in order to have great Asian food. One of our best loved foods — Asian or otherwise — is the spicy Korean sauerkraut called kimchi.
This pungent, spicy, crunchy preserved cabbage dish lasts forever and a day in the refrigerator. Most stores that sell it stock it in the produce or Asian foods department. Pick it up when you find it. Trust me. Even if you do nothing else with it, you must make kimchi pancake. This is the crispiest, crunchiest, spiciest, simplest, crowd-pleasing finger food you can whip up last minute. Whooee, I am telling you, this pancake will make you a kimchi believer.
Whether you serve it as one large crunchy snack cake for everyone to descend on and pull apart with hands-and-chopsticks or cut it into bite-sized pieces for genteel eating, you're going to be so glad you gave it a try.
Kimchi Pancake (Kimchijeon)
1 c. chopped kimchi
3 T. kimchi juice (the liquid in which kimchi is packed)
2 T. chopped green onion
½ c. water
½ c. all-purpose flour
½ t. salt
Neutral oil for frying (canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable)
½ c. cooked peeled shrimp, chopped
½ c. cooked, shredded pork
Chopped green onions for garnish
In a mixing bowl, stir together all of the ingredients (except for the frying oil) until the mixture is evenly colored and there are no dry flour spots.
Add about an ⅛-inch coating of neutral oil to a heavy-bottomed 10- to 12-inch skillet (cast-iron or nonstick) over medium-high heat.
Spread the kimchi pancake batter thinly in the pan and fry until the bottom is crisp and the top is cooked most of the way through (some wet patches of batter, but mostly cooked batter on top). Carefully flip the pancake using two spatulas for control, then continue cooking the pancake until the underside is crisp and has some charred bits. Flip the pancake over again and cook the first side for 1 minute more.
Serve garnished with chopped green onions whole in a platter for people to pull apart with fingers or chopsticks, or cut into bite-sized pieces.
What do you serve with a kimchi pancake? Something light and vibrant: This fresh, marinated cucumber salad is just the thing. I've been known to make a double batch of this salad to keep in the refrigerator for quick snacks and easy sides through the week.
We love it with fish dishes and kimchi pancake, but we also stick it on grilled burgers like pickles.
This is some seriously good stuff.
Asian Marinated Cucumber Salad
1 large English (seedless) cucumber, very thinly sliced
¼ sweet onion, very thinly sliced
⅓ c. rice vinegar
1 T. toasted sesame seeds
1 T. minced fresh dill or ½ t. dried dill weed
¾ t. salt
¾ t. sugar
¼ t. crushed red pepper flakes
Gently toss together all of the ingredients until everything is evenly coated. Put in a container with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate for at least an hour prior to serving. This keeps well, refrigerated for up to 5 days. Toss gently before serving.
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