This weekend was the most gorgeous weekend New Yorkers have seen in a long time. I celebrated by going to a gardening class at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which was good, and then by getting smashed in the East Village on Saturday night, which was not so good.
Luckily, though, Korean food is excellent hangover food. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had promised to make fondue. Just the thought of a giant pot of melted cheese makes me feel ill even now. But I was making restorative food, pork that is so spicy and yet sweet at the same time it’ll pique anyone’s appetite; crispy, nutty mung bean pancakes filled with kimchi goodness; a strong stew made of tofu and fermented soybean paste; and lots of pickled, salty dishes. (My Google search for “hangover cure” found that a Polish remedy is drinking pickle juice. The international brotherhood of pickle lovers warms my heart.)
The 빈대떡, bindaetteok, or mung bean pancakes were probably the most surprising to my guests, who had never tried them before. I think all Koreans fall into two camps: pajeon or bindaetteok. Everyone likes both, everyone prefers one. I am firmly in the bindaetteok camp. The base is mung beans, which most Americans have probably encountered, if ever, in Indian dal. The batter of peeled, soaked, and pureed mung beans is mixed with chopped kimchi, mung bean sprouts, and a bit of pork, with 고사리, gosari, or fern bracken, if you have it, adding a slight but wonderful woodsy flavor. Bindaetteok taste incredible when they’re hot, as the pancakes get very crispy on the outside while staying soft on the inside. Despite their foreignness in the U.S., I think they’re easy to love, judging by the reaction my non-Korean guests had to them.
I’d always been a little intimidated by the process, given that it seemed to be such an operation when my mom made them, but I now realize that’s because she almost always makes 50 at a time. I made 16, and it was shockingly easy. It takes a little pre-planning, since you have to soak the mung beans for at least 3 hours, but you can also just stick them in a bowl with water in the fridge overnight and forget them until it’s time to make the pancakes. Once you start frying, you have to move quickly from stove to table to get the optimal effect, but they also reheat surprisingly well. The best is to fry them again in a pan of oil to get that crispy texture, but I’ve found putting them in the oven at 300 degrees for a few minutes makes them crispy again almost as well.
돼지불고기, daeji-bulgogi, or spicy grilled pork, is even easier. The marinade, unlike beef bulgogi, doesn’t need to coat the meat for very long. If you’ve gone to a Korean grocer and bought pre-sliced pork shoulder, you can have pork bulgogi on your table in 15 minutes. If you can’t get to a Korean grocer, or like me, are trying to buy only sustainably raised meat, it’s not hard to slice the meat yourself. It just takes a little bit of planning, as freezing the meat for an hour or two makes it much easier to slice. If you have a good butcher, you can also ask him (or her) to slice it for you, but be sure to note that you want it cut against the grain. If you do slice it yourself, don’t beat yourself up trying to cut it paper-thin, since even a quarter or half-inch thick piece of pork shoulder, when slathered in red pepper paste, soy sauce, and sugar, cooks easily and tastes delicious. I think it’s the sugars caramelizing as they hit the hot pan.
The marinade isn’t really that spicy. The sugar counteracts the heat, and it’s mild enough to Koreans that we like to put the pork in a crisp piece of lettuce and dab on more red pepper paste before wrapping it up and eating it. But if you’re nervous, I would start with one tablespoon of red pepper paste and taste as you make the marinade. If you do decrease the red pepper paste, increase the soy sauce by the same amount.
Like all Korean grilled meats, it’s best grilled over charcoal, quite tasty on a cast-iron griddle on the stove, and completely serviceable and yummy in a frying pan.
1 cup of peeled, dried mung beans
½ cup of ground pork
1 t. soy sauce
1 T. garlic, minced
¼ cup green onion, chopped
1 t. sesame oil
½ t. grated ginger
1 cup chopped Napa cabbage kimchi
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup dried fern bracken (optional)
1 quarter onion, thinly sliced
1.5 t. salt
canola or vegetable oil for frying
- Soak the dried mung beans in water for at least 3 hours.
- If using the fern bracken, soak it in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes, until soft. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the fern bracken and blanche, letting it simmer for one minute. Remove and drain, but don’t empty the pot. When the fern bracken has cooled, cut it into 2-inch lengths.
- Wash the mung bean sprouts. Bring the pot of water back to a boil and add the mung bean sprouts. Cook for about seven minutes until tender. Remove them from the water and let them drain. When the sprouts have cooled, chop them finely.
- Season the ground pork in a large bowl with the soy sauce, garlic, green onions and sesame oil. Add the chopped kimchi, mung bean sprouts, fern bracken, and onion and mix thoroughly.
- If using mung beans that already have the green husks removed, proceed to the next step. Otherwise, rub the mung beans together between your hands and swish them around vigorously in the bowl. Add more water. The green husks will rise to the top and you can remove them by draining the liquid at the top of the bowl.
- When nearly all of the husks have been removed, put the beans in a food processor or blender. Add 1 cup of water and blend for 1 minute. The mixture should be smooth and fluid.
- Add the mung bean puree to the bowl of pork and vegetables. Mix thoroughly. The batter should have the consistency of pancake batter, not too thick and not too thin. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. You may have to add more salt, depending on the saltiness of the kimchi. The easiest way is to make one pancake, taste it, and adjust as necessary.
- Heat 2 T. of vegetable oil in a large pan on medium-low heat. Cast iron is great for this. The oil will be hot enough when a drop of batter sizzles.
- Drop 1/4 cup of batter per pancake into the pan. This will make small, three-inch-sized pancakes. If you want to make bigger ones, by all means, do so! They will definitely get harder to flip, though, when they get bigger than your spatula. Do not overcrowd the pan.
- Keep the pancake round and neat by pushing a spatula around the edges. You’ll see the pancakes begin to brown around the edges. Before you flip it over, look at the underside. Is it a golden-brown? As my mother says, you’ll know when they’re done because their faces will tell you so. But if you’re not sure, 3 minutes is a good amount of time.
- Flip the pancake and cook on the other side, about 3 minutes.
- Line a tray with paper towels and let the pancakes drain for a minute or two, but be sure to serve them while they’re hot.
Makes about 16 pancakes. You can estimate one per person, but your guests might very well eat two. In any case, leftover pancakes freeze very well.
1 lb. pork shoulder
1 small carrot (optional)
half a white onion (optional)
2 T. dark soy sauce
2 T. gochujang or red pepper paste
2 T. cooking rice wine or sake
3 T. sugar
1 T. sesame oil
1 T. sesame salt
2 T. chopped green onion
1 t. chopped garlic
1 t. chopped ginger
a few grinds of black pepper
- Thinly slice the pork shoulder against the grain, about a quarter-inch thick. Pork shoulder has grain that runs every which way, so you might have to turn it around several times. You can also try to find the seams and separate the meat into lobes. You’ll want the pieces to be fairly uniform in size, about 3-inches wide, but I don’t worry too much if I have pieces of meat that are all over the place in size. You do want to keep it bite-size, though.
- Score each slice of meat by making three or four shallow cuts on each side. I think this step does make a difference in helping the marinade coat the meat and cooking the meat quickly, but if you’re pressed for time, move immediately to the next step.
- Slice the carrot into pieces about a quarter-inch thick. Cut each slice so that they form rectangles, about two inches long and half an inch wide. Thinly slice the white onion. The vegetables are optional, but I like having a different kind of sweetness thrown in the mix.
- Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together.
- Add the pork shoulder to the marinade. Mix it, preferably with your hands, making sure the meat is fully coated in the marinade. Add the carrots and onions.
- Cook the meat and the vegetables together. Given that I live in a second-floor apartment, I used a cast-iron griddle, which filled the kitchen with smoke and set off my smoke alarm but I think it was worth it.
- Serve with fresh lettuce and gochujang mixed with sesame oil and sugar to make it smoother and softer. I used a ratio of 4:1:1, gochujang to sesame oil to sugar, but you should adjust to your taste as different gochujang brands can vary in flavor.
Serves four, but is easily doubled or tripled.
(Thanks to Carl for volunteering as the dinner photographer.)