Chef Sunny Lee is from Seoul, South Korea. She came to the United States with her son to ensure that he would adjust well to his first year as a high school freshman in a foreign country. To occupy herself in her spare time, she began taking recreation cooking classes at the local culinary school where she found she had a passion for cooking. It wasn’t long before she enrolled herself as a full time student in the Cambridge School of Culinary Art’s professional chef program.
After graduation she remained dedicated to mastering every dish that came her way and took a job working long hours as a pastry chef at one of Boston’s critically acclaimed fine dining restaurants, L’espalair. Sunny is planning on eventually returning to South Korea soon where she hopes to open up an “American style cooking school”, but before she does that we had the privilege of her instructing us on some of the traditional dishes from her home country.
Kimchi is a dish that is synonymous with Korean culture. It is a fermented dish that can be made with different types of vegetables but is mainly made with baechu (or more commonly, nappa cabbage). Typical the cabbage is brined in water and salt first and then is left to ferment in a mixture of garlic, salt, vinegar, chili peppers, and other spices. While some prefer kimchi fresh others prefer an aged kimchi which can age well close to a year. While the preparation of kimchi varies from region to region, traditionally in the southern area, it is spicier and does not consist of any fish product.
Kimchi – Approximately a month old.
It is typical for women to gather in the home at the beginning of winter and make mass amounts of kimchi in preparation for the cold weather. Growing up, Sunny recalls having a dedicated refrigerator in her home just for kimchi. It’s a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into many different dishes such as stews, on top of a pizza, or as a side dish, to name a few, which isn’t all that bad considering that it is loaded with vitamins and contains the same time of “healthy bacteria” that one can find in yogurt.
Another delicious dish we prepared was La Galbi (or Korean BBQ).
In Korean, Galbi means “rib” and more often than not refers to short ribs. Typically when we think of short ribs, we think of big beefy chunks of slow cooked meat that is “fall off the bone” tender. In this version the short ribs are treated a little different. They are sliced lengthwise in thin strips before being marinated. The typical marinade for this dish consists of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, pear, pepper, honey, sugar, and water.
La Galbi marinating.
After cooking is complete, usually on the grill, the small amount of bone is sliced away from the meat which is then wrapped in either a lettuce leaf or sesame leaf with a little gochuijang or hot chili paste and eaten as an accompaniment to rice. In a lot of homes in South Korea, rice and sometimes kimchi, is served with every meal.
A Sesame leaf. From the leaves of the perilla plant.
Korean is a cuisine that is noted for its side dishes. It would not be odd to see someone dining with many assorted bowls in front of them. Each meal is, more often then not, served with rice. Unlike in China and Japan, the person dining is given a spoon, so the bowl is not lifted from the table. While using spoons, culture dictates that the spoon should never make a noise or touch the plate. It is also custumary when drinking to hold a glass with both hands for someone to pour a drink into your glass. One is never to fill their own glass and is to never fill a glass that is half empty. The Korean culture is rich in drinking tradition. The most popular non-alcoholic drink in South Korea is tea or what they call “cha”. Alcoholic beverages are also very popular, especially during business meetings. Koreans believe that you reveal your true self when you are drinking and therefore if you are drinking during a business meeting it is a sign that you can be a trusted business partner. Their major crop in Korea has been rice, therefore, most alcoholic beverages have been made from rice of both the glutinous and non-glutinous variety. Yakju is an example of a rice wine that is made from steamed rice that has gone through several different stages of fermentation.
Sunny’s LA Galbi Marinade:
Serving: 4-6 (about 3.5 LB of LA style beef short ribs).
1/3 cup Soy Sauce
1/3 cup of water or cooking wine
1/4 cup of Honey or 1/3 Cup of Brown Sugar
8 Garlic Cloves
1 Medium Onion
1 tsp Ginger, chopped until liquid
1 Korean Pear (if you can’t find Korean pear, us 2 bosac pears)
2 tsp of Sesame oil
sesame seeds, black ground pepper.