Spring Herb Dishes of Korea
Clockwise from the top left are seawater tofu, dallae (달래 – small wild onion or Allium monanthum), naeng-yi (냉이 – Capsella bursapastoris), and godeul bbaegi (고들뺴기 – Crepidiastrum sonchifolium). With the exception of tofu, these are considered early spring herbs easily found in grocery stores. But the ones above that I found in Chuncheon open market (오일장 – o il jang) were a different breed with their flavors so vividly fragrant, they awakened my taste buds to the new season despite the frigid cold day. The grandma who gave me a sample knew that I couldn’t resist them once I took a bite.
Again, this post is without the usual recipe measurements. I hope my description gives you an idea of how to make use of them if you find these or something similar near you. These are all simple, common preparations applied to many namul (나물 – lightly seasoned, often lightly cooked, herbs and vegetables) banchan (반찬 – side dish) in Korea. Cleaning these ingredients in the beginning took me the most time and effort, but you might not have to deal with that so much if you purchase these ingredients from a grocery store.
Pan-fried Tofu with Dallae Soy Sauce (두부 부침과 달래 간장)
Rinse tofu in cold water, then pat dry with paper towel. Cut tofu into about 1″x1″ slices. Sprinkle salt and pepper on tofu slices.
Prepare a bowl of flour and a separate bowl of egg wash (2 eggs and a spoonful of water whisked to combine). Season egg wash with salt and pepper.
On a warm pan, drizzle oil. Coat each slice of tofu in flour first then dip in egg wash. Place tofu on the pan and flip when the bottom side turns golden brown. When both sides of tofu turns golden brown, transfer them to a plate. Serve with soy sauce mixed with vinegar and toasted sesame seeds. If you have dallae, add chopped dallae for its slightly bitter, early spring flavor in the sauce.
Better yet, serve with pickled dallae and its soy pickling liquid.
Pickled Dallae (달래 장아찌 – dal lae jang ah jji)
Clean dallae by removing peels from its bulbs and rinse in cold water. Drain and spread them out on a paper towel-lined plate to remove excess water. Transfer dallae into a container with a lid.
Prepare soy sauce pickling liquid by pouring soy sauce and water (soy sauce: water = 1:1) in a pot, just enough to cover dallae. Add vinegar to your taste. Add peeled garlic, onion slices, and carrot slices. Also, add a sliced chili pepper if you want some heat in the background. Feel free to add a bay leaf and black peppercorns if you have them. Bring it up to a boil then pour it over dallae.
Cool to room temperature then cover with the lid. Refrigerate overnight. You can have pickled dallae for banchan and use the soy sauce liquid for seasoning in place of regular soy sauce. It has richer flavor but not as salty.
Naeng-yi Doenjang Soup (냉이 된장국)
Clean naeng-yi by removing yellow or wilted leaves, rinse in cold water and drain excess water. If you want, cut them into about an inch length.
Mix cleaned naeng-yi in a spoonful of doenjang (된장 – fermented soy paste) and minced garlic (2-3 cloves) and rest for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, make stock for the soup by boiling water with a few dried anchovies and dried kelp (다시마 – da shi ma). Once kelp becomes fully bloomed, remove anchovies and kelp. Add a spoonful of doenjang and continue boiling.
Add naeng-yi and bring up to a boil again. When naeng-yi becomes soft, it’s done. Taste and adjust seasoning with soy sauce, preferably Korean soy sauce specifically for seasoning soups (국간장 – guk gan jang).
It’s the most common way to enjoy naeng-yi. Although doenjang and garlic usually play an assertive role in a dish, combined with naeng-yi, they come together well in a mellow way to show you the way to early spring.
Godeul Bbaegi in Spicy-Tangy Sauce (고들빼기 초무침)
Godeul bbaegi has a pretty strong bitter taste to it, so it’s popular as kimchi after being treated in salt for at least a few hours and dressed in the usual, spicy kimchi seasoning. I didn’t have time to make kimchi, so I went with another popular, fairly strong seasoning, chomuchim (초무침 – tossed in spicy & tangy seasoning).
Peel away blemishes and skin from godeul bbaegi by scraping them with a spoon. Rinse in cold water, then blanch briefly in salted, boiling water for 30 seconds or less. Drain and cool godeul bbaegi in ice cold water. This step helps to mellow out the usually strong bitter taste from godeul bbaegi a little bit.
Mix gochujang (고추장 – fermented red pepper paste), vinegar, sesame seeds. Taste and decide how much soy sauce to mix in.
Mix the gochujang sauce in godeul bbaegi. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top for garnish.
국 (guk) – soup in general
깨 (ggae) – sesame seeds