It’s almost the end of February and the end of Korean Cuisine Month in this 12 months of cuisines challenge. February has been… very challenging schedule-wise. I have a backlog of recipes I need to write up and haven’t even researched next month yet in order to get started (it’s Italian…. I chose it. Italian is easy. Will explain in the future). Needless to say… I’m very behind and it’s weighing me down a lot.
The main culprit to this time-restriction: I started a new job. I was expecting the workload to have impact on my free time for cooking and recipe writing, but I severely underestimated how much of my physical time and mental energy it would take away. I admit, I was pretty demoralized the last couple of days that the activity I must do to survive (aka “make money”) prevents me from doing the thing that brings me the most joy (aka “no money”). I should figure out a better balance, but I’m not wholly sure it’s achievable, given the other life activities that exist and just how much mental space work is requiring of me.
But let’s treat these “month-end reviews” as post mortems to reflect on the positives and find ways to make it better next month.
Some Thoughts on Korean Cuisine
- First, a great positive: Korean food is VERY easy to meal prep! Most recipes are meant to make large family-size portions (soups and stews, large chunks of sliced-up meat, kimchi, etc) and stored for future eats. It’s not uncommon for a Korean mom to make a bunch of side dishes (“banchan”) and gift them to her adult kids to be eaten for the next 1-2 weeks. Many dishes are meant to be prepared ahead, stored in the fridge, and served alongside a main that is cooked that day (whether that main is a soup, a cooked central dish, or just a bowl of rice).
- There are a lot of vegetables in Korean food! And many ways to incorporate vegetables into dishes (like juk). There’s only a handful of traditional Korean vegetables used, but the cooking methods are repeatable with other produce. Broccoli, celery, and parsnips, for instance, can be cooked the same as any other “namul” dish (I’ve definitely seen broccoli served as banchan in Korean restaurants before).
- There’s actually not a lot of meat involved in Korean cuisine. When we go to Korean restaurants in the US, beef (and large quantities of it) is usually what we see (mostly b/c Korean food = Korean BBQ in a lot of areas). I was actually a bit worried since we’re currently in a meat shortage in the US, so the prices have spiked a bit (it wasn’t as terrible as predicted but the price hikes are still visible), but even when dishes use beef (bibimbap, juk, taro soup, etc), the quantity of beef is actually not a whole lot. The way you cut the beef into fine pieces and use bones to increase the beefy flavor (such as with seolleongtang (beef bone soup)) makes a small amount of beef carry a long way.
- As a consequence, there are a lot of carbs in Korean food. I didn’t make many noodle dishes (except for Japchae once), so mostly focused on rice and I noticed us eating more rice than we did in Japanese month. Both cuisines are rice-based. I don’t know if Korean cuisine just relies on rice as a flavor carrier more than Japanese food, or if this was just a coincidence (or if my weight gain this month was due to work stress and not carb intake). But yeah, our carb intake increased in February.
- Korean cuisine is also (overall) high in salt. All the namuls (side dish vegetables that are blanched and coated in salt, sesame oil, garlic and other flavor ingredients) and many of the banchans require salt to be tasty. It’s not necessarily a lot per dish, but I get the feeling the daily consumption adds up quick.
- The dishes are variable due to the reliance on specific flavor profiles. Primary flavor profiles involve sesame oil, garlic, doenjang (fermented bean paste), and gochujang (red pepper paste). My favorite is definitely the combination of sesame oil, salt, and black pepper (common in namuls).
Some Thoughts on This Monthly Cuisine Challenge
- I had set myself a goal of 12 recipes this month, thinking that was a fair reduction in scope while still being able to turn out enough recipes to make the month worthwhile. At the end of the month, I feel very certain that this is way too many. It sucks b/c I know I can cook more than 12 different dishes in a single month. But I didn’t consider how taxing the extra effort of photographing and writing on a timeline outside of work would be. Work cuts waking hours in half and when it comes to “free time”, it’s more like taking away 2/3rds or 3/4ths of it.
- “Burning the candle at both ends” is not realistic as an adult with adult responsibilities (I’ve always noticed the “self starters” and “go-getters” who make claims of being able to do so always have a spouse of some significant other who is playing support role from behind the scenes (or they have money to pay others to do this for them)). Health (and that includes chronic stress reduction) must come first. I mean, the whole purpose of figuring out simple-to-make meals that are my-diet friendly is so I can eat healthy in an over-capacity work life.
- Last week of the month should be dedicated to kitchen cleanup (using up the last of certain ingredients and leftovers) and getting ready for the following month’s food type, especially if I want to get in to some more challenging cuisines that I know far less about, such as Middle Eastern or Russian or Latino options.
So onwards to March, where I’ll be focusing on Italian food. New start-of-the-month post coming soon.