Crave Lexington, the second annual food and music festival produced by Smiley Pete Publishing, has teamed up with local media group Beard House Media and Lexington amateur chef Dan Wu (competitor in the current season of the Fox reality cooking show “MasterChef”) to produce a series of instructional culinary videos called “Crave Kitchen Shorts.” This is the first in a four-part series of accompanying articles Wu will contribute to this publication in the months leading up to Crave Lexington. Click here to read more about Wu’s journey to “MasterChef”!
ASIAN COOKING 101
A lesson in preparing a traditional Korean meal, from market to plate
As an immigrant kid growing up in America –– first in Fargo, North Dakota, then Lexington –– I hardly ever went out to eat with my family. Instead, I grew up eating my mom’s home-cooked Chinese food (and the occasional treat of a KFC bucket). It wasn’t until I entered college at the University of Kentucky that I began spending my own money and discovering the world of ethnic cuisine. Despite its humble trappings and sometimes frustrating cultural inertia, Lexington in the mid ’90s paved the first stones in my journey as a culinary explorer; I had my first taste of unagi at Seki, pad see ew at Bangkok House and bulgogi at the long-defunct Seoul BBQ. Korean food in particular made a lasting impression on me: the smokiness of the beef short ribs grilling at the table, the funky-spicy unctuousness of kimchi and the savory-sweet balance of japchae.
As a young adult living first in San Francisco, then in Brooklyn, I was lucky (and hungry) enough to have tried some killer Korean cuisine. Coming back to Lexington eight years ago, after nearly a decade away, I was pleasantly surprised at the cultural and culinary growth of my hometown –– a growth that has especially continued to blossom over the past few years. The venerable Korean restaurants Arirang Garden and Koreana now have some competition in the slightly-more-fast-food campus joint Han Woo Ri, as well as Seki K, a worthy full-service Korean alternative opened by the new owners of the South Broadway sushi restaurant of the same name. Tucked in the back of Dong Yang Market on Clays Mill, Seki K offers lunch on the cheap, with an array of superb small dishes (referred to in Korean cuisine as banchan) highlighting every meal.
Although I love to cook all manner of cuisine, from French to Italian to Southern barbecue, Asian cuisine is a big part of my repertoire, and I shop for most of my Asian groceries at Dong Yang. From fresh shiitake mushrooms and shishito peppers to bonito flakes and frozen dumplings, the small but well-organized grocery is a one-stop shop for all things Eastern. Recently, the store inspired me to take a crack at re-creating one of my favorite Korean dishes: japchae.
A 400-year-old dish that originated in the royal court of Korea, japchae (pronounced chop-chay) began as a stir-fry of just vegetables, with the addition of noodles being a relatively recent change. Though it may sound strange, the noodles are made from sweet potato starch; they are very smooth and slippery when cooked. A miscellany of onions, spinach, carrots, shiitakes and beef often balance out the meal; my version replaces beef with pork (because I heart pork quite a bit) and adds toothsome white beech mushrooms. This version also includes bracken fern fiddleheads, which are available in some specialty markets but are little used –– likely because much debate has surrounded their edibility (note that these plants should always be cooked, as heat destroys certain carcinogens present in the ferns).