When former East Londoner Sheetal Makhan moved to South Korea three years ago to teach English at an elementary school on the outskirts of Seoul, she realised being a vegetarian could prove tricky – especially as many Koreans don’t really consider ham to be meat! But she soon embraced Korean cuisine and discovered plenty of healthy vegetarian options in the process – one of which she is sharing on The Global Table today in the form of bi-bim-bap, or “mixed rice”. Our other guest joining our World Cup Cook-off today is proud Greek South African George Charalambous, of Essexvale in the Bay, who will be making a favourite Mediterranean dish in the form of stewed calamari cooked with tomatoes and herbs. Don’t miss George’s recipe further down on the blog – but first, back to Sheetal!
“When I moved to South Korea I had no idea what to expect as far as the local cuisine goes,” she says. “Food and the eating culture would play a very big role in my adjustment to a new country I would call home for the next few years. I wouldn’t call myself a strict vegetarian, because I eat some fish. I do, however, abstain from eating red meat and chicken.”
In Korea any cause for celebration or a meeting is often done over a meal, and Sheetal had to make it clear to her co-workers at the school that she ate no meat of any kind – and that their suggestion of simply picking the meaty bits out of a dish would simply not do! In Korea, school lunches are also provided for the teachers. This always includes rice, a soup, kimchi and two or three side dishes. Kimchi is fermented vegetables spiced with red chilli powder, garlic and ginger, and it is eaten with every meal of the day.
“The first few weeks were very challenging and I found myself stopping at the bakery every other day to find something that tastes even remotely to what I’m used to back home,” she recalls. “I figured if I was going to survive (literally!) in Korea, I had to give the local cuisine a try. At first, I was a bit hesitant seeing some dishes being served at the table resembling its live carcass, so I stuck to noodles and anything that was a plant or vegetable.
“Within a couple of months, I already had my favourite dishes and now if given the option to choose between going to a Korean restaurant or having dinner at Pizza Hut, I’d choose Korean food hands down.”
Sheetal adds Koreans are “pretty health conscious” and avoid eating desserts after meals. To sweeten the palate, fruit is often served after a meal. Korean food is also made with very little oil and contains plenty of fresh ingredients; Sheetal says many believe this is why Koreans often look 10 years younger than they really are!
Korean Bi-bim-bap – The Recipe
Bi-bim-bap, which literally means “mixed rice”, is basically rice topped with namul (seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chilli pepper paste). Other additions include a fried egg and (for non-vegetarians) some ground beef.
Ingredients for Korean dishes are quite unique but would probably be located at international food markets or grocery stores. Most of the ingredients for this dish (except for kosari!) are easy to find. Kosari, incidentally, is the Korean name for what is also known as fernbrake, which tastes a little bit like asparagus. Sheetal says when it is collected during spring from the mountains, it is green. Before it is picked, it is coarse and triangular shaped. For convenience people use dried kosari, which needs to be boiled and soaked first so that it’s easier to cook. However you can make the bi-bim-bap without it.
About 1 cup of rice; bean sprouts; About a 1/4 cup of spinach; 2 small zucchinis; 5 shiitake mushrooms; a few pieces of kosari (fernbrake); 1 small carrot; 1 egg; soy sauce; hot pepper paste; garlic ; sesame seeds; sesame oil
Optional: Ground beef (chicken/seafood can be used as a substitute) ; lettuce
You will also need a platter to arrange the vegetables on after preparing them individually.
Cook the rice in a rice cooker or a pot according to the package instructions.
Rinse the bean sprouts and put them in a pot with a cup of water. Add 1 tsp of salt and cook for 20 minutes. Drain water and mix it with 1 clove of crushed garlic, sesame oil and salt. Arrange on the platter.
Place spinach in a pot of boiling water and stir it for a minute. Rinse it in cold water a few times and squeeze it lightly. Mix it with a pinch of salt, 1tsp of soya sauce, crushed garlic and sesame oil. Arrange on the platter.
Cut 2 small zucchinis into thin strips. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and mix it together. Sauté in a pan over high heat. Arrange on the platter.
Kosari or fernbrake can be bought soaked and cooked at Korean grocery stores. Cut it into pieces of 5-7 cm long. Sauté in a heated pan with 1 tsp of vegetable oil. Stir and add 1 tbs of soy sauce, ½ tbs of sugar and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add a dash of sesame oil. Arrange on the platter.
Slice the shiitake mushrooms thinly and sauté with 1 tsp of vegetable oil. Add 2 ts of soy sauce and sugar and stir for 2 minutes. Add sesame oil. Arrange on the platter.
Cut a carrot into thin strips. Sauté for 30 seconds. Arrange on the platter.
Fry an egg sunny side up.
Optional: Prepare ground beef with garlic, soy sauce, black pepper, sesame oil and a little sugar.
Put the rice in a big bowl and arrange all the vegetables on top. Place the fried egg at the centre. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve with hot pepper paste.
Mix it up and enjoy!
World Cup Cook-off: Greece
George Charalambous was born in South Africa but like many South Africans of Greek descent, has attached great importance to retaining the cultural traditions of his family’s original country. He is especially excited about Greece playing a match in his home city of Port Elizabeth, and wouldn’t miss the game for anything!
“What is it about being Greek that makes one feel special?” he muses. “For the people who brought the world democracy, medicine and many other things, it remains a celebration of life that combines and infuses family, tradition, good wine, good music, good food and great hospitality!”
Stewed calamari with tomatoes and herbs – The recipe
2kg calamari tubes or steak cut into large, chunky pieces about 1cm wide; 800g cleaned pickling onions; 5 large cloves of garlic, crushed or sliced; 50ml olive oil; 300ml red wine; 50ml red wine vinegar; 600ml water; 1 can (400g) tomato puree; 2 tbsp tomato paste; 2 tsp sugar; 3 bay leaves; 2 tsp dried origanum; salt and pepper to taste; 4 tbsp chopped parsley
Pour olive oil into a large saucepan and heat, and then add the garlic and calamari. Fry, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid released by the calamari has evaporated. Tip: the bottom of the saucepan should be just covered with liquid of about half a centimetre.
Add the wine, wine vinegar, water, tomato puree, tomato paste, bay leaves, sugar and pickling onions and cook until the calamari is tender, stirring occasionally.
When the calamari and onions are tender, remove the bay leaves and add the dried origanum; stir and cook for a further two minutes to infuse the flavour of the origanum. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Put into a serving dish and sprinkle with chopped parsley; serve with a white fluffy rice.