Monday, 31 January 2011

Gamjatang (Korean Pork Bone Soup)

I thought it was almost spring season (well, at least according to the high street shops), but no, winter refuses to budge and it got really cold in London last weekend. What better than a spicy warming bowl of slow-cooked broth to remind me of home? Gamjatang is a Korean spicy pork bone soup with fermented soybean paste, hot pepper flakes and lots of vegetables-- a one-pot meal, though Koreans will still have it with rice.

I adapted the recipe from Maangchi (the cutest cook on Youtube), because I'm guilty of seeking shortcuts (like not removing the chilli pepper and soaking the bones), and because I didn't have some of the ingredients. If you have, please use! Everyone on Maangchi's forums seem to love the flavour that perilla leaves added (like Japanese shiso but "better"), and perilla seeds (I used some sesame seeds because I just thought it would be nice, but it's not a replacement). I don't know if I'm missing out a lot, but even without those ingredients, the soup was so good and it made me feel warm and happy.

Gamjatang (Korean Pork Bone Soup)
serves 2-3
For soup base
1kg of pork (spine) bones
1 large onion, sliced
1" ginger, sliced into pieces
2 tbs soybean paste doenjang (like miso, but a stronger flavour)
1 dried red chilli, seeds removed
3 dried shitake mushrooms
10 cups water
a bit more than 2l of water

For sauce
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp of hot pepper flakes
1 tbsp Korean red chilli pepper powder (to replace the hot pepper paste)
3 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (shaoxing/huadiao)
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp of white sesame paste (to "replace" the 3tbsp of perilla seeds powder)

3 stalks of spring onions
1/4 Napa cabbage, chopped into bite-sized pieces.
1 big handful of beansprouts
3 small potatoes, peeled and halved

To serve
chopped spring onions
white pepper
(pretty black earthenware bowl if you have, which I don't)

1. Blanch the pork bones in boiling water for 10 min, with half the ginger added. Drain and rinse the scum off.
2. Bring the pork bones and all the ingredients for the soup base to the boil in a large pot filled with about 2l water, then let it continue to simmer for 1.5h over medium high heat.
3. Add the sauce and vegetables to the pot and continue to cook for half an hour more.
4. Serve piping hot (á la soup slurping scenes in Korean dramas) with chopped spring onions and a dash of white pepper.

I love soups, and this one's just rich with flavour (and nutrients). As with all good bone broths, it gels the next day when cooled:

This is fun, I think I should start doing this "gelatin" test for all the bone broths I cook.

Sunday, 23 January 2011


I still don't want to splash out on a food processor, but...

The Philips hr1363 hand blender with beaker and chopper accessory!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Why we need to learn to eat the "icky" meat

While we're talking about superfoods like kale, I'll take the chance to introduce a superfood that's less widely known/accepted by many people-- organ meats, or offal!

Vegetables and fruits are full of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, but their micronutrient content pales in comparison to organ meats. Generally, organ meats have 10-100 times more nutrients than muscle meats, and you'll see that traditionally, organ meats were consumed and prized. In TCM for instance, there's a belief that eating the liver is beneficial for your liver, the kidney for your kidney etc. I used to think it's bollocks, but now western medicine is catching up (yes, heh) and scientific research backs up that belief-- the animal's body tends to direct the right nutrients to each organ, so, for e.g. lamb's livers will contain many of the essential nutrients for your liver. 1 serving of liver has well over 100% of the RDA of vitamins B12, A, B2, copper, folate and (easily absorbable) iron.

It's kinder to the earth too, because if you kill an animal, you should make sure you appreciate the sacrifice the animal's made, and make use of the whole animal, not just the nicer/prettier parts.

Note: It's very important to get organ meats from animals that have been pasture-raised and fed naturally, especially because animals tend to store toxins in their fat and liver. Although, frankly, whatever meat you get should ideally be from animals that are raised properly. It really doesn't cost you more (believe me, I'm a stingy student surviving on a budget), as long as you you avoid the usual popular cuts and go for unpopular (but a lot more exciting and flavoursome) cuts or... offal!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Baked Purple Kale Chips

Crispy, smoky, lightly salted, with the flavour of extra virgin olive oil-- you wouldn't believe these chips are guilt-free. If you have children this is a good way to get them to swap those Pringles for some antioxidant-filled kale! I have purple curly kale from the farmers' market, but you can definitely just use normal kale.

Baked Kale Chips
1 large bunch of curly kale, stems removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
generous pinch of sea salt (or to taste)
glug of extra virgin olive oil

1. Wash and DRY the kale pieces.
2. Toss with the sea salt, and evoo, and spread on a baking tray in an even layer (try not to overlap!)
3. Bake at 160 degrees celsius, for 10-15 min, till they become crispy, with slightly browned edges.

You can experiment with different flavours. Try throwing in a sprig of rosemary, or some ground spices. I only thought of this after baking, but decided to toss them with some toasted garlic and chilli flakes anyway.

That's it! So easy, the only difficult part is stopping yourself from finishing all the chips ;)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Chinese Black Bean Soup

More pregnancy/confinement food haha. Beans this time(: They're just fantastic in soups and stews because they help thicken the soup up, and they add body and fullness. Chinese soups are not just about taste, they're more like tasty tonics.

For instance, in this soup, the black bean (a.k.a. black turtle bean. how cute is that! NOT black-eyed peas.) is known to be a rich source of protein, fibre and antioxidants, and in TCM terms, it tonifies the kidney, strengthens the yin, and nourishes the blood. The red jujube dates are very common in Chinese soups, they not only sweeten the soup (not in the sugary way), but helps to harmonize the effect of all the other ingredients or herbs in the soup to nourish the blood, spleen and stomach. And since this soup (like many Chinese soups) make use of pork bones to give it that body and flavour, is an excellent bone broth, full of calcium and more.

Chinese Black Bean Soup
serves 2-3
200g pork with bones (my mum prefers pork ribs. I just use any meaty bones that my butcher gives for free)
2/3 cup black beans, soaked and rinsed
6 red jujube dates, pitted
3-4 dried scallops
2l water

1. Blanch pork bones in boiling water (you'll see some disgusting scum floating in the water). Drain and discard the water.
2. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil for 5 min, then simmer for at least 2h. Or transfer to a slowcooker like I did, on low for 6h, or on high for 3h.

UPDATE: I left it on high for 6h by accident, and ended up getting a super flavourful and thick soup, and the..white bones? tendon? (someone enlighten me what this part is) became soft enough you could slurp it out. Usually my slow cooking already results in them being soft enough to chew on, but this was like..
I like (:

Monday, 10 January 2011

Stewed Pork Trotters in Sweet Vinegar (猪脚醋)

I was just speaking of TCM in my previous post, and pork trotters in the post before that, so, voila! I thought of this Chinese pork trotter stew. It's favoured by all Chinese mothers during the confinement period because it's incredibly nourishing, and soooo yummy. I love this so much I once famously said "I don't mind being pregnant just to eat all these (confinement) food." Hey, but, it's really a great stew for the winter, not just post-pregnancy. And there are hardly any ingredients, and even fewer steps.

Stewed Pork Trotters in Sweet Black Vinegar (猪脚醋)
2 pork trotters (ask the butcher to chop them up)
1 large (about 500g) ginger (old ginger preferably), smashed
5 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 bottle Chinese black vinegar (yes the entire bottle, or at least 3/4 the whole bottle)
3/4 cup brown sugar (I use unrefined cane sugar. Oh, use less if you use a sweetened black vinegar)
some water
a few hard boiled eggs

1. Boil the pork trotters vigorously for 15 min, and discard the water with all the scum. Rinse.
2. Fry the pork trotters with the ginger and sesame oil till fragrant.
3. Add the black vinegar, brown sugar, and enough water to cover the pork trotters.
4. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 2 hours. (Or you can transfer to a slow cooker like I do, and then simmer on low for 4 hours. The best pot to use is the type that my mum uses-- big black clay pots, over a charcoal fire.)
5. Add the hard boiled eggs to the stew after the trotters are done.

You can eat immediately if you can't wait. But the stew is actually much better the next day. And much much better the day after. And the day after. The most amazing thing about this stew is that you don't have to refrigerate it, the ingredients used act as a form of preservative, I guess it works somewhat like a pickle? (and we know how healthy preserved/fermented foods are for our gut) Just bring it to the boil before eating. In fact, Chinese families will make a huge pot and eat throughout the week.

Here are the healing properties of the components according to TCM:
Black vinegar purifies blood and cleanses the arteries.
Old ginger gets rid of wind in the body, which invades the body especially after pregnancy.
Brown sugar gets rid of dampness in the body.
Sesame oil promotes blood circulation.
Pork trotters have plenty of collagen to strengthen the joints and ligaments, and the bones in them also provide calcium.
Eggs are seen as a complete source of nourishment.

The trotters are so melting soft, and the gravy/broth is sweet sour and savoury all at once, and thick and gelatinous. It makes you lick your sticky lips with satisfaction after that, and your tummy will feel nice and warm and happy. Proof of a powerful broth: look at how it gels after it has cooled!

This is an entry for Muhibbah Monday, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate hosted by more than burnt toast, because it simply is!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Working at a farmer's market!

I've been looking for a part-time job for the longest time, and I've mainly applied as a waiting staff at all the famous restaurants, so that I can learn more about good food, and of course, there's always staff perks ;) I haven't been very successful though, it just isn't that easy to find a job in London. Then recently I got a reply from London Farmers' Market, about a job as market manager! Oh it's the best job ever, I never even thought I would get this job out of all the jobs I applied for.

I firmly believe the secret behind great food lies in the care and ingredients that go into the food. I love spending that extra time and effort on real food, I love picking out fresh, local produce and daydreaming about the food I'll make with them. Now I get to take it one step further and get to know the farmers and producers even better. I had a lovely chat with the milk lady who told me how cute buffalos actually are, and the apple guy about how lousy my shoes are, and the pork man about cheap trotters. Makes waking up at 5am on a cold blustery rainy Saturday worth it (:

Also makes me more determined to get my shopping done at the Farmers' Market instead. It's so much better knowing where your food comes from. Would you rather go for conventional, local, seasonal produce from a producer you know, or organic, imported producer you hear about on the label? I used to fall in the latter group. I think I'm a convert. No more oven-dried cherry tomatoes in winter.. but it doesn't mean I can't enjoy them still, it's just that I'm going to put more emphasis on what nature has offered us this season.

Anyway, it's not only about eating real foods, but food that's right for you as an individual, and that changes according to the season too. (I've been reading up a bit about Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's worth looking into for anyone interested in how our food relates to our body, because TCM believes in nutrition as the first line of rescue/defence, not medicine. How true is that!) So, while we're still in the midst of winter, I'm going to prepare more warming stews and leave the cold salads for summer!