Korean cuisine, already celebrated in L.A., has all the signs of becoming the next great crossover ingredient in the American melting pot.
For Korean flavors to arrive at more American dinner tables, home cooks need to adopt more Korean dishes into their personal repertoires, and feel comfortable borrowing elements from those recipes in their own cooking. "Seoultown Kitchen" can give rookies at cooking Korean all the information, backstory and recipes they need to succeed.
Debbie Lee, a Los Angeles food truck owner turned restaurateur, has written an accessible, enthusiastic Korean cookbook that could add useful recipes to practically every cook's weekly menus. Lee delivered Korean to the L.A. masses with her Anh-Joo food truck, as well as competing on television's "The Next Food Network Star" and "Chopped All-Stars."
Among "foreign" cuisines, Korean cooking isn't the most intricate, though many American cooks will have to acquaint themselves with some new staples. You might know about kimchi, the fermented vegetable pickle, but you also need to meet gochujang (red chile bean paste), gochugaru (chile pepper flakes, in coarse and fine varieties) and doenjang (Korean miso paste).
Korean food is celebrated for its tabletop barbecue, but seafood, tofu and vegetables are featured even more in everyday Korean meals, writes Lee. In Korean cuisine, "Pan-Fried Tofu Steaks" isn't some hippie spa concoction to nibble before your aromatherapy seminar, but bar food for working men to devour between shots of booze.
Lee devotes an entire chapter to tofu, from grilled tofu skewers to tofu stew, while resisting the temptation to offer barbecue (unless you count the Bite-Sized Bulgogi Burgers that flavor sliders with Korean barbecue flavor).
There are treatments of many other staples of Korean cuisine, however. Fresh Korean pickles and fermented kimchi each get their own chapters. Hot and cold noodle dishes, including buckwheat naeng myun, soba and udon, get their close-up. How many other cookbooks have a pork belly dish chapter?
Lee's chapter on rice dishes introduces more ingredients, including tteok -- rice cakes that are thick, pastalike tubes of rice flour. Those go into Spicy Stir-Fried Rice Cakes, one of Korea's most familiar street eats. Other recipes she shares include Kimchi Fried Rice, topped with an optional fried egg, and Korean-Style Sushi (bigger rolls, stuffed with ground beef).
Seafood selections include more bar favorites like Spicy Stir-Fried Squid (ojinguh bokkum), and dishes with pub roots that could still serve as fine dinner centerpieces, like Roasted Black Cod with Pimento-Chile Sauce.
Her chicken dishes include a breading-free yet crunchy Korean Fried Chicken, Chile Chicken Wings and Chicken Curry Turnovers, while vegetable renditions include fried eggplant, squash stew and grilled pumpkin.
Her ingredient prep section, with notes on making rice, roasting sesame seeds and draining tofu, rounds out "Seoultown Kitchen" as a fine volume for adventurous cooks who are launching their first forays into Korean cuisine.
ON THE WEB: Check out Lee's recipe for Korean Fried Chicken at blogs.buffalonews.com/hungryformore
By Debbie Lee
159 pages, $24.95