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If Irish dancers bet on dance-offs with strangers, like pool players do in neighborhood taverns, Mollie McCabe would make one heck of a hustler.

She might have grown up in South Buffalo, working on her jig steps. But when you meet her, it’s no surprise that McCabe, the October Cook of the Month, was born in South Korea.

After four boys, her mother wanted a girl, and her parents adopted her when she was 3 months old. Her first memories of cooking were helping her mother make dinner, when McCabe was around 4 years old. “Peeling potatoes was my job,” she said.

Her father had two jobs: teacher and garbageman.

“So he had a few hours between teaching and garbage duty to eat dinner,” McCabe said. “My mother’s goal was to make sure, when she got home from work, that dinner was on the table for the seven of us.” McCabe got into shaking the Shake ’N Bake bag too.

“Being an adopted person, I grew up making Irish food and Irish things, American food. Meat, vegetable and a potato,” she said. “When I went to college, I discovered that there’s this whole other culture that is part of me that I had never paid attention to.”

After she graduated from Nardin Academy and went to the University at Buffalo, she threw herself into learning about Korean culture and Korean cooking.

“I went waist-deep into Korean culture, or headfirst,” she said. “For a long time, I would go days without speaking English, only Korean. I went years eating only Korean food. It was a whole identity thing.”

Surrounded by Korean friends at UB, she started making Korean college food, like rice cakes. Those are chewy pastalike tubes that are stir-fried and flavored with a mixture of ketchup and kochujang, or Korean chile paste.

In 2009, she returned to South Korea for the first time. As soon as she got off the airplane, she headed to a 24-hour Korean restaurant for blood sausage soup, just one of the Korean specialties she’s come to love.

Like any good Korean cook, she’s got two jars of kimchi, the classic fermented Korean pickle, in her refrigerator. One is a Napa cabbage based-mixture with chile that’s a few weeks old. The other one has been fermenting much longer and is used as a flavoring in soups and chiggae, Korean stews.

After she graduated from UB Law School and passed the bar, McCabe found more of a balance between her Korean and American sides, she said.

“After I started working, into the real world, I kind of stepped back and found a way to be part Korean and part American, which is what I am,” she said. “It took a long time for me to grow up, become an adult and be able to control both sides.”

She’s been a competitive-level Irish dancer. She also plays the Korean drum in a Korean folk music ensemble.

These days, she cooks Korean about half the time, she said.

“It took a while to get here. But I definitely got a flavor for what’s encompassed in Korean food, then it had to come back to ‘OK, I’m American.’ ” she said. “I know how to make certain things, and know something about Korean culture. I had to understand it to mix in with my life.”

If not for her desire not to over-kimchi her boyfriend, Erik Dygulski, she might do more Korean. He’s an executive chef for SUNY Buffalo State’s food service program, and he likes to cook, too.

One of the dishes McCabe wanted to share is actually Polish-Korean fusion, inspired by Dygulski’s Polish heritage and resultant experience with potato pancakes. It’s an Asian-flavored coleslaw atop beef short ribs braised in apples, garlic and ginger, upon a foundation of potato pancakes.

It’s delicious, and when McCabe and Dygulski put it on their dining room table, perhaps Polish-Korean isn’t the right label. Maybe it should just be called American.

Braised Short Ribs with Green Onion Potato Pancakes

2 pounds boneless beef

short ribs, sliced

1 large onion

3 large apples, peeled and cored

(I like fuji or gala, but that’s just

a preference)

7 garlic cloves (just depends on

how much you like garlic)

2 tablespoons ginger, peeled

and chopped

3 tablespoons Korean soy sauce

such as Chosun (plus more

to taste)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 cup apple juice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Salt and pepper

Potato pancakes and slaw, below

Puree onion, apples, garlic, ginger and brown sugar in a food processor.

Boil beef in water 3-5 minutes. Rinse in cold water.

Put the ribs in the bottom of a pot. Add the pureed mixture, soy sauce, pepper and half cup of water, half cup of apple juice. Cover and cook on medium-medium high heat for about 30 minutes.

Uncover, stir and simmer until the sauce reduces to desired thickness. Add apple juice as needed.

Drizzle sesame oil over the top and give it one more stir.

Place two pancakes on plate. Top with beef, then slaw. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Green Onion Potato Pancakes

2 potatoes, shredded

4 eggs

½ cup flour

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bunch scallions, finely chopped

Wring out the shredded potatoes so they’re as dry as possible; add eggs, flour, garlic and scallions.

Preheat a skillet with oil.

Add a 2-3 ounce portion to the skillet and flatten it into a pancake.

Once one side is golden brown, flip it over.

When both sides are golden brown, take it out of the pan and put it on a cookie sheet in the oven to keep it warm.

Carrot and cabbage slaw

¼ head cabbage, finely shredded

2 carrots, finely shredded

½ teaspoon sesame oil

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ginger, minced

Salt and pepper

Mix ingredients together.

Royal stir-fried rice cakes (goongjoong ddukbokki)

1 pound rice cakes

8 ounces strip steak, sliced

½ teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

4 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Salt and pepper

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1 carrot sliced lengthwise

(2 inch pieces)

1 green bell pepper, sliced

(2 inch pieces)

1 red bell pepper, sliced

(2 inch pieces)

1 onion, sliced (2 inch pieces)

Beef marinade, below

Mix beef with marinade and chill for at least 1 hour. Soak the rice cakes in water for about 5 minutes. Heat a skillet, add oil and brown the garlic, about 1 minute. Add the beef and vegetables, cook for about 1 minute.

Add the rice cakes, soy sauce, honey, pepper and half a cup of water. Simmer until the rice cakes are chewy and the sauce is thicker, about 10 minutes. Drizzle sesame oil over the top and give it a stir. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and serve.

(Find Korean rice cakes in Asian markets such as Hana Mart, 744 Millerport Highway, and Sung’s, 850 Niagara Falls Blvd., both in Amherst.)

Beef marinade

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

½ teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon sesame oil

Salt and pepper

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com