One of my favorite Indian food blogs The ABCD’s of Cooking recently asked me to contribute to their fascinating blog series entitled “The Spice Route.” The series allows various food bloggers to showcase a different spice each week, including a recipe that embodies their spice. I chose gochugaru, Korean chili powder with a recipe for bok choy kimchi.
-Mia a.k.a Dubu Darling
The Spice Route: Mia Kim on Gochugaru
Name: Mia Kim
Where do you live? Downtown Los Angeles, CA
What do you love to do? Traveling, taking pictures, cooking, eating and spending time with the Husband, friends and family. I also enjoy chronicling my adventures on my site DubuDiaries.
What’s your spice? Gochugaru (Korean Chili Powder)
What do you know about it? Gochugaru is a very common ingredient in many Korean dishes. It can come finely ground, in flakes or in a paste (gochujang). Gochu literally means “chili” and garu means “powder.” Gochugaru differs from hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper in that it has a slightly sweet and smoky flavor (one can describe it as a very distant and much spicier cousin to paprika perhaps).
The quality of gochugaru depends on how well the chili peppers were dried in the sun or with heat (sun is said to be better because it generates more spice and keeps the color a vibrant red). Gochugaru can be spicy so one should not be heavy-handed when using it in recipes.
This spice can be found in Korean or Asian markets and should be stored airtight in the refrigerator or freezer so as not to lose flavor.
What do you like about it? First, I really like the way gochugaru looks. What a wonderful, vibrant shade of red. It’s very visually striking to me, like turmeric. I wish turmeric and gochugaru could get together and have beautiful little spice babies together. I also like the unique flavor it lends – it’s different than any other chili I’ve had. The spice is not immediate, in the same way that kimchi is not spicy in a fiery way. It’s more like an afterthought. The spice doesn’t sit on your tongue like western chilis, rather it subtly adds heat and flavor at the back of your throat. To me, it’s the anti-jalapeno because the heat comes later.
What else? I read somewhere that until the 16th century, Korean food didn’t contain any chili at all. Now Korea has the most per capita consumption of chili in the world.
What’s your favorite vegetarian recipe using it? Bok Choy Kimchi. It’s refreshing, healthy, crunchier than regular kimchi, very quick and easy to make and can be eaten immediately (no fermentation period). I add fish sauce for some extra depth, but you can still definitely make it without the fish sauce for a delicious vegetarian option.
Bok Choy Kimchi
4-5 bok choy, leaves rinsed and separated
1-2 cucumbers, sliced (preferably Persian)
3-4 Korean fresh perilla leaves, sliced (optional)
1/4 cup Korean chives, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 tablespoon sesame oil
3/4 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
3/4 teaspoon ginger, grated or finely minced
3/4 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon gochugaru
1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds
juice of 1 large lemon
Separate and rinse bok choy leaves. Slice lengthwise and across into bite-sized pieces.Slice cucumber(s). I prefer Persian cucumbers for their crunch, and usually slice them about a 1/2 inch thick at a diagonal. If using perilla leaves, cut into small strips, about an inch or so wide, snipping off the stems. If using Korean chives (can be found at Asian markets and differ dramatically from Western chives; similar to Chinese chives), cut off ends and cut into 2 inch or so pieces. Place all greens in a large bowl that allows adequate space to toss and dress the kimchi. Finely mince garlic and grate ginger. Add both to greens mixture.
Add soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice, honey, sesame seeds and gochugaru. Add fish sauce, if desired. Gently toss, ensuring that all greens are covered evenly. You can garnish with additional sesame seeds and strips of perilla leaves.
These measurements are not hard and fast at all. You can play around adding more or less of any of the above ingredients, depending on your taste buds. You can also add more gochugaru to make it spicier. I would just continually taste to see that any one flavor is not overwhelming, or that the ratio of liquid to greens does not outweigh it (making it too salty). I usually add one round of all the ingredients, and if I don’t find it flavorful enough, repeat with another round of all the ingredients (excluding the greens).
I generally don’t add salt since the soy sauce, lemon juice and fish sauce add enough of a salty flavor. However, one can carefully salt to taste especially if omitting the fish sauce. I would let the kimchi sit for a few minutes before adding more salt however because I find that the dressing gets a little saltier once it sits.
Optional additions to this dish include sliced scallions and/or finely sliced white onion. An alternative dish would be to substitute about 5 Persian cucumbers for the bok choy for a quick and easy version of cucumber kimchi.
Can be served immediately. This recipe serves about 2.