Spicy Korean-Style Scrambled Tofu

This is a recipe I came up with about ten years ago. It’s quite simple and it uses the typical spice profile of Korean food. It’s pretty healthy and provides lots of protein and magnesium — and, yes, salt. But who doesn’t love salt? (My cardiologist.) Adjust amount of ingredients as you wish.

This is a pretty spicy dish. Use less pepper flakes if you can’t take the heat.

Prep Time: 5 min
Cooking Time: 10 min
Feeds: 2 people

Ingredients:

  1. 1 12-16 oz block of firm, raw tofu in water
  2. 1 Tbl. Korean red pepper flakes
  3. 1 Tbl. Freshly minced garlic
  4. 1 tsp. powdered ginger
  5. 2-3 Tbl. Soy Sauce or Tamari
  6. 1 Tbl. Roasted Sesame oil
  7. 3 Tbl. rice wine
  8. 1 Tbl. Roasted sesame seeds
  9. 3 Finely chopped green onion

Check out my video below to see how it’s made. An added bonus: you get beautiful music composed and recorded by yours truly.

How to:
First drain the tofu and squeeze the excess water out by wrapping it in paper towels or a kitchen towel. I’d probably go with a clean towel, but hey, who am I to judge?

Drained and squeezed, mostly dry tofu

Next, chop the green onion. This will go in while cooking, while retaining some to use as a garnish. Skip this if you abhor green onion.

Now for the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, and cooking wine, and stir it up. Add about a tablespoon of water with it.

Get a skillet 10 or 12 inch will be fine. Put one or two tablespoons of your favorite cooking oil. Or, if you’re ol’ skool, plop a heaping of lard in there! Yum.

Set the heat to medium high.

Next: after the tofu is dried well, put in both hands and squish it like a rotten zombie’s head. Let it go through your hands into the warm oil. Take a spatula and break up the large pieces. Now, just let it fry for a good 5 – 10 minutes. Basically, you want most of the water cooked off and you want a little browning. When it’s almost ready, toss in most of the chopped green onion.

When the tofu is looking good, lather the sauce over it like Captain Pickard’s shiny dome. Mix it all up well. Keep moving it for the next two minutes. By now, it should be smelling delicious, and — it’s done.

Garnish with green onion and sesame seeds. Serve over rice.

For a bonus eat with roasted laver (Gim in Korean.)

Glimpses of Street Food in S. Korea

Food carts litter most cities and towns. They’re often found around large bus stations 버스 정류장, train stations, and along tourist corridors.

Here’s a great video covering street food in one of Seoul’s most touristy and popular districts: Myeongdong

You’ll definitely have to try it for yourself, if you ever visit.

To be honest, most of it is unhealthy. Shocker, right? Street cuisine is generally unhealthy, but that’s not why people eat it; they consume it because they’re in a hurry and hungry. Or curious. Or they legitimately like it.

There is such a wide variety in the ROK, that one post could never cover them all. Recent western style additions make it even more difficult: Buttery, cheesy, egg filled sandwiches with mayonnaise called “Egg Toast” or something similar.

Personally, I generally avoided the traditional kinds, because they were often cooked with some kind of shellfish. Ddeokbokgi 떡볶이 is a good example and may take the trophy for the most beloved of street food.

SONY DSC

It’s rice cake with gochujang, hot pepper flakes, some kind of broth, fishcake, and various vegetables. See my post on the spice profile of Korean food to get an idea.

Look for my recipe soon on vegan Ddeokbokgi. I use kelp water as a base, instead of shellfish, and I add a veggie protein. It’s actually delicious!

If there is street food that you tried and loved or hated, let me know in the comments! Happy eating! 많이 드세요!

My Korean Ramen Recipe

Ramen (Lamyeon in Korean) is a everyday staple food. Everyone from monks to businessmen to kids eat it almost daily. There are hundreds of varieties in Korea to choose from, but the most popular is Shin Lamyeon.

The good news for us, at least in the US, is that you can find it in most grocery stores. In fact, if they have any Korean Ramen, Shin is surely to be there.

So…the bad news: Ramen has actually no nutritional value at all. It’s basically deep-fried wheat noodles and a chemical, powder stock with a few dried veggies for good measure. Nowadays “air dried” noodles are all the rage, so you lose all that fat/calories, but they are twice the price.

Now, I don’t like to eat complete shit. So, over the years of eating hundreds of packages of it, I’ve come up with my own recipe. This is not a novel idea. I’d say most Koreans probably do something with the Ramen, like add an egg or cheese or some green onion. But I do a little more.

I add a protein and some more veggies, so at least I’m getting something. Also, there are almost infinite ways to make Ramen more nutritious, and I often use different ingredients. So, don’t be afraid to experiment, and let me know of your successful experiments in the comments section.

Anyways here’s the recipe:

Prep Time: 5 min
Cooking Time: 5 min
Feeds: 1 per package

All of the ingredients except for the spinach and cheese.

Ingredients:

  1. Package of Shin Ramen or whatever kind you choose
  2. 1 or 2 eggs
  3. 1/4 of an onion, thinly sliced
  4. 1 handful or fresh spinach or kale
  5. 3 or 4 white or baby Portabello mushrooms

Optional garnish:

  1. Shredded cheddar cheese
  2. sliced green onion

How to:

First, cut your onions and mushrooms. Bring 500 ml of water to a boil in small/medium pot. When it boils, add all of the ingredients, except for the spinach. Add this right up to when the soup is about done so that you retain some of the character of the spinach. Otherwise it just turns to mush. Blech.

Stir the soup almost the whole time, being sure to swirl the eggs around. I use cooking chopsticks, which are extra long. Check the noodles to see when they’re al-dente. They will continue to cook for 1 or 2 minutes after you bowl the soup.

Dump the soup into a large soupbowl. Add the garnishes. Voila! You’re done. Enjoy!

Half-Assed Veggie Chili

Prep Time: 5 min
Cooking Time: 10 min

Serves: 2 normal people (I ate the whole thing)

Ingredients:
1. 1 can of whatever beans you got
2. 1 or 2 cups of cooked brown or white rice
3. 1 can of diced tomatoes
4. 1 half medium onion, diced small
5. 1 Tbs of minced garlic
6. 3-5 baby portabello or white mushrooms, sliced
7. 1Tbs of chili powder
8. 1 Tbps of chipotle powder

Optional garnish items: fresh cilantro, grated cheese, a little raw, chopped onion, hot sauce

Story Time: This is the blah blah part. Skip down if you just want to learn how to make it. (Yeah, I know this is not a Korean dish. I’ll post these time to time.) One day I had nothing to eat, so I opened my cupboards (yes, they are actual cupboards) fridge, and wallah! This masterpiece came out.

I call it half-assed, well, because it is. It’s whatever I had. That’s how cooking is usually done, and if you’re any decent cook at all, you can make do with whatever is available. In this case, I had a Kroger “clearance” can of mixed beans, some Italian diced tomatoes, and I was lucky enough to have that fresh cilantro. Hot sauce goes on everything I eat — so that kind of goes without saying.

How to: In a ten or twelve inch skillet warm up some oil. Throw in the half onion (saving a little, if you like fresh onion garnish), the garlic, and mushrooms. Stir fry for a couple minutes.

Next, throw in the can of undrained can of tomatoes and the can drained and washed beans. Add the chipotle powder, if you have it, and the chili powder. Add some black pepper and salt to your liking.

Let it low boil and simmer for about ten to fifteen minutes, depending on your schedule.

Dish out with over the rice. Garnish with grated cheese, cilantro, onion, and hot sauce.

Assessment: Actually, very good. Can’t go wrong with those ingredients/spices. Even my picky ten-year old daughter liked it. I don’t think I’d change a thing — even the clearance can of beans!

Spice Profile of Korean Food

Most regions/cultures/countries utilize a select few or more spices and flavorings for most of their cuisine. Korea is no different. In fact, Korean food is much simpler, say, than southern Indian food or Thai food.

So, let me give you the profile. If you want to start cooking Korean food, these are the flavorings you will need.

  1. Soy sauce. Duh. Of course. 🙂
  2. Garlic. Always minced fresh.
  3. Ginger. Always minced fresh.
  4. Good Sea Salt. Get the coarse kind. I buy the stuff from Korea, however Kosher salt will be fine. Even Himalayan salt. Just don’t use American table salt! It won’t taste the same.
  5. Roasted sesame oil. Lots of it!
  6. Roasted sesame seeds. (Hint: buy them from a middle-eastern grocery store — much cheaper!)
  7. Green onion. Usually thinly sliced.
  8. Cooking wine. You can use Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. They’re all made from rice.
  9. Apple cider vinegar. The Korean kind comes in two strengths, so beware. One is the normal stuff. The other one is double-strength! I’ve made this mistake before. As a side note, we now use Bragg Organic apple cider. My wife likes it better; to be honest, I prefer the Korean version! It’s more refined and has a “cleaner” taste.
  10. Red Pepper Flakes. These are called Gochu Garu in Korean. They’re different than any other kind of red pepper flakes. So, don’t substitute cayenne pepper or the Italian kind.
  11. Fermented soybean paste. Called Dwenjang in Korean. It’s more fermented and stronger than its cousin Japanese Miso. Full of probiotics!
  12. Go Chu Jang. This is the thick, spicy paste that is the staple of so many famous korean dishes, like Ddeokbokgi. It’s made with ground red pepper flakes, sugar, and a few other ingredients. I noticed now that even Kroger sells it!

These are the main ones that compromise the vast majority of Korean dishes. Most dishes use soy sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes, and roasted sesame oil (cham Gireum).

WHERE TO BUY? Most of these items can be had at any decent-sized grocery store. The special Korean ones, like dwenjang and gochugaru, you’ll probably find in a large Asian supermarket and obviously, if you’re lucky enough, a Korean market.

SUPPLEMENTAL THOUGHTS I’d try to stick with items produced in Korea or Japan. Sometimes the Chinese stuff suffices, but it’s usually not as good. However, this is obviously a budget issue. Foods produced in Korea are often twice that of China.

There really are no substitutions with the above ingredients.

Get a food processor. Grind up a small mason jar of garlic and a little oil/water so that you always have it ready to use. It will last about one week in the fridge.

Hit me up with any questions down below! Thanks for reading.

Raw Tofu (Seriously…)

So, here’s a relatively common and simple raw tofu recipe that I partly inherited from my Korean mother-in-law. She used to boil it first to kill any germs back in the day. Since we live post 2000, the fresh tofu we buy is clean. I suppose it’s also healthier raw, although I haven’t researched it.

So, first you need to buy a block of tofu that’s still in its water. They are usually between twelve to sixteen ounces. Most are non-GMO. Organic is slightly more expensive. None of this matters for this recipe.

Preparation time: 5 minutes.

Ingredients:

  1. Fresh block of firm or extra firm Tofu
  2. Two green onions finely chopped
  3. 2 Tbs of soy sauce
  4. 2 Tbs of roasted sesame oil (Cham Gireum in Korean)
  5. Roasted sesame seeds for garnish
  6. Korean red pepper flakes (Gochugaru) for an optional garnish if you like it spicy.

First, you drain the tofu. Then take a towl or a few paper towels and wrap it like a beautiful present and press it with your hands to get out all the water as much as possible. Don’t worry if it’s not desert dry. Just get most of the water out.

Then, place it on a plate or wide flat bowl. (I prefer the latter.) Cut it into half-inch cubes. They will actually be rectangles, since the tofu is wider and longer than it is high.

Next, drizzle the soy sauce and roasted sesame oil on top of the tofu, making sure it covers most of it. Use more if you like.

Finally, garnish with green onion, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes.

That’s it! So simple and delicious. Eat it with a bowl of rice and kimchi, if you have it.

Who is CheonDo

Cheon Do (Sky/Heaven… way/path) was a dharma name given to me in Korea in 2009. I lived in various places in South Korea, including Jeju Island, Daegu, and Sungnam City (Bundang). I was married to a Korean national in 2008 at the US Embassy in Seoul.

This blog is primarily about Korean food, recipes, and other thoughts.

My wife works for a Korean company in Troy, MI. I stay home and teach ESL online and take care of my two kids. I also do almost all the cooking. Through my mother-in-law, wife, and just living in the country for six years, I’ve honed my Korean cooking skills pretty well. I also have a certification in “Plant-Based Cooking” from Rouxbe online cooking academy. Most of my recipes will be plant-based, and the ones that aren’t, I will add a vegan option. Enjoy!

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