I love traditional fall and winter foods as much as the next girl - once the weather starts to cool down, I'm all about roasted meats and veggies, slow cooked soups, and more carbs and cheese than you can shake a stick at. Sometimes, though, you just need a palette cleanser, something to shock your taste buds back to life after months of comfort food.
Last week, I mentioned that I have a weakness for Asian junk food. That's accurate, but I also just love Asian food in general. I've never met a cuisine from that continent that I didn't love, and I've tried a lot of them: Indian, Thai, various regional styles of Chinese, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Korean. When I was in New York, I even took a ferry to Staten Island to try Sri Lanken food, and it was totally worth it.
I always felt a little intimidated about actually cooking these dishes for myself. I'm used to thinking of these kinds of food as restaurant food, something that you have to be a specialist to know how to prepare. That's certainly true of some dishes, but if you can get your hands on the ingredients, there are plenty of Asian dishes that are no harder to prepare than a good spaghetti.
Every time I go to the Korean spa, I have to get a plate of tteokbokki (also spelled ddukbokki). Have to. It's a deliciously spicy dish made with chewy Korean rice cakes and a fermented red pepper paste called gochujang, and it tastes like heaven when you've sweated your last three meals out through your pores in the insanely hot King Sauna. I was having a serious craving for it even after I left (probably fueled by the tteokbokki flavored chips I bought), so I actually looked up a recipe. Surprise - if you have access to the ingredients, it's pretty easy to make.
Ttekbokki Recipe via Serious Eats
Serves 4 hungry people
3 Cups Water
3 Tablespoons Gochujang
1 Tablespoon Chili Pepper Flakes
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 lb. rice cakes (tteok)
5 oz. fish cakes, sliced into triangles
5 oz. napa cabbage (about 1/3 of a head), sliced thin
5 cloves garlic, chopped fine (or to taste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Combine all ingredients for sauce in a large pan, whisking until gochujang paste is dissolved. Bring to a boil.
Add rice cakes, and reduce heat to medium. Boil, covered, for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rice cakes are soft.
Add cabbage, fish cakes, and garlic. Reduce heat to a low simmer until sauce beings to thicken, approximately 10-15 minutes. Continue to stir occasionally to keep rice cakes from sticking.
Add sesame oil if desired, and serve.
I made a thing!
See? Wasn't that easy?
If you don't live somewhere where these ingredients are easily available and don't want to order them online, there are a few substitutions you can make. There isn't really anything you can sub in for the gochujang, but if you only want to order one thing, that's easy to get and will last you just this side of forever. Instead of rice cakes, throw in a couple of bricks of ramen, although you'd want to add them after you've simmered the sauce for a while and added the other ingredients. I ate a couple of pieces of the fish cake while I was cooking the dish, and it actually tastes really similar to imitation crab meat. If you sub out both of the main ingredients, obviously the dish will have a very different texture, but the flavor profile should be very similar.
If you are on a restricted diet, it's pretty easy to customize it to suit your needs. Vegetarian or vegan? Use tofu that you've frozen and thawed (it'll give it a denser, chewier texture) instead of the fish cake, and add a little nori to give it some of that fishy flavor. Gluten free? Skip the soy sauce and check the label on your fish cakes to make sure they're ok for you.
Has anyone else ever tried cooking traditional Asian dishes before? What did you think of the process? Would you ever try this dish?