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Your favorite Korean cookbook, please!

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Folks in the Boston area probably know that an H-Mart just opened in Burlington, MA. It is a large, well-stocked Korean-centric supermarket in an area whose only Korean groceries have been mom-and-pop stores. For those of us who did not grow up in a household with a Korean cook, this is an opportunity to shop, cook, and learn some new food ways. A few good cookbooks would be a real help. Unfortunately, there are comparatively few Korean cookbooks available, and they tend not to be on the shelves of everyday brick-and-mortar stores. Buying an unknown cookbook online is always a bit of a gamble. Plus, strange as it may seem, the H-Mart has no cookbooks for sale. So, fellow Hounds, what are your nominations for a few good Korean cookbooks? In particular, I am looking for cookbooks that are

- comparatively authentic - H-Mart probably has all the ingredients used in everyday Korean cooking in the US and I am willing to take the time to do the steps. A cookbook named "75 simple and quick Korean recipes for American kitchens" is probably not what I am looking for.

- are in English or are bilingual Korean/English

- are focused on home cooking (as opposed to stuff you only get in restaurants or fusion or new-wave dishes)

I am hoping to find at least cookbook that explains Korean ingredients - what they are, what they are called in Korean (the name of the ingredient in Korean and how to pronounce it), what to look for in a good quality version - to help me shop. Similarly, a cookbook that explains the Korean aesthetic for what makes a dish or meal especially good would probably teach me a lot.

Thanks in advance, everyone!

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  1. A couple good online resources (including video, which may help visualize techniques or unfamiliar end-state results!):

    - Search this board's posts, esp. hannaone has posted a lot of recipes that include korean ingredient names (i.e., if you want to be able to look at the packaging and match it up in the store!)

    - Fun and informative videos and recipes: http://www.maangchi.com/

    - And, not to forget Crazy Korean Cooking! http://crazykoreancooking.blogspot.com/

    As for navigating for the better brands, that's tougher, especially for canned and jarred items. (I assume produce is relatively straightfoward, and even thngs like kimchi you can tell fairly easily by looking whether the contents look translucent and over-pickled, or fresh and firm). Some items, like pastes (gochujang, pepper paste; toenjang, fermented soybean paste; ssamjang, mixed gochujang and toenjang, usually also sweetened somewhat), vary quite a bit in their taste from brand to brand, mostly depending on the levels of heat and sweetness. I personally go for brands with less sugar, since you can always add sweetness if you want it for a dish. Other items, like mulyeot (malt syrup? I think it's normally made with corn?) frankly don't matter much from brand to brand, I think. Although I haven't made it to H-Mart yet, I know a lot of the Korean markets in the area carry brands like Assi, which is OK (though sometimes a bit on the salty side for my taste)

    11 Replies
    1. re: another_adam

      I bought this book when I was in Seoul, on the recommendation of the English bookstore staff -- apparently the original Korean edition made the writer a celebrity. Everything I've made out of it so far has been excellent. It looks like you can get it in the US as well:

      Title: A Korean Mother's Cooking Notes

      http://www.koamart.com/shop/51-2207-r...

      1. re: Behemoth

        Thanks the pointer. It seems to be very hard to get, except for that website. Alas, the cost of shipping is almost as much as the book,and Amazon does not have it in stock! It will have to be a special treat.

        1. re: Behemoth

          I have asked my Korean mother to start writing down recipes as she cooks because as I'm sure any of you with a Korean mother knows, there are NO recipes - everything is by sight, smell, taste. She has agreed to do so for the next year!

          But, in the meantime, I've added A Korean Mother's Cooking Notes to my holiday wishlist! :-)

        2. re: another_adam

          Wow, the maagnchi site is wonderful What a resource! Thanks ever so much for that pointer, and all your other advice.

          1. re: another_adam

            Here's a thumbs up and another thank you for the pointer to maangchi.com. Today I made the spicy soy bean sprout soup recipe from that website.

            http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/kongna...

            I had never worked with soy bean sprouts before. Now I want them in my regular rotation! They are so much more substantial than mung bean sprouts.

            The soup was very satisfying, though much less spicy than I expected. (By inference and scrutiny of the video, I used coarse red pepper purchased at the H-Mart for the "red pepper flakes" specified in the recipe.) Now I will have to make the versions from the two cookbooks that I bought, to compare and to think about how I should make my own version. I really only have one nit to pick. To make the recipe you really do have to watch the video. The written instructions by themselves are a bit incomplete. On the other hand, the video is entertaining and relatively short, and Maangchi herself is quite charming.

            1. re: PinchOfSalt

              Interesting! Indeed, it does look like she uses coarser flakes in hers --I use the fine powder in this case, but now I'll try her way, too :)
              Yes, I think her videos are definitely the most useful for getting some visual sense of what to expect when you cook something that might not be totally familiar! I learned to cook Korean food by watching patient friends and friends' moms over the years (a lot like watching her videos-- except you get to taste the results immediately, so you can develop a sense of how to adjust and balance it yourself when you make it!) So, to be honest, I've never actually used her precise recipes-- I just enjoy watching the videos to get new ideas when she makes things differently from how I learned :) Her renditions are mostly completely authentic/canonical, though, and it's great that she goes through the effort of measuring everything to give you a starting point.

              And yes, her style is also greatly entertaining! I rank her podcasts right up there with "cooking with dog" for serious enough to be instructive but fun enough to keep watching :)

              1. re: another_adam

                It's good to know that Maangchi's recipes are very mainstream/traditional. That's where I like to start when I learn a new (to me) cuisine. Thanks.

                A few minutes ago I did what I should have done earlier today - I tasted the coarse chili powder (aka flakes). Now I know why the soup was comparatively mild. The chili is aromatic, so it is probably nowhere being stale. So, these chilis just must be much less potent than I had expected. (In other words, nothing at all like the chili powder you get in Indian groceries.) Today has been a good day for learning.

              2. re: PinchOfSalt

                Her kongnamulguk is a pretty solid recipe for a popular Korean soup.
                For a variation try adding some thick sliced daikon radish and sliced chili peppers.

                1. re: hannaone

                  Thanks for the idea. I definitely want to experiment with the heat level, so the chilis are calling to me. Maanghi suggests adding radish kimchi to the soup (along with some rice, too), so I am guessing variation is related to what she does, but without the sour twist.

                  I can easily obtain "Korean radish" at the H-Mart. It is much wider and shorter compared with daikon. Is the daikon that you suggest a substitute for the Korean radish or what people in Korea would add in its own right?

                  1. re: PinchOfSalt

                    You can use either the long slender Japanese daikon or the Korean variants (Tae Baek is the fat variety), the flavor difference is subtle.
                    There are quite a few variations of this dish (about as many as there are cooks), so lots of things can be added to get a wide variety of results.
                    Using a bit of gochujang (fermented pepper paste) or/and doenjang (Korean miso) will change up the soup in a delightful way.
                    You can also play with the starting broth a bit, like in these two examples:

                    8 to 10 dried anchovies
                    2 ounces Dried kelp (Kombu)
                    4 cups water

                    Additional Ingredients for Method 2:
                    1/2 small onion
                    2 cloves garlic

                    Method 1:
                    Add kelp and anchovies to cold water and soak for 2 hours.
                    Bring to a slow simmer over low heat.
                    Simmer for 5 minutes.
                    Strain the broth and discard solids.

                    Method 2:
                    Roughly chop the onion.
                    Slice the garlic into thirds from top to bottom.
                    Place dried anchovies and kelp in a pan and slowly toast over low heat.
                    Transfer toasted anchovies and kelp to a soup pot, add onion, garlic, and water, then gently heat to a slow simmer over low heat.
                    Simmer for 5 minutes.
                    Strain the broth and discard solids.

                    1. re: hannaone

                      Wow, thanks, hannaone. It looks like some tasty experimentation is in my future.

            2. We were just discussing maybe doing a Korean book as Cookbook of the Month sometime. This is one suggestion topic that TheDairyQueen linked:

              Cookbook for korean food? any recommendations?
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5625...

              14 Replies
              1. re: Rubee

                Thanks for the pointer. The conversation is very interesting. I am getting the impression that in Korean culture, like so many others, cooking is and recipes are passed from mother to daughter.... but perhaps much more so (with less change from generation to generation due to ideas/recipes from outside the family) than in American culture. This may at least partially explain the lack of cookbooks. The majority of the people who are doing the cooking do not feel the need for them. I plan a trip to the New England Mobile Book Fair this afternoon (probably the last remaining Boston-area book store with a significant/interesting selection of cookbooks) to peruse at least the books that are mentioned in that thread.

                1. re: PinchOfSalt

                  PinchOfSalt, let us know what you found at the Bookfair. I live near there and would like to check out their Korean cookbooks, also. They have a big selection because they run the Jessica's Biscuit cookbook store website.

                  1. re: Kiyah

                    Okay, here goes. New England Mobile Book Fair had all three books mentioned in the thread, Eating Korean, Growing Up In a Korean Kitchen, and Discovering Korean Cuisine. As the thread said, Eating Korean has simpler recipes. I can't judge their authenticity, of course. Thinking of the grey sole (five of them, it turned out) waiting for me at the fish CSA pick-up in Cambridge, I checked Eating Korean's index for applicable recipes. I was so surprised to find that that book has very little in the way of recipes for fresh fish. So, I looked at Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen and found a lot more. In the end, I decided to get both books.

                    More generally, there were a number of other Korean selections on the shelf, but there were not THAT many. They were pretty much the usual suspects that you find on the Amazon website too, with the exception of a few such as Practical Korean Cooking and the book that seems to be out of print but everyone seems to want, A Korean Mother's Cooking Notes. To find the Korean cookbooks, enter the store, turn right after the cash registers, turn left at the cookbook sign, and when you find the first cookbook aisle, go down that aisle straight to the back wall of the store. Look down slightly and you will see them in front of you, interspersed with Thai, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian cookbooks.

                    Four out of five grey soles have been cleaned and are literally sleeping with the fishes (each other) in my fridge. Grey sole number five is queued up to become my dinner. But it is too late to do anything elaborate; so unfortunately I will not be test driving any new cookbooks or recipes tonight.

                    One final thought to others who may read this thread and live in the Boston area. Please do indeed feel encouraged to pay a visit to the NEMBF. It is such a wonderful old firetrap. There is no substitute for the pleasure of wandering and browsing in a huge twisty maze filled with zillions of books about everything, and to be a bit more practical, no substitute for picking up a book and flipping through it to determine if it is the one you want to buy.

                    1. re: PinchOfSalt

                      Oh, Pinch, you are the best. I love the New England Mobile Book Fair, but haven't been in quite a while. I'm looking forward to heading back, especially since there's fun stuff in the area, like China Fair, NE Soup Factory, The Farm Grill, and more. And now, Korean cookbooks! Thanks for all of your background work. It's what makes Chowhound so great.

                      1. re: bear

                        Thanks, Bear. Heheh all I did was tell you guys about what I was going to do anyway. It's a pleasure to share.

                        Living in Belmont, I don't get to the NEMBF more than once a year or so myself. I happened to notice China Fair myself on the way back, and would have stopped if I didn't need to pick up my fish. The thing that struck me odd (perhaps because of faulty memory) is that the sign said China Fair Paper Annex. Hmmmm.

                        1. re: PinchOfSalt

                          Turn in and China Fair is on your left, Paper Annex on your right.

                          Thank you for reminding everyone to support the Book Fair. It is a wonderful store. And a big part of the reason why I have too many books, including too many cookbooks.

                      2. re: PinchOfSalt

                        Cooking notes seems to be available here, I just ordered a copy.

                        http://hanbooks.com/kormotcookno.html

                        1. re: hannaone

                          Thanks, so have I (now).

                          1. re: PinchOfSalt

                            I'm a lemming!
                            couldn't resist!

                        2. re: PinchOfSalt

                          Aside: Pinch, I did the Sole Piccata from FISH No Doubt tonight, and it was amazing. Give it a try if you still have some of the fish left.

                          I haven't been to NEMBF for at least 15 years. Just not near anything I go to, but have ordered a few items from them online.

                          1. re: smtucker

                            Now that is a book that I have been wanting to get but haven't, yet. No doubt I can improvise on another sole tomorrow! (Yes, I have some left, hehe.) Tonight it was late and I was tired so it was sole a la nuker with lemon slices on top (during the nuking, removed prior to eating). Actually, it was pretty darn good. What I was thinking about tomorrow was pan-fry after dusting with seasoned flour (including a few grains of cayenne), topping with a bit of beurre noisette with capers. The thought is something just a little bitter to set off the sweetness of the fish.

                            I wonder if we see each other at Morse school and just don't know it. There ought to be Hound buttons that we could wear, so we could recognize each other at Major Foodie Events like CSA distributions and long-awaited-ethnic-supermarket openings.

                            1. re: smtucker

                              So I googled a bit and found the recipe out on the 'net. Thanks, smtucker!

                              http://feistyfoodie.blogspot.com/2008...

                            2. re: PinchOfSalt

                              Thanks for reporting back! It's good to know that they had all three books. I like how you solved the problem of which book to get! Next time I'm down there I'll check them out!

                          2. re: PinchOfSalt

                            Yes, Pinch, please do let us know. With HMart just a few miles from me, and my Korean home-cooking experience limited to bimimbap and bulgogi, I need all the help I can get!

                        3. Just a note about the "A Korean Mother's Cooking Notes". I received my copy today from hanbooks.com (ordered on 9/28/09). Total price including shipping was $28.45.

                          From the quick look I have given it I am already pleased, even though I already make many of the recipes.
                          The first section gives some recipes for various seasonings, pastes, and sauces which are used in a variety of dishes.
                          At the end of the book is a section "Food for Special Days" where she provides, in both narrative and menu, examples of traditional meals for holidays, memorial days, and significant birthdays.

                          Just a note - This is the first cookbook that I have bought.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: hannaone

                            Hannaone, you are confirming my theory that Korean cooks learn at home and do not feel the need for cookbooks, explaining why there are none at H-Mart and so few are available to those of us who did not benefit from a similar culinary up-bringing.

                            My copy is due to arrive today. Can you guess which recipe I am going to read first? tee hee

                            Please do post about any recipes that you try! It would be fun to compare notes and get your expert critique. (Given the limited availability, especially the absence from libraries, I doubt this cookbook would ever be chosen for CotM status.)

                            1. re: hannaone

                              I just received my copy a couple days ago (that was quick!). It looks good, and very approachable though it appears to lack a basic introduction to the Korean pantry, as I've grown accustomed to in our other COTM's.

                              Koch"ujang is used alot, but I can't find an introduction, description or recipe (nor is it in the index) My best guess it's a chile paste bought in a store?
                              Or does she mean Ch'o koch"ujang on p. 27?

                              ground anchovy, anchovy sauce -- I wish I knew if I could just use anchovies chopped up.
                              Sesame oil -- toasted or not?
                              red pepper powder -- cayenne, mild cayenne, or what??
                              red pepper paste -- what is this? (p. 27)

                              Anyone know Korean basics, or can decipher this or another book better than moi? thx

                              1. re: NYchowcook

                                I don't have the book, so someone who's looking at the recipes would have a better sense of what's called for, but here's a few pointers:

                                - gochujang / kochujang = red pepper paste. Yes, it's easiest to buy it in the store. (Making it is a somewhat involved process, using ground rice, soy paste, sweetener, and various other ingredients, fermented for a long time; nowadays, one usually buys in red tubs or flattish jars) It's thick and, well, pastey, approx like tomato paste in consistency.

                                - cho gochujang is red pepper paste with vinegar. It's thinner, and used often as a dipping or mixing sauce. you can buy it in squeeze tubes as a convenience product, or make it by adding vinegar (and other flavorings, as desired; often some sugar, sesame, etc.) to gochujang.

                                - red pepper powder (gochugaru) is ground or flake korean peppers. It's relatively mild compared to many cayenne pappers, but recipes often call for large amounts of it, resulting in a spicy end result :) I'd try to get korean gochugaru, since recipes often depend on using a fair amount of the pepper to achieve the characteristic red sauce and smoothness from the ground pepper, so using a smaller amount of a spicier cayenne wouldn't work. (and the flavor would probably not be right)

                                - sesame oil: yes, toasted sesame oil.

                                - anchovy sauce: is korean fish sauce. usually the amount is fairly small (less than a teaspoon), and I imagine that other fish sauces could be used-- they taste different, but add a similar effect and are adding some very deeply submerged flavor component to the dish.

                                - ground anchovy: this is probably ground up baby dried anchovy (myeolchi). It's a powder. These are very different from the salted preserved anchovy fillets- they're little dry fish for soup or stir frying or grinding up as powder. Does the recipe call for sprinkling this on a finished dish?

                                1. re: NYchowcook

                                  another_adam said it well.

                                  Throughout the book when she says gochujang/kochujang or red pepper paste she is talking about the same thing.
                                  In most Korean markets this comes in various sized red plastic tubs that usually have a picture of a red chili pepper on it.
                                  The powdered chili pepper comes in fine, medium, and coarse grinds. For most sauces the medium or fine grind is used. If a recipe says flakes, it is usually referring to the coarse grind.

                                  She gives recipes for several other sauces in the front of the book like ssamjang and cho gochujang.

                                  The soy sauce she refers to in most recipes is a Korean "regular" soy sauce that is less salty than say Kikkoman or similar sauces. On page 27 she gives a method to make Kikkoman more similar to the Korean soy sauce.

                                  The anchovy she refers to for powder, sauces, and broth is indeed the dried anchovies available in Korean markets. Using fresh or canned anchovy will yield quite different results.

                                  Anchovy Image:
                                  http://web.tradekorea.com/upload_file...
                                  http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2089/2...

                                  1st pic - gochujang
                                  2nd pic - gochugaru

                                   
                                   
                                2. re: hannaone

                                  Finally just got a copy of this today (the 2009 revised version, hardcover) - it's great! As hannaone says, a lot of the recipes are for very standard dishes and sides, so it seems like a great resource for learning some basics and getting familiar with some dishes. I've enjoyed looking through her recipes, because they really do have some of the casual notes feel- suggestions about what ingredients to substitute or increase/decrease, tips on what techniques make it come out best, etc. I'm not sure that I'll bother to measure out ingredients to try her precise versions of things that I already have my own way of cooking, but I've already picked up a few interesting tips just from skimming through, such as:

                                  - don't refrigerate dotori muk (acorn jelly) while it's cooling down and setting, or it gets "stiff and dull" (I guess I'm just too impatient! I'll have to try a side-by-side comparison :) )

                                  - if you put a lid on while you cook anchovy broth, the fishy smell will get more trapped in the broth (It happens that I don't use a lid anyway, but never knew that might be important!)

                                  - the seeds fall out of a pepper more easily if you rub it between your palms before you cut off the top

                                  All in all, a great purchase! the unfussy style and frequent comments on why certain techniques are better remind me a lot of my own mother's cooking instructions, I'm really enjoying it.