I’m not entirely new to the “Korean wave” or whatever you want to call it, however I feel like this year I gained a new appreciation for all things Korean. I’ll be talking a bit more about it on my next post but needless to say, a lot of that appreciation applies to food. I am yet to find the charm in mainstream K-Pop (but I am a fan of K-Pop ballads that get used in Korean dramas, so there’s that), and yet I can’t deny it seems like I’m craving Korean food more often than usual these days.
Kimchi didn’t use to be a staple in my supermarket cart, and gochujang 고추장 certainly wasn’t a regular in our pantry at home. (Heck I didn’t even know what it was before!) But now even my mom likes to buy big tubs of gochujang! Not to be over-dramatic or anything, but to me it was a literal life-changing condiment. I can no longer live without gochujang haha!
But what I actually want to talk about today is one of the most important components in any Korean meal, and that is their banchan dishes 반찬. It’s technically an assortment of appetizers since it comes out ahead of all the other dishes, but you can also eat it with the main meal as side dishes. Pictured above is the awesome spread we had when we ate at authentic Korean restaurant DAOM in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Banchan are those tiny dishes you see on a Korean table that’s typically set at the middle to be shared by everyone. The number of banchan dishes can go way up depending on the occasion, and usually the more important and formal the meals are, the more banchan there will be. I can only wish for a Korean teacher to help me learn how to make every banchan there is, but for now I managed to make just two of the simplest banchan right here at home. Check it!
Shall we learn how to make these super easy banchan dishes? Let’s go! 가자!
Today I’m focusing on spinach and bean sprouts, which are pretty common vegetables anywhere I believe, and also very good for you! I got this process from the My Korean Kitchen blog, but it’s the same process pretty much in most other Korean food blog. Preparing these two as banchan involve quickly parboiling the veggies just to make sure the raw taste of them disappears and makes way for the lightly garlicky but highly aromatic sesame dressing.
Make the dressing by mixing scallions, garlic, toasted sesame seeds, salt, and sesame oil. And just to be clear, you MUST toast the sesame seeds because they make a huge difference in flavour! You can do this easily by cooking your sesame seeds on the stovetop in a skillet until they turn brown and super aromatic. Remember to mix every once in a while for even browning!
The dressing can be modified to become more spicy by adding red pepper flakes, but this one is quite a tasty sesame-based sauce that can help calm down the palate if you’re eating a bunch of other spicy food. All the spinach and bean sprout banchan I’ve eaten thus far is served with this dressing, made out of garlic, sesame seeds, and sesame oil.
As for the vegetable, make sure they’re clean, first of all. Then boil some water in a pot for about 7 minutes then add salt. Once the water is boiling just plunge the vegetable into that bubbling water for 30 seconds.
Immediately take the pan off the heat, then drain the spinach and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. You don’t want to end up with limp overcooked spinach! You want them to maintain their crunchy freshness. You also don’t want them to be wet so you have to squeeze out the water from those leaves.
If you’re using big-leafed spinach, cut them up into bite-sized pieces to make them easier to eat. Now just toss them in a bowl and add the dressing.
Mix it all up, and ta-dah!
The process is pretty much the same for the bean sprouts, only you no longer need to cut them into bite-sized pieces since they already are that. Make sure you use some fresh sprouts though so that they’re sweet and crunchy rather than difficult to chew.
If you’re curious, the Korean name for the seasoned spinach 시금치나물 is read as sigeumchi namul; while the seasoned bean sprouts 콩나물무침 is read as kongnamul muchim. I am not Hangeul expert, but I’m currently trying to learn a bit of basic Hangeul so I like knowing the Korean names for food! 😛
Korean Seasoned Spinach 시금치나물
For the dressing
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped spring onion or scallion
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, more or less, to taste
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
For the spinach
- 5 or more cups of water, for boiling
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 250 grams fresh spinach or baby spinach
Make the dressing
- 1. Wash the spinach in cold water thoroughly, trimming the roots if there are any.
- 2. In a pot, boil some water for 5 to 7 minutes, and add the salt. Once the water starts to boil, plunge the spinach into the pot and leave it for 30 seconds.
- 3. Drain the spinach in the sink and immediately run under cold water for 1 to 2 minutes. Squeeze the spinach to remove excess water.
- 4. If the spinach you used has large leaves, slice into 2 to 3 pieces to make them bite-sized. Then pour in the dressing and mix well. Serve and enjoy!
Adapted from My Korean Kitchen
Sometimes you can’t help but think that there’s magic in simple things when you’re eating dishes like these. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of satisfaction I get from eating a few pieces of kimchi with my meals, whether or not I’m eating Korean food at the time. You probably won’t see me writing about kimchi until I formally learn how to make it in Korea, but at least I’ve got something to go with my store-bought kimchi now huh? (The kimchi we buy is not bottled but fresh from Cartimar, just fyi!)
But of course, these are just appetizers/sidedishes so the main meal is equally as important! Just so you know, I served this banchan along with some homemade bibimbap for a fuss-free super easy Korean-themed meal. The recipe– if you can even actually call it that!– for the bibimbap I will be sharing tomorrow, so stay tuned!