So I’ve never really been a huge fan of Chinese food (to the huge chagrin of very Chinese Boyfriend). That said, I’ve always LOVED Koreanized Chinese.
(Oh. My. God. Mouth watering.)
Anyway, I was craving one of my favorite dishes, jjambbong:
After a few hours, I figured, eff it, I’ll just make some myself?
I looked up a few recipes on some Korean sites and made the necessary tweaks, to accommodate vegatarian Boyfriend. The start was promising.
I got my main ingredients together:
… chopped ’em up all nice:
… then started with the stove-top work.
This is around when the trouble started. Here’s a hint at what happened:
You’ll notice in the inspiration photo up top that one of the main characteristics of jjambbong is its red, red soup. This is because jjambbong requires profuse quantities of dried Korean red pepper. Which is not that spicy. Which looks like this:
Notice the difference yet between what I was supposed to use and what I actually used?
So, this is the packaging for the chili I threw in:
Now the reason I made this switch is part practical, part pure idiocy.
The Korean red pepper flakes I have on hand is quite old and I didn’t have much left. But I didn’t want to have to wait until the next time we could make it out to the Korean market, which wouldn’t be for at least another week.
At that moment, my eyes settled on this jar of chili pepper flakes, which Boyfriend’s mom had brought over a few days ago.
I looked at the label. Peppers, that were red!
Hmm. Should be the same thing right?
I threw in the red pepper, and waited until the soup started happily boiling way. When I finally tasted it, I nearly choked to death, literally. The scorching chili fire shot straight past my mouth and hurdled toward the back of my throat, simultaneously setting my nostrils ablaze and searing every last bronchiole in my lungs. I doubled over gagging and coughing for a good half an hour, unable to breath and wondering whether this truly was my final destination.
But I wasn’t ready to give up. Piquant flavor aside, the jjambbong still smelled divine. I racked my brain. What could be the best way to remedy the excessive spice? I snapped my fingers. Of course! Throw in oil, lots of it.
By the time Boyfriend got home, the entire apartment smelled like a Korean Chinese restaurant. Boyfriend of course was pleased that there was dinner waiting for him, and I was just excited to see what he’d think. Without much delay, we broke some eggs into the stew, threw some rice into some bowls, and dug in.
Three excruciatingly painful bites later, stomachs already gurgling and burning, we tearily threw the entire contents of the jjambbong pot into the trash.
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Before you judge my cooking skills too hard, I do want to say that what we could discern of the jjambbong through all the heat tasted promising, with the heartiness from all the different veggies, the fragrance of scallion-infused oil, and Korean bamboo salt, which emanates flavors of smoke and sulfer and is overall just exquisite. If I may be so bold, I genuinely think this recipe actually is a success, as long as the right ingredients are used. Anyway, I’m attempting it again tonight, so I’ll let you know how v.2 turns out.
* * * * * * *
P.S. The “proper” recipe, if you’re interested (with my rough guesstimations of measurements):
8 or more garlic cloves, 3 for scallion oil, 5 for jjambbong
Scallion: 3 stalks for scallion oil, 3 stalks for jjambbong
Ginger, a few slices for scallion oil, a few for jjambbong
1/4 of a head of cabbage
3 mushrooms (woodear and shiitake are probably best, but I just used whatever they were selling at the market across the street)
1/2 cup of red pepper flakes
Vegetable, grapeseed, or whatever neutral-tasting oil you’ve got on hand
Salt and black pepper, to taste
(Optional) Soy sauce, to taste
(Optional) 3 eggs
STEP 1: Make scallion oil. Start by cutting scallions, ginger, and garlic into long slices. Cook in a cup of vegetable oil (or grapeseed oil or any sort of neutral tasting oil, really, that you prefer), without allowing to burn. Finally, remove scallions, ginger, and garlic, leaving only fragrant scallion oil.
STEP 2: Cut all veggies into long slices. Toss everything except scallions and ginger in scallion oil in the pot on high heat, until golden or even slightly charred.
STEP 3: Fill pot with water, adding red pepper flakes, scallions, and ginger. Bring to boil, then allow to simmer until all vegetables are soft.
STEP 4: Break in some eggs, if you’d like. If you like noodles, add noodles. If you prefer rice, add rice.
STEP 5: Eat!