Bulgogi and Vegetarian ‘Bulgogi’ : A Recipe

by convivialist

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In rural Spain, the tastes of South Korea are elusive. Or… not really. During my stay in the mountains outside Barcelona, I didn’t learn how to prepare calçots (the seasonal specialty that’s everywhere this time of year) nor did I try to recreate a melt-in-your mouth dish of stewed pigs feet I ate at the local restaurant. Instead I observed how to cook a staple of the Korean kitchen. Bulgogi, or ‘fire meat’ is one of the most popular Korean dishes, eaten both in the home and in barbecue restaurants as well as, apparently, in rural Catalunya.

I recently returned home after spending a couple of weeks in Catalunya at art artist residency, which consisted of a big old farmhouse renovated to accommodate up to twenty artists and writers living and working for short periods of time. I found myself there rather spontaneously and arrived without too many expectations. One perk of the residency is that dinner is prepared for all the artists nightly, allowing focus and attention only on the work at hand and not on such ‘mundane’ tasks as cooking a meal. While I appreciated this gesture in theory, naturally, being me, after three days I was itching to get into the kitchen and cook something inspiring for myself, even if it did take precious time away from working.

I was thrilled that among the other residents, two artists from Seoul were invited for the month. Apparently fed up or bored (or both) with Spanish food, they began at lunchtime a gradual commandeering of the kitchen to make Korean dishes. That is, within the confines of the limited ingredient availability found in rural Spain. One of the Koreans, Daniel, a bad-ass (just no other way to describe her) sculptor and street artist, was determined to perfect a version of Bulgogi and share it with the others in the group one night near the end of her stay. So, every day for a week, she could be found in the sunny kitchen chopping heads (yes, entire heads-see photo below) of garlic and marinating beef in a pungent soy sauce mixture, practicing her technique.

That last Thursday night, at the exceedingly early hour of 7pm – remember this is Spain – the dinner of beef and vegetarian bulgogi, along with a thick spring onion-cheese omelet was inhaled all of us, including the most traditional of the Spanish eaters, in utter silence.

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Recipe: Bulgogi

½ kilo beef, best is rib-eye or sirloin steak, cut across the grain in thin slices

½ head of garlic, minced

1 onion, cut in half and sliced into moon shaped pieces

2-3 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1-2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

red chili flakes, to taste

black pepper, to taste

neutral oil, for frying pan

 

1. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sesame seeds, chili flakes and pepper in a bowl and stir together.

2. Place the sliced beef, garlic, onions and spring onions in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and gently stir with your hands, lightly massaging the meat to infuse it with the sauce. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight, or at least a few hours.

3. Heat the oil over medium flame in a frying pan. Sauté the mixture in batches, browning the meat on one side, and then turning over (flip only one time)

4. Serve with rice or lettuce leaves

 

Recipe: Tofu Bulgogi

¼  kilo firm tofu, cut into thin bite-sized squares

½ head of garlic, minced

1 onion, cut in half and sliced into moon shaped pieces

5 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1-2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

red chili flakes, to taste

black pepper, to taste

neutral oil, for frying pan

 

1. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sesame seeds, chili flakes and pepper in a bowl and stir together.

2. Place the tofu, garlic, onions and spring onions in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and very gently stir with your hands, since the tofu breaks easily. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least a few hours.

3. Heat the oil over medium flame in a frying pan. Sauté the mixture in batches, browning the tofu on one side, and then turning over (flip only one time).

4. Serve with rice or lettuce leaves

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