Even in the depths of summer, it is unusual for the temperature in Berlin to reach the 30s, never mind reach the 30s for two weeks straight. Not accustomed to the heat and even less to air-conditioning, here we deal the old fashioned way: hand-held paper fans, en-masse exodus to the lakes, and specially-designed-to-cool foods. Like ice cream, loads of it. But eating ice cream multiple times per day (believe it or not) becomes tiresome and you eventually begin to crave something more satisfying and substantial to eat… then what?
Though she comes from Seoul, which surely has its share of hot and steamy, my friend and colleague Hae lan is unable to deal with the heat. When it’s too hot, she gets a sort of dreamy look in her eyes and then, slowly, begins to melt, sliding down her chair in a way that can only be reversed by the thought of something revivifying like…. cold noodles, anyone?
Hae lan and her friends from Maturlich served as guest chefs at our Dritte Mitte aperitivo last winter, but I must admit that on the evening they cooked, I was stuck behind the bar mixing drinks non-stop, and was unable to actually eat what they had prepared. So when she told me last week she would be preparing a cold noodle dish for a work event, I eagerly signed on to observe and assist, my sharpest knife in tote.
Cold noodle dishes are often served in South Korea in the summertime, as they are satisfying, but also cooling. Surprisingly cooling, actually. Despite a good dose of spicy kimchi on top, the dish was served with a hunk of ice on the side, which, although appearing strange, did wonders to help keep the noodles cold while eating. Cold noodles have another function, Hae lan explained. At the über-popular BBQ restaurants in South Korea (and abroad – Korean BBQ has certainly taken other large cities worldwide by storm) plain cold noodles are often ordered at the end of the meal, serving the purpose of soaking up any leftover sauces or bits of meat. YES.
In the case of our little meal, we made a very typical dish of Galbi, beef (or some people use pork) marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, green onion, sesame and honey. At a restaurant, you might grill this yourself at the table with your fellow diners, but we just wanted to give everyone a taste of it (and did not have a table-top grill), so we cooked it in advance and served it as a side dish.
The basic components of the cold noodle dish we prepared are Somyun, thin wheat noodles (look a bit like angel hair pasta); kimchi mixed with Gochujang (a Korean red chili paste mix with fermented soy beans and sweetener) and honey; hard-boiled egg; thin strips of cucumber; and some seaweed crumbles. (see below for ‘shopping list’ photo cheat sheet.) Sounds simple, right? Well, it is in principle, but as I learned from Hae lan, there are lots of subtle ways that a good noodle dish can be made just a little bit better.
When any kind of external condition becomes strenuous, when we feel vulnerable, I think there is always a tendency towards what is most comforting and safe. In no small part is this also the case with extreme weather and eating habits. When the temperatures climb to 40°C, I go for the simple slices of watermelon that I grew up eating during the summer months, or the cold-brewed iced coffee that my roommate in New York would make during the doldrums of August heat. Likewise, if you’re from South Korea, you might grab a package of Somyun, some fermented cabbage and a big block of ice.
Recipes: Korean Cold Noodles / Galbi
for the noodle dish:
100 grams of Somyun, thin wheat noodles, per person
1 package of kimchi (or homemade)
3 heaping Tbsp. Gochujang, red chili paste
2 Tbsp. honey
a few sprinkles of rice vinegar
1 large cucumber, sliced into small matchsticks
eggs (1/2 per person)
1 package of small sheets of dry seaweed, crumbled
a few green onions for garnish, thinly sliced
for the Galbi:
filet of beef (or short ribs if you can find) thinly sliced, about 1 kilo, or a bit more depending on how many people you are
1 cup soy sauce
a few dashes of sesame oil
small onion, diced
3 tsp. honey
1. Make marinade for the Galbi. In a Tupperware container large enough to fit all the meat that you want to cook, mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, diced onion, finely sliced green onions, a couple of cloves of mashed garlic, a few sprinkles of chili powder, sesame seeds and honey.
2. Slice the meat into approx. 1 cm thick pieces and place inside the container with the marinade. Cover container and refrigerate for at least ½ hour, or as long as overnight.
3. Prepare kimchi mixture. Remove contents from one large package of kimchi (see photo) and cut the cabbage into smaller pieces. Place in a large bowl and add the red chili paste, honey and a few sprinkles of rice vinegar. Here, Hae lan recommended tasting the kimchi right out of the package, before mixing in the other ingredients, and then again afterwards, to get a taste for the difference. You really want to strike a harmonious balance between sour, sweet and spicy. Mix well and refrigerate for about a half hour.
4. Hard boil enough eggs so that each person will get a half. I suggest making one or two extra in case the shells do not come off so beautifully, as was the case with ours! Hae lan told me that the egg is often the first thing to be eaten in a Korean meal, because it is thought to ‘cover the stomach with protein’. When cooled, remove shells and cut eggs in half lengthwise. Set aside.
5. Wash and cut one large cucumber into thin matchsticks. Slice green onions for garnish and set aside. Take one package of the dried seaweed sheets (see photo) and crumble with your fingers into a small bowl. All of these will be used later on.
6. Meanwhile, your meat should be finished marinating. Ideally, this can be cooked on a grill, but frying in a pan coated with a little bit of vegetable oil also works fine. Cook for about 8 minutes or until cooked through but still tender. Remove meat from pan along with its juices onto a plate. Garnish with sliced green onion and set aside.
7. Boil water (can also start this while you are preparing the meat) in a large pot and drop in 100 grams of noodles for each person, being careful not to crowd the pot with too many. The trick to cooking the noodles in the best way, so that they remain tender and not mushy, is to watch the boiling water closely. Have a glass of cold water ready. After a minute or two of cooking, the water will start to boil over. At this point, add the cold water and stir. Repeat two more times when the water boils over, cooking the noodles a total of only about five minutes. Pour out the noodles over a strainer and rinse under cold water tap, massaging the noodles/pulling them apart with your hands.
8. Once the noodles are cooled by the running water and drained completely, take a one-portion-sized amount in your hand and wrap slightly around your fingers to create a kind of ball of noodles (Hae lan did this very elegantly, but I suspect it takes some practice.) Put onto a plate and top with two scoops of the kimchi mixture, making sure to get some of the spicy juice as well, some cucumber matchsticks, crumbled seaweed, one half of a hard-boiled egg and some garnish of green onion.
9. Take one ice cube (straight from the freezer) and place it just beside the noodles on the plate, to keep the whole dish as cold as possible.
10. Serve a portion to each of your friends and the Galbi in the center of the table to share.
I found it deliciously spicy, but nevertheless cooling on a hot night.
Shopping list cheat sheet (sesame oil, gochujang, somyun, kimchi, seaweed sheets)