everyone has that one (or a few) go-to dishes that bring nostalgic childhood memories of being in their mother's kitchen. i don't think any movie illustrates this feeling better than that closing scene in ratatouille. ya know what i'm talking about, right? where anton ego gingerly bites into paper thin layers of ratatouille and then looks like he's about to die of a heart attack? but then. you learn that the ratatouille had magical powers of softening a bitter and harsh old man by way of throwing him back into his childhood where his mom, wrapped in a soft halo of sunlight in the kitchen, invites him in after a long day of playing to eat some ratatouille.
it's the same for me as it is for ego. and it probably is the same for you too. in adulthood, these nostalgic dishes bring you sweet and unfettered memories of bonding with your mother, or father, or grandparents, sibling, teacher, whoever! you have to have at least one fond childhood memory of sharing food with someone. the dish that does that for me is yookgaejang. no matter where i am, be it thousands of miles away from home, sitting in my office late at night or alone at a restaurant overseas, this soup without fail melts me into a sappy love puddle in which all i'm left with is a burning desire to hug my mom. because she and i have a long distance relationship, one way i've coped with my long distance heartache is by sending her a selfie of me ninja crying into my bowl of yookgaejang.
i'm morbid and crazy. i estimated (optimistically) around how many more times i have left in my life to go home to see my parents. and selfishly, how many times i can ask my mom to make yookgaekjang for me. although i'm so lucky to have her here with me today to share my T_T (old school crying face emoji) selfies with, the actual opportunities to enjoy this dish with her aren't as many as i hoped to have...which is INFINITY. since our souls are tethered to bodies that are not infinite and forever, i learned how to make this dish as safekeeping for times when i'm in desperate need of a hug from my mom. a korean spicy soup chock full of vegetables, beef, and glass noodles will just about do it.
the one thing that is different in this version is that i swapped out a vegetable. it's hard to find the sturdy korean greens my mom typically uses, so i used a green that is bountiful year round in brooklyn: rainbow swiss chard.
i'd love to hear about your comfort dish, please do share them with me. and if you can, please give your mom a hug for me.
umma's yookgaejang with rainbow swiss chard
1 1/5 pounds beef flank steak
5 medium sized dried shitake mushrooms
1 large yellow onion, slice in half
10 cups of water
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
8 stalks of swiss chard, cut hot dog style (bottom of stem to the top of the leaf) into 1 inch-wide strips
8 trumpet mushrooms, cut hot dog style into 4 pcs
6 spring onion stalks, each cut into quarter pieces (apprx. 2 inches long)
1 pack of enoki mushroom (apprx. 3.5 oz), trim dirt ends off, loosely separate
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
1/4 cup dulkkae (perilla seeds)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 cups japchae (glass noodles), rehydrate by boiling in water for a 3-4 minutes. strain, run under cold water, set aside
season beef: sprinkle salt onto beef and massage it into the meat. set aside for at least 15 minutes
beef broth: bring water to a boil, add dried shitake mushroom, beef broth, and onion. cover pot, boil over medium high heat for 45 minutes or until water has reduced down by 1/3.
while you're waiting for the broth to boil down, dress those veggies!
prep the vegetables: i know the instructions are on left, but since it seems like a process to wash them all, trim or cut them, thought it deserved its own step here.
mix up the vegetable paste: pretty straight forward, mix until there's even consistency
moo-chuh: moo-chuh basically means in korean to slather on and around. so slather on the vegetable paste onto those vegetables and let them hang out in a bowl until the water has reduced down
extra prep: if you're not a procrastinator, you can also prep the japchae if you have time here. you can wait to do this any time before serving.
once the broth has reduced down by 1/3, remove the beef, mushroom, and onion bits
add the mooched vegetable mix into the pot, boil over medium high heat for 15 minutes
once the beef has somewhat cooled down, enough for you to handle with your hands, tear the beef in the direction of the grain of the meat, meaning with the direction of the fibers so that you get strips. slice the shitake into 1/2 inch strips, discard the onions. toss the beef and shitake mushroom back into the boiling pot, boil for another 10 minutes
bring boil down to a medium heat, simmer for 30 minutes. this is when all the flavors magically gel together.
taste, add salt if needed. dump a serving of japchae noodles into the bowl you'll be eating out of (NOT THE POT! adding japchae to the pot will suck the life out of the broth and you’ll be a sad brothless human being)