A holiday meal fit for kings and aesthetes

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A holiday meal fit for kings and aesthetes

The lunar New Year's holiday calls for special meals to delight family members and guests. The food usually equated with the holiday is tteokguk, or traditional rice cake soup, but some housewives get a bit fancier with Korean delicacies. One of these is gujeolpan, a delicious and sophisticated dish that pleases even the most fastidious palates. The name gujeolpan denotes that the dish consists of nine different foods arranged separately on a large plate, and can also refer to the plate on which the food is served. The plates are often made of lacquered wood and prized as family treasures.

The basic component of gujeolpan is a stack of thin circular wraps made of wheat flour, called miljeonbyeong, used to envelop the other eight foods before dipping in a sauce and eating. There are general rules to prepare the foods, but a lot of flexibility is allowed. Usually gujeolpan has a colorful variety of meats and vegetables, cooked or fresh, and dipping sauce made from soy sauce and vinegar or mustard.

The classic gujeolpan recipe originated from meals Korean kings used to eat. It includes beef, shiitake mushrooms, radishes, carrots, cucumbers and egg yolks. A chef at the Shilla hotel's best Korean restaurant, Lee Jae-won, is an expert on Korean cuisine. He is now writing a cookbook, "The Food of Korea," which will be released in April. He recommends the following recipe to make gujeolpan:

Ingredients needed: 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, salt, 100 grams beef, 4 large pieces shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dry), a few stems minari (mugwort), 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped), sesame oil, roasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, black pepper, sugar, 1/3 small radish, 1 small carrot, 1 cucumber, 3 eggs, 100 grams bean sprouts.

1. To make miljeonbyeong, mix flour and salt in a bowl, using a sieve to get an even texture. Whisk in water and more salt, and pass the mixture through the sieve again to ensure smoothness.

2. Preheat a lightly greased pan over a low flame. Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the pan, spreading them very thinly to about 8 centimeters in diameter. Let them cool separately on paper towels. Trim the edges of the patties with a can or cup to get a uniform size.

3. Slice the beef into thin strips about 3-4 centimeters long. Marinate them in 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sugar. In a preheated skillet, stir-fry the beef in sesame oil and garlic. When the meat browns, add black pepper and a few drops of sesame oil. Set aside.

4. If using dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for 1 hour. Cut into thin strips, then stir-fry with soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Set aside.

5. Cut the carrot into thin strips. Stir-fry in the skillet, adding salt. Set aside. Do the same with the radish and cucumber.

7. Separate the egg yolks and whites, and remove any irregularities from the whites. Over a low flame, fry the yolks and whites separately, as if making extra-thin crepes. Let them cool, then cut into thin strips. Set aside.

8. In a pot of boiling water, parboil the bean sprouts, adding salt. Drain and squeeze to remove excess water. Put in a bowl and add two tablespoons soy sauce, a dash of black pepper, roasted sesame seeds and oil and mix thoroughly. Set aside. Do the same for the minari.

9. Prepare a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar or mustard for a dipping sauce.

10. On a gugeolpan, arrange the foods in a colorful presentation. In the center, place a small stack of miljeonbyeong. Serve with the dipping sauce.

by Inēs Cho

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