Vernal Delights Capture Seasonal Flavors
March is the time for celebrating the long-awaited spring in Korea, and the ubiquitous Korean restaurants have already begun to serve the best of what the Korean spring offers. It's once again time for the namul festivities.
Namul is the Korean name for various Korean-style vegetable dishes. A variety of vegetable parts such as leaves, roots and stems of trees and plants are prepared fresh or cooked and then lightly seasoned. The most common condiments for seasoning include salt, black pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil, roasted sesame seeds and chives. Various namul dishes are available throughout the year but vernal sprouts and leaves make springtime the best season to enjoy these light dishes.
Namul can be served as side dishes to complement main courses or as toppings for bibimbap (steamed rice mixed with assorted vegetables, sesame oil and red pepper sauce). Many namul dishes have their origins in mountain villages and Buddhist temples, where they were a major part of the diet. Their nutritional value and simple taste make them the vegetarian's best choice.
The cream of the crop among the namul dishes served early in the Korean spring is dureup namul. Dureup is the young sprout of the thorny dureup tree which is native to Korea. The young sprouts of the dureup tree are rich in protein, calcium and vitamin C and are believed to contain medicinal properties that can relieve rheumatism and chronic liver, heart and kidney diseases.
Dureup is known for its distinctive strong aroma and tastes best when parboiled, drained in cold water and served with a dipping sauce. Although some "fusion-style" cookbooks suggest Western-style sauces for this namul, such as tartar sauce, the traditional dipping sauce most widely used by Koreans is chogochujang (a creamy mixture of spicy red pepper paste and vinegar).
Another popular namul dish is called samsaek namul or tri-colored vegetables. The dish usually consists of white, brown and green vegetables in season, but most commonly of doraji (roots of the Chinese bellflower), sigeumchi (spinach) and gosari (an edible variety of bracken) in the spring time.
The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition brings you some easy-to-follow recipes for preparing authentic samsaek namul.
How to Prepare Doraji Namul
Split the roots into thin strips by hand and rub with sea salt to remove bitterness. Rinse the roots in water. In a skillet, preheat salad oil. When the oil is hot, it should sizzle when a grain of salt is added to it. Add chopped garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add the moist roots and mix thoroughly over high heat. Cover and cook for a few minutes until the roots become tender. Season with salt to taste, a dash of sesame oil and chopped chives (optional).
How to Prepare Sigeumchi Namul
Wash spinach in running water. Remove roots and withered leaves and cut into 4-5 centimeter (2-inch) strips. Place in a bowl and marinate with soy sauce, roasted sesame seeds and a dash of black pepper. Set aside until leaves become tender. Add sesame oil.
How to Prepare Gosari Namul
Wash gosari and remove coarse stems. Place in a mixing bowl with soy sauce and sesame seeds. Set aside. Preheat salad oil in a skillet. Saute chopped garlic and add the gosari. Mix thoroughly on high heat. When gosari is well mixed and tender, add sesame oil and chopped chives (optional).