All eyes are on Pyeongchang, South Korea, as they host the 23rd Olympic Winter Games this month, and folks who love cooking on a theme will have a full 16 days to whip up Korean dishes at home.
Korean dishes like bibimbap, bulgogi and galbi are prized for balancing sweet, salty and spicy flavors in an artful manner. Readily available ingredients like garlic, sugar, chilis, ginger and vinegar make up the Korean pantry and work in harmony to bring bold flavors to otherwise cozy dishes like fried chicken and grilled beef.
Few Korean meals are complete without a hefty dose of kimchee. The punchy and highly addictive side dish is a Korean mainstay made from fermented vegetables like cabbage, radishes and scallions.
Watching elite-level athletes compete in an array of obscure chilly-weather sports night after night doesn’t really justify an indulgent dinner, but thankfully my bulgogi salad is light and bright.
The composed salad features assertively marinated grilled beef and an array of crunchy fruits and vegetables, but pungent kimchee and quick pickled onions turn an average salad into a gold medal-worthy meal.
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Gold medal-worthy bulgogi salad
¼ cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1 tablespoon gojuchang (Korean chili paste)*
1 pound beef tenderloin, cut into thin strips (about 2 inches long and a ½ inch wide)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Quick pickled onions
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons white sugar
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For the salad garnishes
1 head of Boston or green leaf lettuce
1 small pear, thinly sliced
1 small Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
1 small cucumber, cut into thin slices or matchsticks
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Hot or mild kimchee*
To prepare the bulgogi beef: Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, gojuchang and red pepper flakes in a small bowl or storage container. Add the strips of beef tenderloin to the marinade and toss well to ensure the meat is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
When ready to serve the salads, heat a grill pan or large skillet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray over high heat until smoking. Cook the meat in batches 1 to 2 minutes per side until sugars begin to caramelize and meat is cooked through. Do not over-crowd the beef in the pan or it will steam rather than sear. Transfer the cooked meat to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
To make the pickled onions: Place the thinly sliced red onion in a storage container. Whisk together the rice vinegar, water, sugar and kosher salt. Pour the dressing over the onions. Cover and refrigerate overnight (pickled onions are also a nice garnish for tacos and will keep for three weeks in the refrigerator).
Assemble the salad: Place four lettuce leaves on each of four dinner plates. Divide the warm beef among each of the plates. Garnish each salad with pear, apple, carrot, cucumber, scallions and a portion of kimchee. Top each salad with the pickled onions and serve at once.
*Gojuchang and other Korean pantry items can be purchased at finer grocery stores in the international aisles or at Korean specialty markets like the recently opened H-Mart, 722 W. Jackson in Chicago.