Mondays with Mom is a column penned from the perspective of a member of the older Korean generation. AsianSupper contributor umma immigrated to the US in the 1980s and currently lives in Washington state.
A couple of weeks ago, I met friends who I haven’t seen for a while at church. We were talking and I decided to ask them over for dinner to talk some more – it was just a last minute invite. She said they didn’t have anything planned for the afternoon and would love to come over for dinner. So, I had to come up with a quick menu; I knew I had shopped a day before, had some steak, asparagus, potatoes, and such in the refrigerator.
I thought about fixing a steak and kimchi soup -- it might sound funny to you, steak and kimchi soup?
For as long as we’ve been living here in the United States (for almost 4 decades), our taste has adjusted somewhat, but I still can’t live entirely without some ethnic food, the Korean food. The three major dishes of Korean food, according to my taste, are: kimchi (pickled napa cabbage salad), deonjang jjigae (soybean paste casserole), and kongnamul guk (soybean sprout soup). So, I always have on hand at least some kimchi in a jar in the refrigerator, (it can be old or new depending on when I made it) and a jar of doenjang, or soybean paste.
So what did I make for that last minute dinner? My menu was a mix of Western and Korean: pan-fried steak, grilled asparagus, pan-fried potatoes and then rice and kimchi soup. Traditionally, Koreans always have to have soup with their dinner, and generally prefer to have the soup in the beginning along with a bowl of rice.
This combination probably sounds weird, but after living here for so long, we often mix Korean food with Western food. For instance, for Thanksgiving, we'll have turkey with mandu and Ukrainian salad (my employee is Ukrainian). Or we might have meat loaf and banchan (Korean side dishes). It's my own kind of fusion!
Back to my non-traditional meal that I made for my friends. In case you also want to make it, here is how I did it: first I made the kimchi guk -- with some anchovy soup stock; I added some deonjang (soybean paste), I cooked a little bit and added old kimchi cut into small pieces. The soup can be reheated any time and it will taste fine. I also found some small red potatoes in the refrigerator, and decided to pan fry them, too. I chopped them up and just fried with olive oil and a bit of salt, took them out and put it on the oven to keep them warm. When my friend and her husband showed up at the door, I started grilling the asparagus, so we can have it freshly cooked without reheating. And the final thing was the steak -- I quickly seared the steak at high, after a few minutes, turned it over and did the same thing.
When it was serving time, I warmed plates, arranged the steak, potatoes, asparagus and served. After that course was done, I brought out a small container of mixed rice for people to serve themselves, and the kimchi soup. I switched the order of serving compared to the traditional way. After a pretty bland western-style main course, the kimchi soup and rice was eye opening dessert almost! And for our dessert, we stuck to Korean tradition -- they had brought oranges, so I cut and served those.
My friends unequivocally voted the dinner the best meal they have had in a recent years. Maybe it was because my steak and potatoes were so bland, making the kimchi soup seem that much better? So: filet mignon and kimchi soup for dinner, anybody?