In Korea, spring has sprung. The mornings are greeted with bright sunshine filling apartments before 7am, runs in shorts and rolled up sleeves, and the infections energy that you somehow catch by just being outside. I don’t think I realized how much Cabin Fever really could affect me until this winter. Since the ice has thawed and sitting outside at a coffee shop doesn’t sound like crazy talk, I have been outside at every opportunity. Stroll to a far away grocery store just because I can? Why not. Extend my run just so I can keep the sun wrapping me up in its warm embrace? Who wouldn’t? Cooking with all the windows open? Let’s not get overly poetic.
With this pseudo-rebirth of personalities, people, and the city’s constant metronome comes an enlivened appetite for new adventures and new options on all fronts. Travel wise, socially, and but of course, gastronomically. Explorations, in my opinion, are generally more enjoyable when there is someone to share them with. Luckily for me, there is: a good friend moved into an apartment just one flight of stairs up fro me, and dare I say she has the same voracious appetite for new, different, and wholly healthy foods. Being a vegetarian, she is always on the hunt for new ways to keep herself healthy and – in a country that relies so heavily on meat – satisfied. Bottom line: girl cooks a lot because Korean restaurants think chicken isn’t meat.
Over the past two weeks we have been cooking together, a lot. It has been both a great and learning experience to share a small Korean kitchen with another gastronome. Most times, our cooking escapades start out with “hey, want to cook lunch on Tuesday?” “Sure, what should we make?” “Well, I have a small grocery store’s worth of dried goods, let’s pick one of those.” “Chickpeas it is.”
And chickpeas it was, one time. Another it was Textured Vegetable Protein (see: TVP) or some frozen tomatoes. Once more, it was oats. But for this first extravaganza, I take you to the land of chickpeas, which are a hearty and surprisingly protein-packed bean that all vegetarians should know how to handle. They’re super versatile and end up in dishes like Indian Curries, Greek Hummus, or Israeli Falafel. On this fine Tuesday evening, we took our ingredients and culinary intellects and headed to the Mediterranean to fix up some falafel. We, because it was just too easy to keep it vegetarian, wanted to go full-blown vegan. And add sweet potatoes, just for kicks. The results were better than almost any falafel I’ve ever had, save the one in the Marais in Paris. That one will always haunt my memories.
This Tuesday lunch falafel was crispy golden brown with a gooey give in the center accompanied by a tahini-inspired sauce, crisp fresh lettuce, fresh and refreshing cucumber slices, broccoli for texture, firm and juicy cherry tomatoes, a splash of lemon all neatly folded into a warmed flat pita. The falafel itself had deep flavors of the nutty chickpea, warm tones from the flax seed sprinkled in, a well rounded herb hint from the parsley, and a smidge of sweetness coming straight to us from the sweet potato puree.
We sat in slight awe for a second before we dove into the meal, all the while knowing that after this meal, we could go outside and enjoy any and every possibility of the awakening spring air. Ah, adventure, welcome back.