More often then not on my free time these days, I find myself browsing through guides to Seoul, and I’ve found a few truths from these perusings. One: Korean food is at the heart of the allure to coming to Seoul. Two: Seoul is beautiful. No, ugly. No, developing. No, surrounded by majestic mountains. No, grey. No, dynamic and stylish. No. No. No.
What you can surmise is: no one can agree as to what Seoul specifically is. Is it a tourist destination? An international economic powerhouse? Relaxing or stressful?
While browsing through, I had a few questions myself: why (first) am I almost a gestation period into my stay here and still looking at travel guides, second – what do I think of Seoul?
Well, to answer the first question: I have settled into a place of routine, and comfort and want to break out of that. Where can I go next? What’s the newest, best food on the market? With Spring in full swing, I find it time to be a tourist again.
In response to the second: I can only say that Seoul is a massive city characterized simply by a homogenous mix of wildly different lifestyles and ambitions fueled by a delicious cuisine, desire to succeed, all ensconced by dramatic craggy mountains.
And the mountains are what I find myself drawn to on the weekends. I think in every one of my “weekend plans” – which rarely are ultimately completed – includes hiking. Two weekends ago, though, I made my way up a mountain that not only had older folks beating me up the forty five degree angled path, but also had a section of the hike that required that the hiker grab a rope, and pull themselves up the hill. No safety nets. No guides. No signs. Just grab the rope, and make moves. I never really questioned it, since what seemed like ninety-year-olds were almost running up this rock face, but I did say to myself a few times “I don’t think this would ever happen in America…”
At the top of the mountain, with Seoul, and the surrounding environs in sight, the group of hikers I was with all gathered around to have lunch. Some brought out kimbab – a quick and easy hiking food (see Korean style sushi roll) – some brought out sandwiches, and others just had Oreo cookies. As you can see: hiking food is almost the same all over: proteins, few veggies, and sugar. Got to have the sugar.
I, planning ahead the night before, had brought some beer bread, strawberries (they are finally in season here!), and a new recipe: Caramel Corn (see: sugar!).
But not any Caramel Corn you may find in the 7-11 or movie theater, folks. This was homemade, slightly tacky, complex, and sweet enough to satisfy any sweet tooth.
Complex? How can a sugary treat (usually consisting of sugar, butter, and popcorn) be complex? You add a secret ingredient, but of course.
The recipe I was adapting mentioned using cayenne pepper. I think this would be amazing, but at the time, I had no cayenne, but I did have something else that was red (to start with): Saffron!
Maybe a misappropriation of saffron (only one of the most expensive spices in the world), but this treat was rich, sweet, complex, and freaking delicious nonetheless. The preparation was a bit hectic because as the saffron-caramel started to cool, you have to move fast (since it’s solidifying as fast as it’s cooling). Also, popping popcorn on the stove top can catch you, and your pot-lid, off guard. So my recommendation is: try this for the experience and be ready to not be able to think about anything but the two pots in front of you, for about fifteen minutes.
Saffron Caramel Corn
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Scant Pinch of Saffron
3 tablespoons of Milk (not skim, folks. Anything but skim)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoons kosher salt.
Over Medium heat, warm your veggie oil and add popcorn kernels. If you’ve never popped popcorn kernels over the stove – beware. They are angry little guys and want to attack you as they evolve from golden shell to yellow explosion. Make sure all of the kernels are popped, and transfer to a bowl to cool.
Warm your milk up a bit, and place saffron in the milk. The milk is warm enough if you see the little red threads start to bleed yellow. Let that sit for a good 10 minutes.
Over Medium-high heat, combine sugar, butter, and salt. Stir occasionally and let all of that combine real good. It’ll take a good 10 minutes, and get a little bubbly, but stick with it. It will be good times soon enough.
Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and yellow-saffron-milk. Whisk quickly. It’ll bubble a bit, but keep going.
Now it’s a race against the clock. The Caramel is starting to cool. So pour it over your popcorn and transfer to a flat, non-stick surface (Baking sheet is the best). Let it sit for at least 20 minutes to cool off.
Now, bring it in to work or school. There’s really just too much to eat by yourself.