The Lay of the Land

A time, not too long ago, a 20something year old joined two friends in going to learn the culinary lay of the land in which he was living.

A time, when two scarves wouldn’t keep the wind off your neck, and wool socks were a necessity, a 20something year old learned that the food he was eating every day were rich with animal protein, and yet didn’t need to be.

A time, when the sun rose at nine am and not six, a 20something year old took a vegan cooking class, and learned a lot.

They all met at 10 in the morning, seeking both refuge from the bitter cold, and knowledge from a vegan chef. Caffeine deprived and overly excited for the lessons ahead, the three vegetarian-vegan-sometimes-meat-eaters exchanged pleasantries with the other students and took their spots at the front of the class where wooden chopping blocks, spices, and sharp knives sat waiting for their wielding. On the menu today, one man called out as if to third graders – as he probably was normally accustomed – we will be making a tofu steak with chili soy sauce, mushroom japchae, and vegan kimchi. He waited for an applause to no avail.

The three students amongst fifteen knew that he had saved the best for last. Despite most Koreans’ ideas, the kimchi that was served to these three comrades endlessly at every meal was not vegan. Nor was is or will it vegetarian for one of the most important components in kimchi is the shrimp paste used to aid the fermentation. No, theses three plus twelve students said. No, indeed. We will make it without shrimp paste – and one student went so far as to suggest not even using sugar. Two 20somethings laughed as if to say Why no sugar? It’s delicious.

The instruction began and most students gawked at the efficiency of the professional chef’s knife gliding through carrots, green onions, garlic, onions, cabbage, mushrooms, and the like with ease. Chop dice glide scoop sautee flip oil plate magic.

The 20something took to the cutting board and began to prepare, essentially mimic to the best of his ability, the dishes at hand. First, the kimchi. Chop, mix, scoop up, massage, wrap, place in a plastic bucket for further fermentation. It’ll be ready in two days, the boss said, or a month. Next was the Japchae – a noodle dish filled with carrots, mushrooms, onions, soy sauce, and simplicity. As long as you chop all of the vegetables to the same size, said the instructor, you’ll be good to go. One of the compadres turned to the 20something and said I never thought of sautéing vegetables by themselves before as the instructor sautéed the onions separately, took them out, and then moved on to the carrots. Not efficient, but planned and precise. Notes were taken.

The last of the four-hour cook-a-thon was the tofu steak. The 20something had thought many a time before on how to fry tofu like he’d found in countless restaurants trying to copy the flavors of the East, when back home in the West. Maybe a high temperature. Maybe a lot of oil. Maybe just the right flick of the wrist. No, to all of these, the instructor said as she coated the tofu in just enough corn starch to give it the golden crisp every customer, eater, diner, person may want. Accompany that, she said, with a thick spicy soy sauce, and you’ve got yourself addiction, as the 20something’s pal leaned over and said during the feasting portion of the class.

As it turned out the 20something had nothing but fond memories and a full stomach from the savory mushroom japchae, fresh and bright vegan kimchi, and the weighty tofu steak.

Vegan Kimchi  (O’ngo’s Recipe Adapted)

Brined Cabbage ( ¼ head)

Radish 100g

Scallion 30g

Gochugaro (chili powder for kimchi) ¼ cup

Soy Sauce

Garlic 1 clove, minced

Ginger ½ amount of garlic

Dash of sugar

Pinch of Salt

First: Julienne the radish and cut spring onins into 3cm slivers

Second: Throw the chili powder all over the radish. Add everything else together for the sauce (Gochugaro and down)

Next: Take that cabbage and put it on a baking sheet, and get ready to stuff it. You basically lift up the layers of leaves and put the sauce in between them. Kind of like putting honey in between the layers of phylo dough for baklava (if you’ve every done that before)

Finally: Make it into a nice little baby bundle, and put it into a container and let the fermentation begin!

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