I keep cookbooks that I buy in my office within reach of my desk. In my spare moments, I page through one and plot what to try, how I may learn something new and interesting from the author. Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking is one of those books. The author, Maangchi, is a YouTube Korean cooking expert who provides down-to-earth guidance to a wide audience interested in making good Korean food.
She offers solid, honest advice to home cooks and her book is filled with cultural information, ingredient tips, and cooking insights. I love Korean jeon – pancakes and other panfried flat morsels that involve flour and batter. She has a whole Korean pancake section to discuss what they are: savory foods that may serve as “side dishes, snacks or light bites with alcoholic drinks.” I’d only been exposed to large ones featuring seafood and enjoyed with beer and makgeolli rice liquor.
Maangchi points out that in Korea on rainy days, consumption of pancakes and the liquor increase. I looked it up and among the explanations given, is that the sound of rain echoes the sound of jeon frying. Also, that flour and makgeolli have serotonin, which may raise people’s spirits in a downpour. A good reason to indulge anytime.
But not all Korean cooking is about drinking or emotions. This recipe is great for school lunches, Maangchi points out. I selected it because it showcases how tofu is often used to extend meat in Korean cooking. You may have experienced that approach in Korean mandu fillings. The tofu also softens some of the bite of raw garlic and onion.
I tweaked Maangchi’s recipe by adding raw chile to the dipping sauce for zip. Using chickpea flour (sold at healthfood markets and Indian grocers) is an option for people who are avoiding wheat. We had the beef and tofu patties at dinner and then I packed leftovers in my husband’s lunch box with rice and some pickles.
There are many other recipes to try and learn from in Maangchi’s book. Even if you don’t want to do it, she encourages you to go old-school and make your own Korean gochujang red pepper paste. Read the recipe and you’ll learn how to judge its quality (the good stuff should taste complex — sweet, salty, and spicy with a lingering deep flavor). That’s one of my benchmarks for good cookbook. Maangchi’s book is a keeper.
Korean Beef and Tofu Patties
Yields: 3 or 4 servings
- 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons Korean or Japanese soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- 3 or 4 slices jalapeno or Fresno chile (optional)
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) medium-firm or firm tofu
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion or green onion
- 8 ounces lean ground beef or pork, 1:1 combination of both
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or chickpea (besan) flour
- 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
- 2 to 3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- For a dipping sauce, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, and chile (if using). Set aside.
- To make the patty mixture, break the tofu into 3 or 4 chunks, then wrap in a piece of muslin or paper towel. Standing over a sink, squeeze to expel excess water.
- Dump the mashed tofu into a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. Mix well with your hand to ensure the tofu is finely mashed and combined with other ingredients. Add the meat and sesame oil. Mix well with your hand to make a firm mixture. Divide into 16 portions. Roll each one into a ball and flatten into a disk, about 2 inches wide and 1/4 inch thick.
- Have the flour in a shallow bowl and coat each patty in flour. Set aside on a baking sheet.
- Whisk together the whole egg, egg yolk, and a pinch of kosher salt. Set near the stove.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a good 1 tablespoon oil. Panfry the patties in batches, dipping each in egg before laying it down on the skillet. Avoid crowding the pan. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving platter. Add oil to the pan and repeat the frying until all are cooked.
- Enjoy hot, warm, or at room temperature with the dipping sauce.
Adapted from Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)
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