Bulgogi Burger with Cold Buckwheat Noodles, Asian Pears and Kimchi
Here’s an interesting note about the United Nations, they follow rules of alphabetizing that defy my ability to explain or understand. If you’ve been paying attention, we’re tackling each country in the world in alphabetical order. Rather than create my own list, the UN has an alphabetical list that I just printed out and use as my guide. I was with them when they put Republic of the Congo in the Cs; I’m even following the logic when Democratic Republic of the Congo comes after Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the Ds – makes sense. But then I noticed that Republic of Korea is listed in the Rs, not the Ks! Why? Different rules for the Congos than the Koreas? Well, it is what it is – I’m sticking with their list, just don’t complain to me if gets a little wacky.
So without further ado, we plunge into the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (or North Korea as it is often called, and will be called here because it’s a lot easier to type). North Korea is located in East Asia and borders Russia, China and South Korea (of course). This is another totalitarian country where information is really tightly controlled, so much of what you find on the Internet is either state issued information or information posted by people who have take issue with the current regime. So rather than get into any political controversy, I’m going to focus on food. Even talking just about food though, there is controversy. North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages and the people of the country depend on food aide from US, South Korea and China. Both the US and South Korea have cut food aide since 2008 because of North Korean pursuit of nuclear weapons and because of suspicions that the North Koreans have withheld the food from their people. The UN has estimated that over 6 million North Koreans urgently need food aide and that a third of the children under 5 are malnourished.
Until the end of World War II, Korea was one country (although the Japanese had annexed it in 1910). At the end of the war, the Soviets and Americans decided to split the country in half with the Northern half under Soviet control and the Southern half allied with the US. Which has been pretty much a disaster as you might expect, both sides warring with the other and claiming the whole peninsula as their own. And that brings us to today, people starving, weapons looming, armed guards at the border, what a mess.
With that being said, let’s talk about the cuisine. North Korean food is very similar to South Korean food. Both love garlic and kimchi and bulgogi (Korean barbeque). Apparently in the North they also enjoy cold buckwheat noodles while in the south they prefer rice (this was randomly mentioned on a few sites, both countries eat both starches, it’s just that the northerners like the noodles a little more than southerners. This of course sent me in search of buckwheat noodles. I could only find soba noodles in my local grocers, most of the pictures I saw had a wider noodle (like linguini), but you go with what you have. I don’t love the cold noodles (and they are traditionally served very cold, not just room temperature), so next time I make this for my family I’ll either use a bun or rice, but I am including the recipe so that you can try them yourselves and be the judges.
I had a problem as I was shopping for my ingredients, I could only find mild kimchi. Kimchi is fermented cabbage and/or other vegetables. I think the best kimchi bubbles a little when you open the jar, as the fermentation is so intense. But I also think the best kimchi is spicy. I find the blander kimchi kind of boring and really wished for some more flavor, so I kept the balance of kimchi in the dish light. The good news is that the milder flavor is more in keeping with North Korean tastes, while the South Koreans like the hot stuff. Use the Kimchi as a topping, add as much or as little as you like.
Koreans enjoy the mixture of hot and cold, sweet and savory, spicy and sweet in their food. This helps explain the cold noodles. It’s also why I included Asian pears and cucumber on top of the burger – it adds a nice crisp clean flavor to the sweet and lightly spicy burger and bbq sauce.
Bulgogi is common in both North and South Korea (although it tends to have a little more spice in the south). It’s basically a marinade for meat that gives a sweet salty deliciousness to whatever you marinade. The challenge is that ground beef doesn’t marinade well, it ends up too wet and falls apart when you try to cook it. Which is my way of saying, please; grind your own meat for this burger. I swear you can do it in your regular food processor, but if you have a KitchenAide mixer, just buy the meat grinding attachment, it will change your point of view on what makes a fresh burger. I paid around $40 for mine and it is easy to use and opens up new possibilities for burger flavors. I did try the recipe just making the sauce, cooking it down a bit and adding it into ground beef – it was ok, but the thing with Korean BBQ is that the flavor is supposed to infuse the meat, and this technique fell far short of that.
So invest a small amount of cash and a little time, the flavor is sweet and just a little spicy and perfect any time of the year. One note, the marinade will caramelize when you cook the burger, so don’t worry, the burger isn’t burned, it just turns darker than a plain beef burger does. I made extra of the sauce of plan to marinate some steak tips and cook them on the grill if we can get any warm days in New England any time soon.
Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea burger
1 Asian pear
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup soy sauce
5 cloves of garlic minced
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons mirin
4 scallions sliced
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 pound chuck steak cubed
8 ounces of dry buckwheat noodles
2 Tablespoons kimchi brine
2 Tablespoons chicken broth
2 Tablespoons beef broth
1 Asian pear sliced thin
½ English cucumber sliced thin
Cooked down marinade
In a large glass bowl, grate Asian pear (using the fine side of the grater). Add the next seven ingredients to the pear and stir until combined. Add cubed beef into the marinade and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight. Remove the meat from the marinade (save the marinade) blotting the excess sauce. Grind the meat using the fine attachment for the meat grinder. Form four patties from the meat and grill to desired temperature.
Meanwhile transfer the marinade to a small saucepan, bring to a boil and continue shimmering for 10-15 minutes over medium heat. Use either hot or room temperature.
In a large saucepan, cook the noodles per the package instructions. Rinse the noodles under cold water until the noodles are completely cool. Mix the kimchi brine and the chicken and beef broth in a small bowl. Portion the noodles into four portions. Pour some of the broth mixture over each portion of noodles. Layer some kimchi on the noodles, then the burger, Asian pear, cucumber, cooked down marinade and top with sliced scallion.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach