“The Korean Table”: A solid cookbook for beginner chefs

The Korean TableIf you are curious about or want to dabble in Korean cooking, “The Korean Table: From Barbecue to Bibimbap” is a good start. The authors, Taekyung Chung and Debra Samuels, have put together a basic Korean cookbook that a beginner chef can use.

The first chapters describe the typical Korean meal, the meaning behind the ingredients used and how to stock your pantry for creating Korean dishes. I appreciated the English, Korean and Romanized spelling of the various spices and vegetables that are used. Also, there were pictures demonstrating meat-cutting techniques and mandu (Korean dumplings) folding. Most of the ingredients can be found at a local grocery store, and there is even a helpful list of Asian grocers and Web sites towards the back of the book.

However, the test of a good cookbook is to actually try the recipes in real life. So one night, I attempted two dishes from the book: kimchi chigae and asparagus fritters. Both recipes required little prep and I actually had the ingredients for them – that is, except for the asparagus, which I easily found at my local grocers, on sale!

The book has a recipe for kimchi if you can not readily obtain it at an Asian grocer near you. Luckily, I had some kimchi in the fridge and proceeded to make kimchi chigae. It makes a nice one-pot meal on a cold day. I used water since I did not have beef or vegetable stock handy. The bones in the pork ribs help to flavor the base of the dish. I was able to whip up this dish in 45 minutes (15 minutes to prep and 30 to cook).

While the dish was heating on the stove, I proceeded to make the asparagus fritters. For these, all you have to do is blanch the asparagus in boiling salt water for a minute. After draining the asparagus, you dust them with flour. Then you roll four asparagus spears at a time in a beaten egg wash and pan fry until golden brown. Add just a pinch of sea salt to taste.

After eating our dishes with a pot of rice from my trusty rice cooker, my husband and I were satiated. We even had enough leftovers for lunch the next day. I was impressed at how simple and tasty the dishes were, and they do not require a translator or a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) degree. I am confident enough with this book to even try to throw a Korean-themed dinner party in the future.