Editor’s Note: This is the 8th installment of Alan Lake’s Home Cookin’ series on home cooks–their stories and recipes. Read part one here for insight into what Home Cookin’ is all about.
Un Hee Han has worked around 70 hours a week for the last 40 years. The land of opportunity has been a brutal mistress. Her version of the American dream plays out in the storefront of a small dry cleaner on Division Street from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Originally created for a king, this mixture of vegetables, glass noodles and (in this case) pork has become a mainstay of the Korean kitchen. It can be served hot or at room temperature.
12 oz. sweet potato vermicelli glass noodles, aka “dangmyeon” (available at Korean Markets)
4 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms (approx. 20)
1 medium zucchini, washed and massaged with coarse salt, then julienned
2 medium carrots, washed, finely julienned
1 lb. onion, julienned
1 medium red pepper, julienned
1 medium green pepper, julienned
1 lb. broccoli, small florets, stems trimmed on all sides and julienned *
1 lb. pork loin, julienned
10 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbs. dark sesame oil divided into two portions
13 Tbs. soy sauce, divided 5/5/3
4 eggs, separated
1. Soak dry noodles in warm water for one hour. Bring water to a boil and cook 8-10 minutes until “soft and slippery,” not al dente. Cut into smaller lengths with a scissors, add 3 Tbs. soy sauce to coat, mix well, reserve.
2. Place dried shiitakes in a small sauce pan, cover with water, bring to boil, and let steep until soft. Strain, reserving water for another use. Trim stems and discard. Julienne mushroom caps and add 5 Tbs. soy sauce. Mix well, reserve.
This savory Korean seafood pancake is simple to make, great for parties and pairs well with alcoholic beverages like makgeolli or shoju. For whatever reason, it’s considered food well-fit for a rainy day.
2 cups Korean pancake mix, aka buchimgaru, available at Korean markets or online
2 1/4 cup water
1 cup carrot, julienned
1 cup zucchini, washed, then massaged with coarse salt and julienned
1 cup onion, julienned
1 large jalapeño, seeded and sliced (optional)
12 oz. assorted cleaned seafood such as shrimp, clams, mussels or squid, chopped
1. Make batter with pancake mix and water, mix well, reserve.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet until oil shimmers. Add 1/4 of the vegetables and sauté until barely softened, about 1 minute.
3. Add 1/4 of the seafood, scatter evenly around the pan and sauté for another minute or so.
4. Pour 1/2 cup of the batter into the hot pan, tilting it to spread evenly through the mixture.
5. Cook over high heat until the bottom is brown and crisp, about 3 minutes.
6. Flip the pancake and cook until the other side is set, around 1 minute more.
A working-class dish traditionally served at weddings, this mung bean, pork and kimchi pancake is an example of the North Korean style, with beans and kimchi instead of flour and seafood as in the South. Most often it’s washed down with an unfiltered rice wine called makgeolli–a favorite of farmers and, these days, rappers. Besides that, it’s Un Hee Han’s daughter’s favorite comfort food.
1 lb. dry yellow mung beans (needs advance preparation)
1 lb. pork loin, minced
1/2 lb. cabbage kimchi*, drained, julienned
Garnish: sliced hot red chili or scallion
*Available at Korean markets
1. Place mung beans in a bowl. Wash repeatedly until water runs clear and bubbles disappear, maybe 5-6 times. Cover with about 1 inch of water (Un Hee Han uses the top joint section of her index finger to measure). Let soak 4 hours. Strain and puree in small batches until smooth, adding some of the soaking water to reach a light batter consistency.
2. Mix all ingredients together. In well-oiled small skillet, ladle 4 oz. of batter (about 4 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick) and sauté in batches over medium-low heat until it solidifies and browns around the edges, 5-7 minutes. Flip and repeat. Makes 10-12 pancakes.
Sometimes, the solution to utilizing surplus food supplies happens organically, spearheaded by one person that simultaneously sees an overage, and a need. Someone like Ashley Stanley, who walked into the back room of a Boston supermarket one day and saw piles of onions, potatoes and eggplant on the floor. The produce wasn’t spoiled, but was ready to be thrown into the dumpster because it had spent its allotted time on the store shelves. Ashley asked if she could have it, and five years later she and her company, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, were donating almost a million pounds of produce a year to Boston-area food pantries and homeless shelters. But, on occasion, necessity and opportunity play a role, which is how the Korean comfort stew budae jjigae came to life. A little background first, though…
A Writer’s Education in Prejudice, Organic Gardening, and the True Meaning of Community
I know this doesn’t reflect well on me, but . . . I did not want to like Jeanne Nolan.
Hmm, let me back up a little bit. . . .
About six months ago, I moved from my house with a yard to an apartment on the north side of Chicago. I was fortunate enough to land two blocks away from an organic community garden that had an open plot. It was mid-June, a little late to start a garden in the Midwest, but I managed to eke out some kale, a couple of jalapenos, and a few cherry tomatoes before Halloween arrived to close us down with the first sleet of the season.
Our 46-plot garden was undergoing some serious organizational upheaval among its members (a few of whom had been with the garden continuously since it opened in 1982). Through a flurry of emails, meetings, and phone calls, I accidentally found myself installed as the new garden coordinator, and was unceremoniously thrust into the bustling and burgeoning world of Chicago’s urban community gardening movement.
Editor’s Note: This is the 7th installment of Alan Lake’s Home Cookin’ series on home cooks- their stories and recipes. Read part one here for insight into what Home Cookin’ is all about.
It’s not like being a smoke eater was a childhood dream. Craig Brannan joined the fire department when he was 25. Prior to that he quite happily owned a landscaping company. On a visit to L.A., he met a fireman. They got to talking and it sparked his inner flame. In that instant, Craig decided to pursue firefighting as a career . . . after all, he liked the movie Backdraft.
Nearly 20 years later, Craig drives Fire Engine #25 for the City of Evanston, where he’s a Fire Apparatus Operator and Paramedic. Besides driving, his job is to put wet stuff on hot stuff by sending water as requested (there’s 500 gallons on the truck) and if need be, hook up to the fire hydrant.
“Not certain how they got the name–maybe you cook ‘em when somebody dies, for a wake or something, or maybe it’s that they’ll kill you by eating them? They’re very rich. Potatoes and cheese topped with those Durkee’s canned fried onions (of green bean casserole fame) or with stuffing mix. Whichever you prefer. It’s comfort food–cheesy, crunchy and really tasty. No way they’re good for ya.”
This is an adaptation of a couple recipes that Craig and his girlfriend Laura like, and so includes both shredded and mashed potatoes. Feel free to play around with it as well–maybe add some bacon and scallions or change the cheeses up. Or use fresh shredded potatoes and fry your own onions instead of the firemen’s favorite: frozen and canned.
Original or enhanced, here’s the tried and true:
1 lb. shredded hash browns (thawed if frozen)
1 lb. potatoes, peeled, quartered
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup onion, medium dice
1 pint sour cream, divided in half
4 oz cream cheese, softened
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 can Durkee’s fried onions
1 cup dry stuffing mix plus an additional 1/2 cup butter, melted*
*NOTE: If you use the stuffing mixture, melt an additional 1/2 cup butter and drizzle it over 1 cup of stuffing mixture to coat. Reserve.
(Craig originally told me he topped the casserole with a can of Durkee’s fried onions, but when I showed up to cook with him he used herb stuffing mix instead. He had some left over and didn’t want it to go to waste. It worked well, so, dealer’s choice.)
1. In a large bowl, add hash browns, onion, salt, pepper, 1/2 (8 oz) of the sour cream, and the cheddar cheese. Mix well, reserve.
2. Boil potatoes in salted water about 20 minutes (or until tender). Drain well and mix with 1/2 cup butter and cream cheese. Mash thoroughly.
3. Add remaining sour cream and whip until smooth and creamy. Salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add to reserved potato and cheese. Mix well.
5. Place in 9” x 13” casserole and spread until even.
“Guys love my red sauce, my Sunday Gravy. It gets cooked in the oven all day with neck bones, meatballs and Italian sausage. Some garlic bread and a salad and you’re good to go. The recipe comes from Frankie Traficanti, this old guy that owned a nursery I bought my trees from when I was landscaping. If you call central casting and ask for an 80-year-old Italian dude, they send Frankie. We became friends and would cook and drink Chianti together at his place.”
Frankie T’s Sunday Gravy
(Yields about a gallon and a half)
1-1/2 lbs. neck bones
1 lb. Italian sausage
Meatballs – Frankie T’s recipe to follow
Five 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
Three 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 large bulb (not cloves) of garlic, chopped (approximately 6 oz.)
2 Tbs. dry basil, or 1 bunch fresh basil, roughly torn
1 Tbs. dry oregano, or 1/2 bunch fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. black pepper
2 Tbs. sugar
1 cup Chianti*
Fresh grated parmesan for garnish
*This step is omitted at the firehouse, as wine is frowned upon, but at home . . . salute!
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Brown neck bones in large skillet with enough olive oil to coat pan. Reserve and repeat with Italian sausage and then, the meatballs.
3. Deglaze pan with Chianti, reduce by 1/2 and pour over reserved meats.
4. Sauté garlic in remaining oil over medium-high flame until golden brown, stirring throughout. Do not burn.
5. Add the tomato paste, basil and oregano and mix well. Reserve.
6. In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, combine crushed tomatoes with reserved meats and their juices, mixing well. Bring to boil, remove from stovetop and place in oven for 3 hours, stirring often to prevent burning on the bottom of the stockpot.
7. Adjust seasonings as you see fit.
Frankie T’s Meatballs
(Recipe yields 20 golfball-size meatballs.)
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground beef
2 tsp. garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
2 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped, washed
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
1. Combine garlic, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Reserve.
2. Mix beef, pork, parsley, eggs and milk lightly by hand and combine with the above. Form into balls.
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown meatballs on all sides and add to Sunday Gravy stockpot.