Korean Mung Bean Pancakes (Nokdu Jeon)

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Most people probably have fond memories of their grandmothers’ cooking, even though their cooking might not have been Michelin-star worthy, or it might not have been a culinary firework every time. For me, whatever my grandmothers whip up in their kitchen reminds me of their warmth and love. Their food always tasted different from my mother’s. My mother grew up eating her mother’s amazing food, but hasn’t set her foot in the kitchen until she was married. She learned most of her cooking from my paternal grandmother. Her cooking, could be said, is a direct blood line from my paternal grandmother, mixed with her memories of the taste she grew up with,

Koreans love savoury pancakes. They are made with wheat flour, buckwheat flour, or ground mung beans, and filled with spring onions, seafood, pork, kimchi… you name it. They taste amazing with milky rice wine, Magkoli, on a rainy day. (not sure why?) On chinese new year, or as Koreans call it, “old” new year, both of my grandmothers make stacks of pancakes for the family. My paternal grandmother has always been the queen of mung bean pancakes, and the maternal grandmother makes some mean, crispy kimchi pancakes. As I was making these for lunch today, the smell reminded me so much of the new year’s gathering with my family, which I haven’t enjoyed in over 10 years. My mother says that, to make these pancakes well, one must reach the age of 60+. Well, here’s my vegetarian take on the mung bean pancakes (Nokdu Jeon 녹두전) from my maternal grandmother. Someday, maybe mine will taste as good as my grandmothers’.

Korean mung bean pancakes

*Note: You can leave out the kimchi if you have a hard time finding it, but the pancake definitely tastes better with kimchi. Nowadays, it should be easy to find it in Asian or Korean grocers. It’s usually found in the fresh produce aisle. (In Leipzig, the Asian grocer on Hainstr. has vacuum packed ones)

Makes: 4-6 pancakes
150g hulled and split mung beans (can be found at asian or indian grocers), also called mung dal
5 Tbsp brown rice flour (or rice flour)
A big handful mung bean sprouts
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and re-hydrated in hot water.
1 spring onion, finely sliced
50-70g kimchi, finely chopped (can be found at Asian grocers, in fresh produce aisle)
240ml water
1/2 tsp salt
1 mild fresh red chili, sliced thinly, for garnish
vegetable oil, for frying
For the dip
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1.5 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp water
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
A pinch of chili flakes
1. Rinse the mung beans in several changes of water. Soak them in plenty of water for about 12 hours.
2. In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add the mung bean sprouts and cook for one minute. Drain and rinse under cold water. Squeeze them between your hands to get water out as much as possible. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sprouts with a pinch of salt and sesame seeds.
4. Drain the shiitake mushrooms. Discard the stems. Squeeze out the water. Slice the caps finely and add to the mung beans sprouts.
5. Drain and rinse the mung beans. Add them to a mixer or food processor, along with water, salt, and rice flour. Grind them into a fine paste. Add the paste to the large mixing bowl with mushrooms and sprouts. Add the chopped kimchi. Mix well.
6. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a none-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a small ladle in the pan and flatten them. Flip, once the bottom turns golden and crispy. Cook the other side until golden. Repeat.
7. For the dip, mix all the ingredients together. Serve the pancakes with the dip on the side.

Kohlrabi, Apple, and Bärlauch (Ramps) Kimchi

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Spring has arrived! If you are living in Germany, you might have guessed by the mention of Bärlauch in the title of today’s recipe. Bärlauch is called ramps in English, and directly translated, bear onion. 🙂  At glance, the leaves look like wide and tall grasses growing in the woods. Up close, rubbed between your fingers, they smell very strongly of garlic and onion. The first spring in Leipzig, I couldn’t make out where this onion-y and garlicky smell was coming from. My uni was right by the park, so the smell was kind of intense at times. In my second year in Leipzig, a Korean family invited me to eat Bärlauch pancakes at their place with Bärlauch they have foraged that day. It was so delicious. I mean, how could it not be, for someone like me who needs some kind of an allium at every meal. Since then, every year I wait for spring to arrive so I can go forage them. (for free!) The photo from 2008 underneath is a field of ramps growing in the woods in the spring.

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Kimchi is the most essential part of a Korean meal. It is served at every meal (not kidding). There are many many varieties of kimchi, and every household has a slightly different kimchi recipe.  I only started making kimchi myself only a year ago -shame on me- and I have to say, I was so proud of myself when my kimchi has fermented properly and tasted somewhat like my grandmother’s. I think I was steered away from making it before because I thought it was somehow super difficult to make and to ferment. (it is not).

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Kimchi can be made out of cabbage, Korean radish, cucumber during the summer, spring onions or chinese chives. I have opted for kohlrabi while looking to develop a new kimchi recipe. To quote Yotam Ottolenghi on kohlrabi, “People often ask me what to do with kohlrabi, an often unwanted child in the organic vegetable box. It seems to healthy, too weird, too German!” (from Plenty) Yup. This explains how I felt about kohlrabi when I first saw it. Maybe I have lived in Germany for too long, but I have become fond of this weird vegetable of brassica family. It’s delicious julienned in salads, and cooked in curries. I originally wanted to use pink table radishes while developing this kimchi recipe but they don’t come in season for another month or so, and kohlrabi can be bought at any given time of the year at german supermarkets. The boskoop apple gives a sweet and slightly sour contrast to the garlicky and spicy ingredients. I’m not sure if my grandmas would be confused or annoyed when I tell them I have included diced apple in my kimchi. Because I added a bunch of Bärlauch, I only added a small clove of garlic. I still want you to be able to meet friends after eating this kimchi. Bärlauch can be quite pungent especially when they have grown bigger.

Happy pickling everyone!

Kohlrabi, Apple, and Ramps (Bärlauch) Kimchi

If you can’t find kohlrabi, replace with a bunch of pink radishes. Ramps are hard to come by in some places, so a small bunch of spring onions would do the trick.

Makes a 500ml jar

1 kohlrabi, peeled and top and bottom trimmed, and diced

1 Boskoop apple, cored and diced (Granny Smith can be substituted)

30g ramp, roughly chopped

1 Tbsp sea salt

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp boiling water

1 tsp finely grated ginger

1 small clove garlic, germ removed, then finely grated

2 Tbsp Korean chili flakes

1/2 tsp Korean fish sauce (Optional)

1/2 tsp sugar

1. In a large bowl, toss the kohlrabi cubes with salt and let them sit for one hour. Drain, saving any brine from kohlrabi. Run the kohlrabi cubes very briefly under cold water. Drain well.

2. To make the sauce, sift the flour in a small bowl. Add the boiling water and whisk until it becomes a smooth paste. Add the brine, grated ginger, garlic, chili flakes, Korean fish sauce, if using, and sugar. Stir to combine.

3. Toss the kohlrabi, apple, and ramp in the sauce until well coated. Transfer to a clean jar and close the lid tightly. Let it ferment at room temperature for 24 hours before serving. Keep it in the fridge and eat within a week.