My friend Kristen has a marvelous experiment going on at her blog, Humdrum Stick in the Mud. Every week, she challenges herself to do something outside of her comfort zone, and she documents her experiences, good or bad, feast or fabulous fail. Her writing is quirky and honest and funny, and she inspires me. While I know I’d be setting myself up for failure if I tried to manage this every week, I adore her idea of pushing ourselves outside of what is safe, familiar, and easy for ourselves. We are capable of so much more than we often imagine, and it’s truly only through pushing our boundaries that real growth and opening can occur.
With that in mind, I opted to start small, but still push my comfort level. I wanted to learn to cook a Korean meal. It doesn’t get much further from Korea than this Scottish/German, but I love Korean food, and I was determined to learn some new spices and ingredients that
are were utterly foreign to me. Going into a grocery store where you don’t know the ingredients, and can’t read the labels, and where even the produce section is full of things you’ve never seen before can be intimidating. A little research ahead helped a lot, I had my list prepared. I knew I wanted to make a traditional Korean beef bulgogi and bebimbap, with all the traditional little delicious side dishes, known as banchan.
You know what? It went awesome. The internet here is truly the great equalizer, because lacking a Korean grandma to teach me, I found some great websites explaining the spices, the sauces, and how to make the banchan pickles and sauces. At the market, I filled my basket with daikon, fresh kimchee (which I opted to buy there, rather than attempt to make), dried shiitakes, daengjang (a fermented miso-like soybean paste), gojujang (a hot pepper condiment and base for many sauces), and a recipe for ssamjang (a pungent, delicious sauce).
Here is the result:
When I decided I wanted to learn to cook subcotinental Indian food, the hardest part was learning a new canon of spices and flavor combinations- it was the same with Korean food. The flavors are so distinct, and so amazing- but how to get there is a completely different journey than, say, moving from Italian food to Greek food. The ingredients are sometimes utterly different, and are combined in completely new ways- to a westerner. It was a ton of fun, and it came out utterly delicious. I am emboldened to try this further, and find new recipes and meals on which to subject my family, and which my children will turn up their general collective noses. (Jon and I gorged, Abby loved it, and the boys opted-out. Big surprise.)