Celebrate the Olympics with flavors of South Korea

When Hyun Hwang was a little girl, each November her mother made enough kimchi to last a year. In their rural South Korean community, neighbors and relatives pitched in to prepare heaps of the salted, spicy cabbage dish, then dug holes and buried it so it could ferment as the months went by.

“It takes a village to do it,” said Hwang, now 67 and a resident of South Jersey. “Everyone didn’t have a refrigerator, so you had to put it in the ground.”

Modern technology and conveniences have simplified the process, and now Hwang makes kimchi all year long. Mostly, it goes to feed diners at SouthGate, the restaurant that her son, Peter, opened several years ago at 18th and Lombard Streets.

“He could not trust anybody else,” Hwang said of her son’s decision to put her in charge of one of the most crucial condiment and side dishes for any Korean establishment.

Camera icon JOSE F. MORENO / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Chef Matt Delatour and Hyun Hwang at SouthGate.

With the opening ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, just a few days away, Hwang took time to talk about her favorite Korean flavors. She was assisted by Matt Delatour, chef at SouthGate, where Hwang’s influence is woven through much of the menu. Together they shared some recipes that are simple enough to make at home, and that offer a window into the most delicious meals Korea has to offer.

She was the third of eight children, and grew up in Gwangju province in South Korea, an area known for its spicy flavors and kimchi in particular. With so many to feed, each of their family meals was the size of a feast. Every Korean family uses its own personal blend of seasonings; Hwang’s mother made her own sauces and spices, like her own blend of gochujang, Korean chili paste.

“My mom, she’s 94. She still makes kimchi,” Hwang said. “She’s famous for her cooking in Korea. When she moved here, there were people so sad they were losing her cooking. She is like a national treasure.”

Hwang immigrated to Philadelphia in 1976 and became a U.S. citizen more than 35 years ago. She first worked as a nurse; later she and her husband opened Oh So Good, a deli and buffet restaurant in Center City.

Korean flavors are about spice, Hwang said, like garlic and fish sauce, and a lot of vegetables, because historically, meat wasn’t always available. Her kimchi, made from heads of napa cabbage, carrots, and daikon radish, remains time-intensive, but she offered instructions with shortcuts to make a quicker version. Treating the cabbage gently is important, she said. Hwang tucks sea salt into the pockets of the leaves and seasons them with a paste made from garlic, ginger, fish sauce, scallions, chili flakes and sugar, working the mixture in gently.

“My mom always said she’s massaging it,” she said. “You have to tuck the leaves around, wrap it like a baby. Then, later, it tastes better.”

After a few days of drying in a sealed container in a cool, dark place, fermentation will begin. Then kimchi can last for months stored in the refrigerator.

The cuisine relies on many of the same flavors, Hwang said, mixed in different ways so that a number of dishes can be assembled from the same shelf of ingredients. One popular side dish, which Southgate has turned into an entree, is japchae, a bowl of glass noodles with mushrooms, scallions, carrots, onions and spinach. Cooked with soy sauce and sriracha, and coated with sesame oil, it is rich and savory.

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A bowl of japchae at Southgate.

Bulgogi, strips of beef marinated in spices and grilled and often served over rice, is another staple. The marinade, made from soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, mirin, sugar and more, gives the meat a distinctive sweet-tangy flavor. Bulgogi can also be served with bibimbap, the ultimate Korean comfort-food dish of vegetables, gochujang, and a fried egg served over rice. Many restaurants serve it in a heavy stoneware bowl with crisped-up rice on the bottom and the vegetables arranged separately over the top, but in homes like Hwang’s, it’s all mixed together in a pan on a hot stove and dished out like fried rice.

“There are no rules,” she said. “Put anything in it, and just stir.”

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Dolset Bibimbap at Southgate.

Hwang said she is proud the rest of the world will get a chance to know South Korea in the weeks to come. The last time the Olympics were held in that region, the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, her homeland was still a developing country.

“Since then, the country has done very well,” she said. “When you go there now, everything is so new. The trains, so new. All my friends there, they are living better than me.”


Kimchi

Makes about two quarts

Kimchi at the SouthGate.

INGREDIENTS

2 heads napa cabbage, cut into quarters

2½ quarts water

1 cup salt

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

2 tablespoons ginger, minced

1 cup gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)

4 tablespoons sugar

10 scallions, cut in ½-inch pieces

4 tablespoons fish sauce

1 cup carrots, cut into thin strips

1 cup daikon, cut into thin strips

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large stainless steel bowl, add water and salt. Mix to dissolve salt.
  2. Place cabbage in salted water and let sit for at least 6 hours.
  3. After 6 hours, rinse cabbage thoroughly to remove excess salt. Chop into bite-size pieces.
  4. Meanwhile, mix together garlic, ginger, gochugaru, sugar, scallions, and fish sauce  in a bowl. (Do not use an aluminum bowl; aluminum is reactive and will give kimchi a metallic flavor.) Whisk to combine.
  5. Take kimchi sauce and add it to cabbage, carrots, and daikon, making sure all of the cabbage and vegetables are covered.
  6. Place cabbage in an airtight container and let sit for three days in a cool, dark place to start fermentation process.
  7. After three days, check the kimchi for air bubbles, to know fermentation has started. Kimchi can now be placed in the refrigerator, where it will last for months if properly stored in a sealed container.

— Chef Matt Delatour of SouthGate

12 calories, 1 g protein, 3 g carbohydrates, 100 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar


Gojuchang sauce

Makes about one cup.

Dolset Bibimbop with gojuchang at SouthGate.

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons gochujang (red chili paste)

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons mirin

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until incorporated. Sauce can also be mixed in a blender for a smoother consistency.

— From Chef Matt Delatour of Southgate

59 calories, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 297 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar


Bibimbap

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

2 cups short-grain white rice

5 ounces carrots, cut into thin strips

2/3 pound zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced

5 ounces cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced

5 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into thin strips

5 ounces bean sprouts

3½ teaspoons sesame oil

2½ teaspoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

10 ounces spinach

2 teaspoons water

4 eggs

For garnish: Toasted sesame seeds, salad cress leaves, Gojuchang sauce

Optional: Bulgogi beef

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook rice according to package instructions. Keep warm.
  2. Fill a large pan with water and bring it to a rolling boil. One by one, blanch carrots, zucchini, cucumber, and radish for one minute, and the bean sprouts for 2½ minutes. Use slotted spoon to remove from water and drain.
  3. Season each vegetable with ¼ teaspoon sesame oil and ¼ teaspoon soy sauce, keeping each vegetable separate, and set aside.
  4. Heat one tablespoon vegetable oil in a pan over high heat. Add mushrooms and stir-fry for four to five minutes until softened. Remove from pan and season with ¼ teaspoon sesame oil and ¼ teaspoon soy sauce.
  5. In the same pan, add spinach and two tablespoons water. Fry over high heat for several minutes, stirring constantly, until spinach has wilted.
  6. Remove spinach, squeeze out excess water, and season as before with sesame and soy sauce.
  7. In a clean frying pan, fry eggs as desired.
  8. Serve hot rice in four bowls. Place one egg in center of rice, arranging vegetables around it. Garnish with sesame seeds, salad cress, and gojuchang. Add bulgogi beef if desired.

— Adapted from "Our Korean Kitchen" cookbook

465 calories, 15 g protein, 47 g carbohydrates, 26 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 164 mg cholesterol, 1060 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar


Bulgogi

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds sliced ribeye

3 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 yellow onion, sliced thin

2 carrots, sliced thin

3 tablespoons grated Asian pear

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

6 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

2½ tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon mirin

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons sesame oil

4 tablespoons water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine meat and vegetables in a bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine all other ingredients and whisk to incorporate.
  3. Pour marinade over meat and vegetables. Let marinate for at least one hour, or up to 24 hours.
  4. Cook on a grill or in a hot pan with sesame oil. Serve over white rice.

— From Chef Matt Delatour of Southgate

399 calories, 47 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 119 mg cholesterol, 1019 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 15 g sugar


Japchae

Serves 2-3

Japchae at SouthGate.

INGREDIENTS

16 ounces glass noodles (vermicelli noodles)

3 tablespoons sesame oil

¼ cup shiitake mushrooms

¼ cup onions, cut into thin strips

¼ cup scallions, cut into one-inch pieces, plus more for garnish

¼ cup shredded carrots

¼ cup spinach

4 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sugar, combined

2 teaspoons sriracha sauce

Sesame seeds

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook noodles according to package. Strain and toss with one tablespoon sesame oil so that noodles don’t stick.
  2. Heat remaining sesame oil in pan over medium-high heat and add all vegetables.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and quickly sauté until tender.
  4. Add noodles, soy/sugar mixture, and sriracha.
  5. Heat noodles through until sauce coats all the vegetables and noodles, about three minutes.
  6. Serve in bowl and garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

— From Chef Matt Delatour of Southgate

236 calories, 4 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 1075 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar