With their bold flavors, Korean cooking and ingredients have readily been embraced by chefs. Add kimchi to eggs, and they are transformed into a tongue-tingling sensation; or use the fermented pepper paste gochujang on chicken wings, and you morph them into addictive little umami bombs.
Let’s take a look at three very different Korean ingredients: kimchi, gochujang, and yuja tea (citron tea). They’ve been around for hundreds of years in Korea, and are used in traditional cuisine, but thanks to their versatility, they easily add a delicious, irresistible dimension to many dishes, whether it be grilled cheese or sushi.
For over 2,000 years, kimchi, a fermented staple of Korean cuisine, has distinguished Korean cuisine from any other in the world. Born out of the need to preserve vegetables through the country’s harsh winter months, it is consumed year-round and valued for its health benefits.
UNESCO bestowed on kimjang, the traditionally communal act of making kimchi, world cultural heritage status. No surprise then, that there are about 200 varieties of kimchi officially documented. Geography has played a major role, dictating the seasonal availability of vegetables.
Traditionally you’d find kimchi as a side dish or in classic favorites like kimchi stew. But no question that it is finding a home on the dining scene these days. At Kogi, LA chef Roy Choi’s kimchi quesadilla is a glorious amalgam of jack and cheddar cheeses, caramelized buttered kimchi, salsa roja, and sesame seed crush.
Fermented pepper paste gochujang packs a pretty punch as well (a gochujang marinade is essential to Choi’s spicy pork belly tacos). It’s also the sauce you see used in traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap, and it adds an incredible depth, and injects umami into whatever it touches.
Gochujang, made with glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt, is also a fermented product. It’s unique for the type of chilies used, gochu, specifically from Korea.
Yuja Tea (Citron Tea)
It’s called a tea, but don’t expect leaves of tea in jars of Korean yuja tea—something much sweeter and tastier awaits.
Long considered a traditional remedy for colds and indigestion in Korea, and full of vitamin C, yuja tea is made with yuja (also known as yuzu) citrus preserved in a syrup of honey and sugar. Add a spoonful to hot water, and its marmalade-like consistency melts into instant comfort.
As you can expect, it’s great in other drinks too—cocktails especially—or simply on toast or ice cream.
You can also use it in recipes wherever you need a bracing citrusy kick.
Here are some great recipes where you can give these Korean ingredients a try.
Kimchi Avocado Gimbab (Korean seaweed rice rolls)
- 1 carrot
- 1 avocado
- sheet of seaweed
For the Egg:
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons kimchi brine
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dashi
For the Rice:
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the Sauce:
- White sesame seeds
- Sesame oil
- Soy sauce
Mix kimchi brine, corn starch, salt, black pepper, and dashi together, then mix with a beaten egg. Add a little oil into a pan, then add the egg mixture. Cook for 10 or 20 seconds, then flip and cook for another 10 seconds. Remove and cut it into slices.
Slice the cucumber, carrot, and avocado into thin sticks. Sprinkle the cucumber with salt, and squeeze out the liquid after 10 minutes or more.
Mix the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add mixture to with cooked rice.
Put a sheet of seaweed on a bamboo mat, and spread out the rice. Add kimchi on top of the rice. Add the sliced vegetables and egg. Use the bamboo mat to make a roll.
Cut it into bite-sized pieces and drizzle with some sesame oil and top with white sesame seeds. Serve with some soy sauce on the side.
Kimchi Bulgogi Taco
For the Bulgogi:
- 1 pound rib eye steak
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 pear
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 green onion, sliced
- 1 small yellow onion
For the Toppings:
- 1 green onion, sliced
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 2 pieces of kimchi, sliced
For the Avocado Cream Sauce:
- 1 ripe Hass avocado
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- pinch of salt
- white corn tortillas
Freeze the steak for 4 hours and slice thinly.
Peel and puree half of the pear. Combine 2 tablespoons of pear puree, soy sauce, sesame oil, dark brown sugar, honey, minced garlic, and chopped green onion in a small bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the mixture over the beef and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight
Saute the onion in a pan over medium heat until soft.
Bring the skillet to high heat and add the slices of beef.
Leave the beef untouched for at least 2 minutes, before flipping and mixing with the onions, to sear the meat. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a separate small skillet, on medium heat, heat the tortilla until light brown spots are visible, flipping occasionally.
Combine the avocado, sour cream, lime juice, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth.
To assemble the taco, start by layering the beef and the kimchi on the bottom. Then sprinkle sesame seeds and green onion and pour sauce on top.
Korean Yuja Tea (Citron Tea) Chicken Salad
- 2 grilled chicken breasts, sliced
- 1 bag of garden mix salad
- 1 peach, sliced
For the Dressing:
- 6 tablespoons yuja or yuzu marmalade
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or orange juice (this will give a sweeter taste)
To make the dressing, combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix until well blended. Toss garden mix and dressing in a large salad bowl, and mix well. Serve with sliced chicken and peach.
Korean Yuja Tea (Citron Tea) Rum Punch
- Korean yuja tea
- Sparkling water
- Fresh mint leaves
In a bowl, add rum, water, sugar, and Korean yuja tea in 1:1:1:2 ratio, and mix well until the sugar is dissolved.
Using a tall glass, add 3–5 tablespoons of the mixture, and a few ice cubes. Add champagne to the half-way point, then top off with sparkling water.
Add a fresh mint leaf and serve.
Spicy Cheese Fire Ramen
- 1 packet of instant noodles
- 1 chicken breast
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup Iceberg lettuce
- 1/2 cup onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup gochujang
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- white pepper
Dice the chicken, lettuce, and onions.
Heat the pan and add butter. Cook the chicken and then take it out before completely cooked through. Stir-fry the lettuce and onion, add salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken back into the pan.
Add water, and bring it to a boil. Add gochujang, honey, then soy sauce. Add the instant noodles, then the baby spinach. Lastly, add the cheddar cheese, and put the lid on until the cheese melts.