Cooking for a family in Korea: notes of an ex-pat wife
Braised Pork with Asian pearsThis recipe was inspired by traditional combination of pork with applesauce. There are very few varieties of applies here though and they are quite expensive. Asian pear on the other hand is very firm, crunchy and juicy but not very strong in flavor. Thus it lends itself very well to long cooking methods like braising and stewing without completely disintegrating. Asian pears are abundant only in season, like many fruits and vegetables here, during the summer, but very cheap and fresh. TIP: I like to use the grape seed oil here instead of the canola oil or other vegetable oils as it is much cheaper here and readily available. It is also very good for you. TIP: Try using the Asian Pears in fresh green salads
Savory and sweet pork stewThis is another one pot set and forget it kind of meals that I find very convenient and flavorful. It can be made in multiple stages and steps without having to spend long continuous time in the kitchen. Which could be problematic with small children around.
Roast pork sandwiches with Asian pear slawGood quality ham and bacon; let alone roast beef, could be quite difficult to find here in Korea. We order most of our cold cuts from Costco. This recipe provides another alternative to using the inexpensive pork shoulder. Really, this is two different meals in one – serve some of the pork roast while hot with your favorite side dish and cool and store the rest for sandwiches. It will easily keep for a week in storage container with a tight lid or can be frozen in zip lock bags for up to 7 months.
Korean noodles with pork and black bean sauceThis is one of a few Korean dishes I absolutely love and plan to make long after we leave here. The kids tend to love it too, which is a huge bonus as far as I am concerned. You can buy Korean or Chinese black bean paste here pretty much in any grocery store which makes it a super easy dish to make.
Meat a la FrancaiseThis recipe I first learned in Russia and for some reason I don’t know it’s been always called meat prepared French style. There are as many variations of this recipe in Russia as there are people but here is my version using widely available pork cutlets here in Korea. I love the one pot casserole nature of it. Its easy to assemble and the one can go around their day (never ending toddler damage control in my case) while it bakes in the oven.
Russian “winter” potato saladThis is a staple during all Russian holidays pretty much on every table. Everybody I know, Russian or not, who ever tried it, loved it. So I include it here given that all the ingredients are relatively easy to find here. This is a meal in itself literally since it has both meat and potatoes in it. I often serve it for lunch to my husband when he was able to come home from work. I usually make a big batch of it and store it the fridge for days. Without the dressing it can stay fresh for a week. Just add some dressing to a portion of it as you are ready to serve.
Chicken curry with pumpkin sauceI never tire of complaining about the lack of variety of fresh vegetables here. In fact I am yet to make an original salad here – somehow I always end up with the same veggies and hence, the same salad. So I looked for other ways to incorporate vegetable that are available here into our menu. Pumpkins are available pretty much the whole year round and taste great. So I cam up with the pumpkin curry sauce.
Chicken noodle soup with spinach and veggiesWho does not love the chicken noodle soup. This one packs an extra punch with the extra veggies and the lemon it gives it a nice extra fresh flavor.
Fried chickenMy husband is African American. I am Russian Canadian. Hence by definition I should not know how to cook “Southern American” food. Well, I learned. A friend’s mom gave the base for this recipe to me. I tweaked it a bit and here is the BEST fried chicken recipe ever, if I may say so myself. ☺ There are a lot of instructions to this recipe, but don’t let it scare you! Its not that labor intensive – give it a try!
Russian BorschThis hearty traditional beet soup is probably one of the most widely known Russian dishes. Perhaps because it is so popular and wide spread, I have seen literally hundreds of variations of the recipes for it. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find two recipes that are the same! This one was taught to me by a Ukrainian friend when we both were living and studying in Cyprus and was just learning to cook for ourselves beyond pasta with ketchup and mayo (yes I still like that and yes I know its disgusting). Traditionally this soup is made with beef and/or pork but my version uses chicken I absolutely believe it’s the best way to go. Give it a try!
Korean style individual stone potsThis dish is truly the best of ALL worlds – one pot style meal that is made and baked and served in cute individual pots that is super easy to make and has endless variations to satisfy any taste! I absolutely LOVE these little pots. Please use this recipe as a template and don’t be afraid to experiment with adding your favorite vegetables and other flavors! This is a chicken recipe that happens to be my favorite version but cubed beef or pork would work just as well!
Bulgogi (Korean BBQ) Beef StewBulgogi or Korean BBQ is one my favorite flavors now. There are not many Korean dishes that I find delicious to be honest but there are about four of them that I will continue cooking long after we move from Korea. Bulgogi beef stew is on the top of that list.
Best ever meatballs with spinachDelicious, nutritious and easy to make, these are great. I like to make a great big batch of them, pan fry them just to brown and then freeze. They lend themselves well to so many dishes – meatballs and spaghetti of course, put them into your favorite vegetable soup or serve them as appetizers after baking them off in the oven. These are great to have on hand (in your freezer that is).
Meatloaf with home made BBQ sauce with maple baconI have resisted the idea of a meatloaf for years. It just did not sound good to me at all. This recipe base comes from the Pioneer Woman (one of my favorite chefs on TV). I just changed up a bunch of ingredients.
Tuna and black rice casseroleA friend of mine gave the base idea for this recipe. I tweaked it a little and it became one of our favorites at home. Black rice is also known as Emperor’s rice and is in very high esteem in South Korea. Its less glutinous and harder then the white rice when cooked not unlike wild rice, but not as fibrous. I like the mixed rice that one can buy here mixed with a small portion of white rice for this casserole. It provides for a nice balance. The kids love this dish too!
Fish AmokBefore we had children we travelled a lot. When I say a lot I mean 7 new countries in one year! One of the most magical places we have been to is Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We also came back with a newly acquired love for one particular Cambodian dish, Fish Amok. It’s a traditional fish curry dish that is mild and creamy and simply delicious. Unfortunately I have not been able to find all the ingredients here in Korea like kefir limes or lemon grass, but I think this dish still comes out great even with the few alterations I have made. Here is Fish Amok Korean style.
Fish stew with gingerThis recipe was inspired by a friend of mine when we both were still in college. She loved ginger and she loved eating heathy. This stew is extremely flavorful, good for you and easy to make.
Fish with roasted bell pepper and zucchini confetti pestoI came up with the idea for this recipe while looking for more and new ways to use the few fresh vegetables that are available here year around. Bell peppers here are nice and sweet and appear to always be in season. Spinach is also easily found here and I find it adds another fresh dimension to the pesto as well as a ton of nutrients.
Korean seafood pancake (Haemul Pajeon)This savory pancake is very filling and so easy to make; and yet another Korean dish that we came to love; a little batter, some scallions, a mix of your choice of seafood, a little dipping sauce, and you have a full meal. Serve with a little miso soup or kimchi.
Seafood bisqueAnother dish I like to make here due to the abundance and affordability of fresh seafood here.
Asian noodles in broth with shredded veggies, fried egg and mixed hot sauceThis is the Korean version of the Udon noodles. It is a very easy and delicious Korean dish that a friend’s Korean nanny taught us how to make. I have changed it a bit to make it more “western”. If you want to try the original traditional Korean recipe, the closest to it is a dish called Guksu-Janguk (noodles in clear broth).
Pan fried potatoes with mushrooms and onionsThis is another Russian dish both me and my husband love! It’s easy and fast to make. Unfortunately it disappears just as fast in our house. It’s great for those nights when you want to have a lighter, meat free dinner and awesome if you have any leftovers as a lunch dish.
Vinaigrette (Russian red beet salad)This is another Russian holiday staple. Its colorful and healthy and extremely delicious. Even my husband, who is not a big fan of beets, loves it and frequently asks for it.
Polish “pickle” soupWhile in college in Canada I worked for a while for a Polish couple that ran one of the best restaurants I have ever been to. This soup was one of the staples beloved by all regardless of their background.
Vegetable “Inna” CaseroleThat is what a friend of mine called this dish. I love casseroles - anything that is a one pot meal that you can set a timer for and forget, I love. I don’t know how original this dish is but I did come up with it completely on my own so if it reminds you of anything, it’s by accident. The vegetable here could be substituted by any other of your favorite vegetables and which ever ones are in season. Just be mindful of the cooking times. You want them to all cook at approximately the same time.
Best Potato soupI love hearty filling soups that can constitute a meal on their own. This one is pure comfort food. Its not light on calories but it is so very very good. In fact, I believe this one is The Best potato soup ever.
Spinach pesto pasta or the “GREEN MONSTER” pastaSpinach is readily available her all year round. Unfortunately its not soft and delicate baby spinach but big fully grown leaves that are much tougher and fibrous. Hence it is not really good in a salad. So I came up with another way to keep all the nutrients in it as intact as possible – spinach pesto. For my kids, this dish is called green monster pasta – whatever helps them eat it. It is perfect as is but adding a grilled chicken breast on top is great too.
Roasted tomato cream sauce pasta, also known as “Pink” pasta in our houseTomatoes are another vegetable that is in abundance here all year round. I, however, always struggle to find nice sweet and flavorful tomatoes. It’s more often a miss rather then a hit with those. When I do find them, they disappear even before making it into a salad in our house. We eat them as is for snack. Most of the time though tomatoes I find here to be pretty tasteless. One of the best ways I know to intensify the flavor and sweetness of a tomato is to roast them. This recipe is another way to make the most of the few vegetables here, showcasing tomato. The nice pinkish color of the sauce is another plus and selling point with the kids, especially little girls.
Quick one pot “GREEN” vegetable pastaI LOVE one pot meals. I can never say it often enough. This recipe is not the same as the “one pot pastas” flowing around on Pinterest. It does though all take place in one pot. I also give it “fun kid friendly name” like “green pasta” (yes, very imaginative, I know) and keep to a theme in the hopes of making it a selling point for the kids. You don’t have to. I did find that coincidentally all the green vegetables I like to use for this pasta have similar cooking times and so lend themselves well to this dish.
Focaccia BreadThis savory bread is the direct ancestor of pizza and the descendant of the hearth cakes eaten throughout Europe during the early Middle Ages. I love making this bread here! It’s easy, quick and delicious! I also always make 3 times the dough I need and freeze at least two batches. This way you can make home made pizza for dinner in no time any day.
Russian crepesMy whole family loves these crepes. They are very similar to more widely known French crepes. You can eat them with sweet or savory fillings. My favorite way has been since I was a small child to eat them straight off the frying pan brushed with a healthy dose of butter and nothing else. I could eat 15 of these in one sitting. My grandma used to make these the old fashioned way, in a bowl with a whisk but I prefer to go the easy, fast sure proof of no clumps ever method – the blender.
Cinnamon roll (or sticky bun) yeast doughThis is a great base yeast dough for all kids of things - cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, sweet pies etc. That is why I wanted this recipe to stand on its own. It really lends itself well to all kinds of things. I like to make a lot of it, separate into at least two batches and freeze half for later. TIP: When ready to use the frozen dough, preheat the oven to about 100 degrees C, turn the oven off, place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a towel and keep in in the oven for a few hours or overnight to defreeze.
Perfect Pie CrustI think the name says it all - its, well, perfect. AND you can freeze it for later! Something that found indispensable here in Korea as its nearly impossible to buys a pre-made pie crust here.
Perfect Carrot cakeI love carrot cake and I tried many recipes for it. This one from Ina Garten I find is the best by far. Pineapple in it makes it extra moist and flavorful.
Pineapple and banana upside down cake in slow cookerOne of the problems I hear everyone struggles with is the fact that bananas are only ever sold in huge batches. I personally have many times audaciously broken off a few I want to buy from the batch and them just paid for those. Short of that, there is only so much banana bread one can eat to save all the extra bananas going bad. And let me tell you, there is only so much banana bread your husbands coworkers can eat too… and your neighbors, and friends. So I love this alternative to a regular banana cake or bread. Its super moist, very easy to make and the fact that it is made in a slow cooker makes it extra extra convenient when you have baby brain like me and two toddlers running around and cant be vigilant with a stove or the oven.
“Loaded” tomato sauceThis is a simple tomato based sauce chock full of any and every vegetable you have in your refrigerator. I like to make huge batches of it and freeze it for later. I use it practically everywhere. Think of it as a basic tomato sauce but more complex in flavor and way more nutritious. Its great as is on pasta for a simple and quick meal or add any meat of your choice for a more filling meal. I also like to use as a soup base.
Curry Powder BlendAlready made curry powder could be hard to come by here in Korea so I found a way to make my own out of relatively easy to find ingredients. It could be altered based on your preferences and spices available. This is just a basic one I like to have on hand.
Home Made KetchupLack of familiar staple condiments here could be a problem. I found that out when I bought some Korean brand ketchup and my husband absolutely scorned it. I had thrown it out. I am not a huge fan of ketchup and so it’s all the same to me…definitely not true I learned the hard way. This recipe I love because it’s loaded with vegetables and absolutely delicious. My friend’s kids were asking to take home left over sauce with them for later!
Bulgogi Sauce/MarinadeMy favorite Korean sauce EVER. When we move from South Korea and I dont have easy access to store-bought bulgogi sauce, I plan to make my own; so I made sure I developed and tested the recipe for it.
Roasted carrots and pumpkin “candy”This recipe was given and inspired by my grandmother. One of my favorite things to do growing up was ask her to tell me stories about "how she was a child". She would tell me about her childhood in a small village in Russia. How they made sleds out of carton boards and what chores she had to do and how far she had to walk to school (yes, real story) but most of all what foods her mom cooked for her and her 7 siblings. Growing up they did not get many treats, let alone store bought candy, so candied fruits and vegetables were the favorite treat for them. My great grandmother sued to cube, sugar and then roast the veggies in the traditional Russian wood stove. We will stick to the oven but it does not make these any less delicious or good for you! Enjoy!
Okpo and other surrounding areas have changed a lot in these three years. There are a few more good restaurants (five versus two), more kids play cafes, and “foreign” foods are more diverse and readily available. However, I still think life here takes some adjusting. Specifically, cooking for a family here takes some adjusting.
As an ex-pat wife with a very demanding infant, I had little freedom to go out and explore my surroundings. Highlight of my day often was a trip to a grocery store without a baby albeit confined by strict time table of a needy constantly breast feeding baby. When at home, I spent a lot of time doing the aforementioned breast feeding or bouncing on the yoga ball to pacify the baby into sleep while watching Korean TV cooking channels on mute. My only entertainment quickly became experimenting with family style meals given the constraints of living in South Korea.
There are many challenges that I found while cooking for my family here in Korea – lack of variety of fresh vegetables but staggering abundance of leafy greens most of which I did not know, lack of the convenient and familiar marinades and sauces, scarcity and expensiveness of beef and dairy products, and bad ovens just to mention a few.
This collection of recipes is a result of three years of trial and error, independent study of culinary arts and hard survival lessons. All recipes here are family friendly, made from scratch AND easy to make, honest. I am also including a section of kid friendly recipes that I have amassed as a result of having two extremely picky eaters.
I also strive here to provide some basic cooking tips, recipe background and stories of our life here that led me to the particular recipe.
So here we go ☺ Enjoy!