Ted and I lived in Pohang, South Korea, for 4 months at the end of 1999. It feels like a century ago. It was our first time visiting a non-English speaking country; the first time we traveled with passports. We were truly foreigners in a foreign land. It was both a wonderful experience and wonderful to come home again.
Ted was there for a study abroad trip at the end of his undergraduate degree and I came along for the ride. We were married so the university graciously housed us in the graduate student apartments. While he worked, I was introduced to some Korean housewives, Soon-ja, Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Kim, who wanted to improve their English. I was invited to their apartments for meals, and in exchange for English practice I asked them to teach me to cook typical Korean meals.
I still make pulgogi (also translated “bulgogi”), marinaded strips of beef, according to the recipe from my Korean friends. I admit that I am reluctant to share this recipe because it is my very own. It’s the special wonderful thing that I know how to make from my own experience. We don’t have it frequently, but when I make it for home-cooked meals I do the same as the Koreans: make a big batch at once and freeze it into smaller servings. I like to make it in the fall because Asian pears are fresh and available, then we have a special meal ready to eat occasionally throughout the winter.
Pulgogi is the Korean dish most accessible to Americans. Strips of steak are familiar, and the marinade of soy sauce, sesame, garlic, ginger and pear is slightly sweet-salty and delightful. When we travelled around the country, restaurant owners would come out of their shops to yell “pulgogi!” at us as we walked by, hoping to lure us in for lunch.
Pulgogi is normally eaten with rice and a sauce, either ssamjang (4 seasons sauce, a mix of soy and chili paste found at an Asian grocery) or gochujang (hot chili pepper paste). When you put the sweet-salty beef with the chili pepper flavor it completes the taste of Korea. You can also take a little pulgogi, a little rice and sauce and fold it up into a fresh lettuce leaf. Of course, you must also eat kimchi at every meal. We just found a great kimchi, Seoul Kimchi, made in Beaverton, OR, that tops anything we’ve had from a grocery store since moving here.
The keto version uses the marinaded pulgogi and pairs it with zucchini noodles, threads of red pepper and carrot. I took my best guess at the amount of marinade that might be held in the beef, which I estimated by calculating in some soy sauce when doing the nutritional analysis. When in doubt, I try to consciously overestimate the carb content and underestimate the fat content so that I err on the side of exceeding the ratio.
I made Nora’s portion with butter because she is still 4 years old and is reluctant to try new things with strong flavors. If you have an adventurous eater, I would use sesame oil for more flavor. I also kept this meal very small because I was afraid she would not want to eat it on the first try, and I was right. She eventually ate it without much of a fuss, so I hope this will be a happily accepted meal after a few more tries.
A note on the zoodles: In the last zoodle post, I partially dried several 40 g servings and froze them for later. Here, I pulled one of those servings out and found the zoodles shriveled and sad. They were fine to eat, but lacked the texture and volume of fresher zoodles, as you can see in the picture above. My next try will be to blanch them before freezing instead of drying them, but I think that will just be the reality of freezing them. They won’t ever be as big and crunchy as fresh. 그게 인생 인걸.
20 g Marinaded Pulgogi (see below)
40 g zucchini, shredded
12 g carrot, in thin strips
10 g red pepper, in thin strips
6 g Butter
Remove over 20 g of beef strips from the pulgogi marinade and rinse to remove bits of garlic, etc. Melt butter in a small frying pan and cook the beef on medium-high heat until done. Measure out the correct amount of cooked beef and return that to the pan. Toss in the veggies and stir fry briefly to coat with butter.
Remove from the pan and serve.This is only a 0.80 ratio, so the meal needs some heavy fat supplementation to get to Nora’s 3.5:1. It could hold a little more fat as well, so maybe add a bit more butter or oil when you put in the vegetables. I may try that next, so adjust the nutritional information based on your formulation.
And now, my pulgogi recipe. I make it with Korean soy sauce, but it can also be made with gluten-free soy sauce if required and it’s still great. Korean soy sauce is a little different and less salty than Japanese tamari, so you might want to back off on the soy sauce if you are using a tamari so it doesn’t taste too salty. I’m naming it “chipsaram,” the Korean word for “housewife,” as I learned it. When asked what I was doing in Korea, I was instructed to answer that I was a “chipsaram,” and I learned the recipe from the other “chipsaram.”
1 to 2 lb beef strips (1 x 0.5 x 0.25, I use top sirloin, but any steak or roast will also work)
1 C Korean soy sauce (less if using tamari, gluten-free or otherwise)
1/4 C sesame oil
1 T sesame seeds
1 tsp black pepper
up to 1 C shredded Asian pear (see below)
1/4 – 1/2 C crushed garlic
1-2 inches ginger root, shredded (see below)
To stir fry but don’t marinade:
1 white onion, cut into wedges
several carrots, julienned
bunch green onions, cut into 2 inch lengths
bunch of spinach, washed and coarsely chopped or ripped
For the Asian pear, it is best to buy fresh pears in season. You can buy Asian pear juice at at an Asian market, but it also contains high fructose corn syrup. Quarter the pear(s) and take out the core. Shred it against a cheese grater pressing your fingers against the skin. The skin is just thick enough to protect your fingers, and when you are finished you will have a perfectly clean pear skin leftover. The juice and pulp are fine enough to put directly into the marinade.
Peel the ginger and use the cheese grater for the ginger also. You will be left with a fibrous clump, which will yield a bit more juice for the marinade if you squeeze it out. I found that the cheese grater is much easier than trying to put pieces of ginger through the garlic press. You need Herculean strength to push the juice out of it, and when it goes it pops!
Mix together all of the marinade ingredients and add the beef. The Korean ladies will put on plastic gloves and squish the beef around in the marinade, which I also do if I’m not in a hurry. Marinade at least overnight. Freeze any that you don’t intend to eat immediately for an easy meal another time.
To cook, heat a skillet on medium-high. Remove the beef from the marinade when you put it into the hot skillet. Do not add the marinade. You want it to cook quickly and fry the edges of the beef. If you put in too much liquid, it just boils the beef and gets too watery. Stir constantly to cook off the water quickly while frying.
When the beef is almost done, throw the veggies into the pan if there is room. If not, remove the beef and add the veggies, stirring frequently. Add the spinach last so as not to overcook.
The last time I made it, I threw in more zoodles for the rest of the family also. The recipe contains the traditional veggie accompaniments, but there are no hard rules (or don’t tell).
Serve with rice, lettuce leaves, ssamjang, gochujang, kimchi, and soju (Korean rice vodka, which we don’t have often enough).