Navigating a Korean supermarket as a newcomer can be intimidating. Aisles of dried fish and seasoned seaweed taunt the timid cook, while the size and variety of the kimchi section rivals that of emporium produce departments back home.
By Jacqui Gabel
During the first few months I lived in Seoul, I didn’t hesitate to try every new food when dining out, but I approached Korean cookery with less aplomb. For months, if I cooked, I stuck to the basic comfort foods, including many a BLT. One day feeling bold, I bought a bag of flour for pajeon and made pancakes with the week’s leftover vegetables. They were okay, but the pajeon at restaurants were better. Pushed aside, the flour joined the ranks of neglected fodder at the back of the cupboard. Until recently.
My friend Hye Rae is a self-taught cook. Since we met, she’s shared much of her kitchen wisdom with me, like how to make good pajeon. Though she remembers wet, soft pajeon from her childhood, she likes a chew that’s both crunchy and soft. For this, she insists on a combination of two kinds of flour. Buchim garu is seasoned flour, the foundation of all Korean pancakes. Twigim garu is a frying flour, and it’s what gives pajeon its addictive, exquisite crunch. Try this recipe while spring onions are in season, and substitute any other seasonal vegetable (especially carrot, red pepper, or storage onions) when they’re not. To be proper, eat while drinking with makgeolli, preferably on a rainy day. If you’ve never before cooked Korean food, this is an excellent place to begin.
- ½ cup (50g) buchim garu (Korean pancake flour)
- ½ cup (50g) twigim garu (Korean frying flour)
- 1 cup (250 mL) water
- 1 bunch spring green onions, clean and dry
- canola oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon sesame seeds
- ¼ teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
- Prep the onions: Cut the tops from the bunch so that their lengths match the length of your pan. Press the bulbs of the onions with a knife, just as you would with a garlic clove.
- In a large bowl, mix flours with water until well blended. Check the viscosity with a spoon: the batter should produce a steady, smooth stream when lifted from the bowl. Adjust with more flour (equal parts of both) or water, bit by bit, if necessary.
- Heat a non-stick pan and brush lightly with canola oil.
- When the oil ripples, add a single layer of onions across the pan.
- Pour the batter evenly over the onions.
- Cover and cook on medium-low heat until the pancake turns golden.
- Using a spatula or two, attempt to flip the pancake while keeping it in one piece. (I've yet to succeed at this. While my pride may waver, the flavor's always consistent).
- Cook until the second side has browned.
- Serve hot or room temperature with dipping sauce.
Jacqui Gabel hails from Minnesota and lives in Seoul. Her motivation to travel stems from a yearning to learn through food, and she is particularly interested in what people eat for breakfast. Jacqui has waitressed, taught kindergarten, designed pantyhose, and sold wine and costume jewelry. Once a week, she visits her friend Hye Rae's Seoul kitchen, and they show each other a thing or two of what they know. If the recipe is Korean, she learned it from Hye Rae. Jacqui loves to cook and feed, and she writes about travel, food, and identity on her blog.