Sunday, June 27, 2010

Korean Eggplant Side Dish (Gaji nameul 가지 나물): When your children's appetites embarass you

I think anyone that reads my blog knows that I work really hard at feeding my children.  I mean REALLY hard.  I try and feed them a variety of well-balanced meals, varied in ingredients, and filled with nutritious items.  Son and Daughters always have good appetites and eat their meals with energy and passion.  They like their food.

But there are times when this can be slightly embarrassing for me as a mother.  In recent months we've been eating at friend's JEL's house and she has been treating us to lovely meat, usually Korean marinated ribs, kalbi (갈비) and the last couple of times, Son and Daughter #2 have eaten the greater portion.  In fact, there was one meal where friend JEL had bought 10 lbs of meat only to discover that we were slightly short when we were feeding my family and another family.  In my defense, the OTHER family also has huge eaters, but the kids are older, and my kids were right behind them in quantity.  After the meal was over, the meat all polished off, the bones all licked clean, JEL pulled me aside and said, "You REALLY need to feed your children meat."

I blushed and said, "But I DO!  All the time!" 

JEL said, "Clearly not enough.  They ate like they had never seen kalbi before.  They love it so much, you should make it more for them!  You know what?  Never mind.  I'm going to make it for them.  Whenever you come over, I'm making them kalbi."

And so I was slightly embarrassed.  Son and Daughters' appetites is one reason why I can never show up to someone's house empty handed, because they simply just eat more than other children their size.  It is a bit shocking for people who have never eaten with Son and Daughters, especially when Son and Daughters really chow down.

Most recently, my embarrassing experience around Children's appetites had to do with a trip to a Korean restaurant.  Grandfather decided that he wanted to take Grandkids to eat a really yummy Korean meal and he promised Son and Daughters lots of kalbi.  Son fixated on that comment and the entire day, kept on asking, "We go eat kalbi now?"  (He's two and a half.)  I had to remind him gently, "No, not until dinner."  When we did arrive at the restaurant, he sat down, and started saying in a VERY loud voice, "I want kalbi.  I want kalbi.  Grandpa, I want kalbi."  Before the kalbi arrived we had a ton of side dishes (banchan 반찬) and he made quick work of several items, including this eggplant side dish.

When the servers arrived to help cook the meat, and saw Son and Daughter #1 stuffing pieces of eggplant into their mouth, they quickly ran to the back of the kitchen to get more, and gave it to them.  Generally, Koreans love a child with a healthy appetite, but the sight of a little boy shoving eggplant into his mouth tickled them pink and made them laugh.  I was immediately embarrassed and said in Korean, "I really do feed my children at home.  They eat really well at home."  The server smiled and laughed and said, "Kids who eat well at home eat well at restaurants.  They are good eaters at home they will eat well in a restaurant.  We can tell you feed them well."  Phew....I was slightly less embarrassed when she said that, until I turned my head and saw my son with a mouthful of eggplant hanging out of his mouth.

This happens to be one of my favorite preparations of eggplant, because it is so unusual.  Most cultures rely on oil to cook eggplant, and the eggplant takes on a silky texture from the quantity of oil added to the dish.  The Korean preparation is significantly lighter, has a different texture and is definitely far less fattening than other preparations because the eggplant is steamed, rather than sauteed in oil.  The result is a very delicious, light, refreshing, preparation of eggplant that is wonderful in the summer. 

Make this and perhaps your child can embarrass you in a restaurant in the near and immediate future.  Just so I am not alone.
Korean Eggplant Side Dish (Gaji Nameul 가지 나물)
Serves 4 as a side dish

3 medium-sized, firm Japanese eggplant (Japanese eggplant is long and thin, while Western eggplant is much rounder and fatter)

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon Korean chili powder (고추가루)
1 teaspoon vinegar (optional - for people who like a bit of tartness)
1/2 teaspoon toasted, crushed sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
pinch of salt to taste

Prepare eggplant by slicing off the top and cutting them down the middle.

Place in a steamer.

Cover and steam for about 3 minutes.  (Steaming time refers to the time that the water is boiling, and steam is coming out of the pot.  3 minutes for the steaming.  It may take a couple of minutes for the water to come to a boil.) The steaming time can vary based on how fat and thick the eggplant is, but about 3 minutes is for medium eggplant.  You will know that the eggplant is ready when you poke a chopstick into it and it can go through with a tiny bit of resistance.  (It is better to err on having the eggplant being a bit firmer than having it be too mushy.)

With a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant into long slices, about 1/4 inch thick.

Grab a handful of eggplant, and squeeze out the excess water.

Place squeezed eggplant into a clean bowl.  Add garlic, scallion, chili powder, sesame seed, sesame oil, soy sauce and vinegar (optional).  Using your hand gently toss and mix ingredients until all is well incorporate and the eggplant is coated in the seasoning.  Taste, and if necessary add a pinch of salt.

Arrange eggplant onto serving dish and enjoy.

Printable recipe


kim said...

Just made this for my Korean mama tonight... another great recipe! Curious to see what my girls think of it tomorrow...

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Tallya said...

I just found this, I realize its a bit old :) My husband loves eggplant and this looks and sounds delicious! My question is, do you serve it warm or cold? Thanks

Joanne Choi said...

Tallya - cold! tastes so refreshing chilled!

lazymashimaru said...

Hi, I just want to ask if I can store this in the fridge for like a week or two? I'm looking for recipes where I can make it one time and still be able to eat properly (college student and young professional in one house!) for days to come.. :)


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