Global Aisles: Kim’s Oriental Market & Spicy Korean Radishes

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Banchan, banchan, banchan. There are a lot of reasons why I love Korea and the Koreans. Grilled meats, relaxing saunas, unique fashion and outrageous entertainment are few. But none of these compare to banchan, the small dish dishes that accompany a meal in Korea. If you have no idea what I am talking about, head over to Wikipedia for a quick lesson in Korean food culture.

Thanks the popularity of places like The Left Handed Cook, Green Spoon Cafe, and Gogi Bros food truck, Korean food is gaining popularity across the metro area. But the backbone of the Twin Cities Korean food scene can be found on Snelling Ave in Saint Paul, what I dare call the Twin Cities’s Koreatown. Restaurants like Mirror of Korea and Sole Cafe have been going strong for many years, twenty plus in the case of Mirror of Korea.

While I love going to these Korean restaurants and trying every banchan available, those familiar and those unknown, what I really want is to be able to eat banchan at home. To be able to open my fridge and nibble on a healthy, refreshing snack instead of chomping down a bag of chips.

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This is why, on a late Monday afternoon, I found myself at Kim’s Oriental Market, another of Snelling Ave’s old school stars. Looks can be deceiving at Kim’s Oriental Market. From the outside what appears to be a rundown old corner grocery store is actually a two room, well stocked Korean grocery store with everything from fresh produce, to a plethora of Korean spices, and traditional cookware. Kim’s opened why back in 19771 and has clearly had a steady stream of clients for the past thirty years, myself included.

My quest at Kim’s was to find ingredients for one of my favorite banchan: mu-saengchae, or spicy Korean radishes. At its base, mu-saengchae is a distinctly Korean mixture of daikon radishes, green onions, and red pepper. Luckily, everything you need to make mu-saengchae and more can be found at Kim’s Oriental Market. For the first installment of a series of Global Aisles posts where I attempt to demystify ethnic grocery stores and cooking, I present to you a simple and easy recipe for spicy Korean radishes or mu-saengchae.

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Mu-saengchae (Spicy Korean Radishes)*
*Adapted from Discovering Korean Cuisine, Edited by Allisa Park

Serving Size: 4-6

Ingredients:
1 pound daikon radish, julienned into 2-inch strips
1 tablespoon salt (for pulling water out of radishes)
Handful of enoki mushrooms, stems trimmed and separated
2 leaves of any variety of Kale, chopped into 2-inch strips
3 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons red pepper powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil

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Preparation:
1. Mix the radishes with 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Mixing the radishes with salt will pull excess water out of them and leave you with crisper radishes.  After 5-10 minutes squeeze the radishes with your hands to get out any extra water.

If you are totally freaking out right now, watch this YouTube video from Maangchi, the go-to website for all things Korean cuisine in English.

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2. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl until the radishes are stained red from the red pepper powder. You can use your hands with plastic gloves or some tongs. Mu-saengchae is super flexible, and doesn’t require precise measurements. Most likely you need to adjust here and the if the mixture is too wet or dry. Or, if you want more sesame oil, or a little soy sauce or less spice, just keep taste testing until you find something you like. Many recipes also call for a few mustard leaves and oysters, but since I don’t often come across mustard leaves I substituted them for kale leaves here and because I am not a huge fan of oysters, I typically leave them out. Mu-saengchae keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week.

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Eating:
I typically eat mu-saengchae as a snack with a side of rice.  If you’re up for the challenge, fry up some bulgogi or bibimbop for a truly Korean meal at home.  Alternatively, if you just aren’t feeling up to the task of making your own mu-saengchae, you can grab a jar of Kim’s house-made spicy radish in the refrigerated section.

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References
1Harris, Phyllis Louise. The Twin Cities’ Best Asian Markets. Twin Cities Daily Planet. August 6, 2006. http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2006/08/16/twin-cities-best-asian-markets.



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