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Global interest in South Korea is piqued. It is based, in large part, on its vibrant pop culture and fiery meat, the latter of which I thoroughly enjoyed during the two years I spent on the peninsula. Before bulgogi, though, Korean cuisine harnessed the harvest.

Barbecue is to Korean cuisine what sashimi is to Japan’s, by which I mean fantastic, but barely scratching the surface. Crazes, such as yangnyeom (Korean fried chicken), come and go. That said, in my mind, where Korea excels is in banchan sides and entire meals that highlight the herbaceous, whether fresh, fermented or preserved.

As a primer, I highly recommend watching the “Chef’s Table” episode featuring Seon Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan (Season 3, Episode 1). A resident of Baekyangsa temple, Kwan’s dishes communicate a connectivity that transcends place, time and lines on maps. I proffer that, in liminal terms, through cooking we are feeding the future. When eating, we are in the moment. Through food traditions and ancestral cultivation, we remain in touch with bygone eras. In many cases, we choose to eat specific foods expressly to relive moments from our own pasts.

Bibim mandu (literally “mixed gyōza”) — unfilled, lightly fried wrappers served alongside dressed seasonal vegetables — is a dish that saw me through the balmy summers of Busan. It is fun to eat, using the crisped wrappers to make salad rolls. You can be surgically methodical while constructing them, or whimsically chaotic. Both have their charms.

I have concocted a dressing less fiery than any I ever bought, so feel free to adjust spice levels upward to your own taste. Here, I have opted for a vegetarian version of this dish, though if you want protein, I recommend serving with cold chāshū pork, poached or smoked chicken, or shredded omelette.

Bibim mandu, ready for construction. | SIMON DALY
Bibim mandu, ready for construction. | SIMON DALY

 

Prep: 10 mins.; cook: 5 mins.

Serves 2

 

• 50 grams gochujang

• 50 grams mascarpone

• 15 milliliters olive oil

• 25 milliliters rice wine vinegar

• 1 red pepper

• 1 yellow pepper

• 1 cucumber

• ¼ red onion

• ¼ small cabbage

• 1 pack kaiware daikon sprouts

• 20 large gyōza skins

• 20 milliliters light frying oil

 

1. Mix the gochujang, mascarpone and oil in a bowl. Slowly mix in vinegar to emulsify. Set aside.

2. Core and slice the red and yellow peppers, keeping the colors separate. If you have the time or inclination, feel free to use a grill or culinary blowtorch to scorch and remove the skins. (Unless I was trying to impress someone, I usually wouldn’t bother.)

3. Core and slice the cucumber. Fresh is great, but if you have access to nukazuke (rice bran) pickles, they also work very well in this dish.

4. Slice the red onion and cabbage as thinly as possible, keeping them separate.

5. Cut the bottoms off the sprouts and arrange all vegetables on your serving plates.

6. Fold the gyōza skins in half and lay them down, slightly overlapped, like fish scales. In two batches, lightly fry them in oil until they just begin to bubble. Plate them next to the vegetables.

7. Liberally spoon the dressing over the vegetables, construct a roll and eat.

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