In the interest of full disclosure, after our review of the Kimchi Chronicles TV series in June, Kimchi Mamas bloggers were offered free copies of the Kimchi Chronicles Cookbook by Marja Vongerichten. Below are reviews from Jomama and Shinyung:
I was delighted to open up the Kimchi Chronicles by Marja Vongerichten. The book is heftier than my other 2 Korean cookbooks, and has my favorite features of both. LOTS of pictures of the finished dishes, and even a couple of before and after. She also tells stories throughout, beginning with her personal adoption story, and explanations of the context of the dishes and her family life featuring her chef husband and radiant daughter. Oh, and neighbor Hugh Jackman makes an appearance and a few mentions too! Even if you had no interest in cooking at all, anyone interested in Korean culture, or adoption, or family life, would enjoy this book for all the narration throughout.
But if you didn't want to cook, or eat, then you'd be missing out. This is a great collection of recipes! From traditional Korean dishes, to adapted American style classics. (Why had I never thought to put kimchi on a hot dog? I love sauerkraut! Oooh, I just invented a new recipe: kimchi reuben--thanks for the inspiration, Marja!) I did find the American cheese a little odd in kimbap, but I can see it in soups as she suggests.
Thanks to all the extra information in each chapter, and every recipe, I learned a lot about Korean culture and cuisine that I never knew. As a Korean adoptee myself (but without the successful birth mother reunion, chef husband, and movie-star neighbor--other than those little details, we're just the same!), I appreciated her "outsider's" consideration in providing so much background information for those of us who did not grow up in Korean kitchens. I love that she included recipes for even simple things like sesame oil + salt + pepper. A native Korean would probably never think of providing that, but I found it very valuable. I've had this sauce, but wasn't sure what was in it.
There are a LOT more recipes in here that I want to try. I LOVED this cookbook for its stories, recipes, personal sharing, and most of all--the creative mixing of ingredients. I'm going to be putting kimchi on a lot more than rice now!
For the first time this week, I cooked Korean food with measuring spoons. Two and a half tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of soju, 2 tablespoons of gochujang, etc., etc., etc. to marinate a pound of thinly sliced pork. I followed the recipe like a disciplined soldier. And what did all that add up to? Sumptuous, "Spicy Pork Stir-Fry" (or pork bulgogi) -- just the way I like it.
I learned to cook by helping my mother in the kitchen. She does not own measuring spoons -- and never seemed to need them. Instead, she cooked by grabbing any old spoon from our utensil tray. She often directed, "Add half a spoonful of sugar. And two heaping spoonfuls of garlic. No, a little more." I know how to cook by eyeballing and tasting. But there are some dishes that I never learned to make. Simply because my mother did not cook them.
I've often longed for a Korean cookbook that could fill in the holes of my missing knowledge. But I was suspicious of the few I saw in the bookstores. How would I know how authentic they were? Would I be misled by someone who knew less about Korean food and offered up "Americanized" recipes?
Well, if the Spicy Pork Stir-Fry recipe is any indication, Marja Vongerichten's Kimchi Chronicles may be worth a look -- or two. The recipe is right on the mark, even though she adds a few ingredients I've never seen in my pork bulgogi, such as snow peas. But the basics are there.
Vongerichten doesn't pretend to offer only "authentic" Korean recipes. One look at the table of contents can tell you as much (such as "Joseph's Bulgogi Tacos" and "Grilled Korean Lobster Rolls with Scallion Mayonnaise"). The collection is a mix, with some dishes with French influence, others "Americanized". But there are enough basics, such as Kalguksu, Naengmyeon, and Sundubu Jjigae, to make me want to try more.
As for her improvisations (i.e., add 1 slice of American cheese for kimchi jigae??), you'll have to try it out for yourself. I'm not sure whether to rely on her 100%. For example, a number of her recipes include fish sauce, including for kimchi and seaweed soup (which she admits she uses as a stand-in for dashida), and I don't think I've ever seen any Korean cook Korean food with fish sauce. And she does not add any soybean paste to her kimchi chigae, which I've seen in the past. I am a little suspicious, but who knows how things may have changed in Korea in the past 3 decades I've been in the US. And I don't hold myself out as an expert on Korean cooking.
All in all, the book is worth checking out. The photos are plenty and beautiful. And the explanations clear and easy to follow. Plus, there are enough delectable recipes, whether authentic or not, to make your mouth water (such as the beautifully photographed "Lemons Stuffed with Tofu and Nuts") -- and to spur the imagination. Maybe it's time to give up my notions of "authentic Korea" and celebrate the Koreans here and now -- along with the use of measuring spoons.
The book went on sale in August. Has anyone else picked it up? Any other Korean cookbook recommendations out there?