Haegeen Kim is our miracle Korean chef at Purple Yam. She started working for us at Cendrillon as a waitress about 4 or 5 years ago. She was also a full time artist at the time engrossed in developing her art doing exhibitions in NYC and in Seoul. In 2009 as we closed Cendrillon and we turned our attention to building the new restaurant, Purple Yam, in Ditmas Park, we asked Haegeen to help us with the look and aesthetics of the new space. We originally thought of asking her to do a mural on a massive main wall covered with plaster, but fortunately, our contractor was able to peel away the plaster to expose the beautiful brick wall that brings back many memories of the Cendrillon brick walls in SoHo.
Haegeen did a strie treatment of our wall behind the bar (creating a fabric like wall) that now serves as a soft background for Perry Mamaril’s spectacular bamboo light fixture that announces the restaurant to anyone walking or driving through Cortelyou Rd at night.
Sometime around June 2009, Haegeen asked us if she could fulfill a lifelong dream of cooking Korean dishes she learned from her Mom at the restaurant. We did not even think twice. For a whole month, we would go to her apartment in Williamsburg every Sunday to eat delicious Korean food: meatballs, kimchi, mung bean pancakes, somen noodle soups and even her homemade kombucha. Many of these made their way into our present menu.
And so on the first Saturday of December, we did a cooking class with Haegeen. She was all excited and scared because this was her first class (she helped me with a masters class I did on Filipino food in San Francisco in May of this year, but this was her first time to hold a class on her own). But just as she won us over to her delicate and refined way of cooking, the class was smitten, too. We always end our classes with a communal meal sharing what was cooked and savored together understanding that food is only delicious when shared in fellowship.
Here is Haegeen writing about her Mung Bean Pancake or Bin-dae-duck and how to do it:
I am proud to declare that I make the best mung bean pancake (in the world…? Why not!) by years of experience of making them for my mom’s night snack when she owned a pharmacy in Korea. The key to make a good one is not to mix any pancake mixture in the batter other than ground mung bean.
Soak mung bean in cold water over night and grind them in food processor or blender using the least amount of water to operate the machine. The result should be coarse pancake mixture. Then,
Make batter in a large bowl:
Onion, chopped small
Bean sprouts, blanched, squeezed and chopped small
Very fermented cabbage kimchi, squeezed and chopped small
Bit of toasted sesame oil
Pinch of salt and ground pepper
Mix it well and drop the batter by spoonful onto a hot and generously oiled non-stick pan. Flip once or twice until golden brown and serve it with vinegar soy sauce*.
*The proportion of vinegar and soy sauce is totally up to your taste. But my favorite way is half and half then add drop of toasted sesame oil, chopped scallion and some toasted sesame. You can squeeze some lemon juice for fresh taste.
Haegeen showed how to make 3 types of kimchi. The interesting one was the winter kimchi which uses different types of radish, pears, turnips and even a slice of apple. The roots and fruits are fermented in radish water, pear juice and potato water.
For dessert, she made a sweet rice ball rolled in toasted black sesame seed and palm sugar called Kyung-dan. This is very similar to the Filipino kakanin called “palitaw” which means “to be visible or to show up.” This is so because the rice balls are put in boiling water and they are cooked when the balls surface to the top. In the Philippines we coat the cooked rice delicacies with sugar, toasted sesame seeds and grated coconut.
The class was a success because not only did we learn so much (even Haegeen said prepping for the class was a great learning experience for her), but we met such warm, sweet and friendly people all eager to learn about Korean food and culture. They all asked to be informed of future classes because they enjoyed the experience. They also wanted to correspond with each other and to Haegeen especially should they have questions as they do their own kimchis and pancakes at home.
So on that blustery cold Saturday that gave us the first sign of winter, we had warmth of friendship and the intimacy of the Purple Yam basement to enjoy each other’s company. Several people indicated that they found out about the cooking class through the Ditmas Park blog — thank you Ben and Liena! Many learned it from reading the blog right here on the Purple Yam website. Thanks!
In the spring, Haegeen wants to do another class on Korean barbecue: beef shortribs, pork and chicken. She also promised to teach how to make rice punch which I totally LOVE. We both had it when we attended a Korean temple food event this summer and Haegeen perfected the recipe with her Mom when she went home to Seoul in October.
Next up are the holiday menus. For Noche Buena, Perry Mamaril will do Visayan-style lechon in our backyard at Purple Yam. Are you ready for the most famous Philippine spit-roasted 40-lb pig which we will do for Christmas Eve?