The subtle crispness in the air, the ability to sleep at night, a jacket for the morning commute, yes, it is fall.
Finally temperatures have cooled in Seoul. This means I am no longer camping out at Starbucks in front of monolithic air conditioners, bowing down to a false idol. My clothing is no longer regulated to a uniform of breathable jersey t-shirts and skirts (thank you American Appeal). No. I am now free to wear my skinny jeans, oxford shirts, and if I dare, boots. Gasp.
In Seattle I eagerly awaited fall like a child waiting for her birthday. A bounty of winter squashes, dark greens and the return of asparagus were my presents. I couldn’t wait to pull out my trusty orange Le Creuset Dutch oven, stained with years of use, and start a stew or polenta.
With the exception of the pine mushroom, a mushroom that grows at the base of pine trees absorbing a unique pine flavor, fall isn’t specially marked by the return of produce or seasonal dishes. Folks go about like they had before with a few less bowls of Naeng Myeong and a couple less patbingsus.
For me, however, fall is still special, because I can finally turn on the freekin’ stove and make coffee without sweating! Kev and I have started buzzing about the kitchen again, discourse has returned to food related themes.
One of our first fall dishes was a vegetable and ddok sauté. Crisp tender veggies, slightly browned, and toothsome ddok (rice cakes), captured the essence of fall noshing. Comfortable and familiar like putting on a favorite oversized wool sweater. Charmingly rustic, the mix warmed the belly and whetted the appetite for a season of hearty eats.
Ddok and Veggie Stir Fry
2 cups ddok (Korean rice cakes, logs cut on the diagonal found in the refrigerated section at the supermarket)
2 potatoes, quartered
1 Melon, sliced
Handful kale, de-stemmed and chopped
1 carrot, cut to bite sized pieces
2 T soy sauce
1 T garlic
2 leeks, finely chopped
2 T sugar
1 T sesame oil
1 tsp gochu flakes
Prepare all veg, steam the potato quarters 7 minutes to soften
In a bowl, mix the soy sauce, garlic, leeks, sugar, sesame oil, and gochu. This is your flavor base. You can always adjust the taste later.
Wait to cook the ddok until you are absolutely ready to use it, or it will turn hard. To cook the ddok, bring about 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the ddok and let cook 3 minutes. You want the ddok to start getting soft, but not too soft, much like you would when cooking pasta. Ddok is great for absorbing flavors, and you want it to suck up the sauce, not the water.
Heat a large skillet and add a tbsp of oil. Add the ddok, potatoes, melon, carrots, and kale. Stir occasionally, for 5 minutes. Aim for a small golden crust on the veg and ddok. Add the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Here I like to give the mixture one stir at the beginning to coat, but then leave it alone for the next 5. If you can resist the urge to tamper, you will be rewarded with a sauce reduction, stickily adhered to the mixture. Delicious.
Serve over rice, preferably brown, because as you can see there is no protein in this dish.