Korean Cook
Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, 69, Silver Spring

Sunday, February 19, 2006

CULTURE KLATCH: I was born in South Korea, the eighth of 12 children. Several times a month my family had Confucian ancestral ceremonies. Strict rules had to be followed when preparing food. Although we had servants, with our huge household, I was expected to lend a hand. When I was 5, I'd run away from the kitchen because I wanted to write, not cook. My first novel (the name, translated, is "The Beautiful Prisoner's Suit"), published in 1963, protested women's position in Korean society. It won a nationwide literary contest -- the prize was about 10,000 U.S. dollars -- and it was made into a movie.

EPICURIOSITY: My attitudes about cooking changed when I came to America in 1961 after getting married. I found people knew so little about Korean food and culture. We also lived in Europe and Asia for 25 years. Everywhere we traveled, people always asked me about Korean food. Although I hadn't cared for cooking when in my childhood home, I decided to write a Korean cookbook in English.

WORK ETHNIC: Writing "Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, 2001) took more than 10 years. With traditional cooking, it was a pinch of this, a bunch of that. To write recipes with precise measurements, I did a lot of research and experimentation. I drew on childhood memories to tell the story of our family meals, our culinary traditions and the ancestral ceremonial food prepared by my mother and grandmother.

COOK 'N' TELL: Talking about our Shin family to outsiders was against our moral code. I didn't tell family and friends about the book until it was published to avoid criticism. I told them that this was not just a story about us, but about Korean family life. I used our family as a way to introduce Korean food culture to the world, and to ensure that it would not lose its identity.

FERMENT FERVOR: Many food critics call Korean cuisine the next new "in" food. More and more people like spicy foods. And as America is turning away from fast food, there's growing interest in healthy, natural foods. More than half of the patrons at Korean restaurants are non-Korean. More and more Korean markets are opening in America -- now half the customers are non-Korean. They want authentic, quality ingredients.

ZEST DRIVE: For centuries in Korea, kimchi has traditionally been served at every meal. It's how we pickle and preserve food. Korean kitchens create more than 300 kinds of kimchi, using everything from cabbage to watermelon skin. Hot peppers, garlic and green onions give kimchi its biting zest, seal in freshness and help sterilize it. Ginger, fruits, nuts and seafood are often added. Each family's kimchi has its own unique flavor, but the basic process is to salt the vegetable, extract its liquid and add spices. Then it's fermented, creating its distinctive character.

FLU FIGHTER: As a tradition, kimchi has been used to prevent all kinds of diseases and build immunity. It has protein, vitamins and fiber, and is low in calories. Kimchi juice produced during the fermentation process has antibacterial qualities. Hot pepper, ginger and garlic are potent ingredients for killing germs and can help prevent sickness. I make a strong concoction with ginger when we have colds.

FARE THEE WELL: I'm now writing a cookbook devoted to kimchi. People new to Korean cooking can start with Napa cabbage kimchi, which has a very nice flavor and fragrance. When I was growing up, kimchi was buried in huge crocks in the ground to keep it at a constant temperature. Today we use refrigerators. Storing properly is very important. Kimchi should be double-wrapped and tightly sealed. Many serious kimchi cooks have separate refrigerators. At Korean markets, you can buy kimchi ready-made too. Chongga is the best one.

As told to Robin Tierney

Hepinstall will be hosting cooking demos March 4 at 11 a.m., 2 and 4 p.m. and a book signing from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at H Mart, 10780 Lee Hwy., Fairfax, 703-273-0570.

Kimchi Pancakes

We grew up eating kimchi pancakes, and even today my mouth waters just thinking about them. The combination of spicy cabbage kimchi and bits of pork create a unique taste. They make a very tasty appetizer or snack.

-- Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall

Ingredients

1 cup baechu kimchi (whole cabbage kimchi), white part only, firmly packed (such as Chongga brand)

1 cup ice cold water

1 egg, lightly beaten

3 ounces lean ground pork

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 large sweet green onions or 6 scallions, white and pale

green part only, finely minced

4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil Wearing rubber gloves, shake off the stuffing from the kimchi and wrap in a paper towel. Lightly squeeze out most of the liquid, and finely chop.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine chopped kimchi, ice water, egg, ground pork, flour and green onions. Mix lightly with a pair of chopsticks. The batter should easily drip off a spoon; you can use more water to thin, if necessary. Set batter aside.

In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Drop one-third of the kimchi batter in the skillet to make one large, thin pancake. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the edges turn brown and crispy. Flip it over, add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil around the pancake, and cook for another minute, flattening and shaping it with a spatula. Flip again and cook for a few more seconds, to restore crispiness. Transfer the finished pancake to a tray.

Repeat twice more with the remaining oil and batter. Makes three pancakes, each about 8 inches in diameter.

Transfer the pancakes to a cutting board and slice each into 6 wedges. Serve with Korean Vinegar Soy Sauce (recipe follows).

Makes 18 wedges.

Korean Vinegar Soy Sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce (may use low sodium)

2 tablespoons cheongju or dry vermouth

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. This dipping sauce will stay fresh in the refrigerator for one week.

Per wedge with sauce: 116 calories, 3 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 23 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 273 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber. Recipe tested by Soo Aldrich; e-mail questions tohttp://sundaysource@washpost.com.

Adapted from Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall's "Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook"

(Ten Speed Press, 2001).

Kimchi: A Superfood?

Long the star of Korean cuisine, kimchi is gaining traction as a food trend in America, says Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall. But bird flu fears more than culinary cravings may account for the recent spikes in kimchi sales at Asian markets. A minor study by a South Korean academic last spring apparently sparked new interest in the pungent mix of pickled vegetables.

The 2005 Seoul National University study found that 11 of 13 chickens recovered from avian flu after being fed kimchi juice. But, as scientists noted, more research is needed.

Kimchi has long been touted as health superfood that can cut cancer risk, lower cholesterol, improve skin, aid digestion and fight infection. The dish does contain ingredients widely believed to strengthen immunity and fight disease. For example, kimchi's fermentation process produces beneficial bacteria that destroys harmful microbes. Crushed garlic yields compounds linked to reducing blood pressure and infections. (Stanford University's Web site recommends garlic nose drops to kill cold-causing viruses.) Hot peppers contain capsaicin, believed to kill certain bacteria. Ginger's medicinal uses range from preventing motion sickness to fighting colds. Cabbage and green onions are packed with health-boosting phytonutrients. Many South Koreans even credited kimchi consumption with sparing the nation from the SARS outbreak that swept Asia in 2003. R.T.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company