Daddy’s Favorite Noodles And That Time I Went Vegan. #Noodleholicsparty

My father eats noodles at least once a week.  Like clockwork, at 10:17 a.m., every Sunday morning, I would wake up to the spicy mouthwatering aroma of Shin Ramyun (spicy Korean ramyun noodles).

Actually, my mouth is watering right now thinking about it.

Shin ramyun, though, is really not good for you.  God only knows what they put in that little tin-foiled packet of pungent good/bad-ness that magically turns into ramyun gook (soup), but the internets is rife with urban mythology of Warcraft addicts who have actually died from OD’ing on ramyun.  So, for years, I have suggested to my Dad that he replace the ramyun noodles with something healthier…to no immediate avail.

When we were little, my father would venture out beyond the packaged ramyun noodles, even beyond his own kitchen, and take me and my little brother out into the city (we were suburbanites).  Two kids in the backseat of the Honda hatchback with no mission but to eat his favorite noodles for lunch at the sleepy little Chinese-Korean eatery in K-town.  We would often be the only patrons at 11 a.m. (the minute they opened), and my Dad would order two “samsun jjajangmyun”–one for himself, and one to split between my brother and me.

Jjajangmyun is the stuff of K-pop legend.  It’s the noodle dish for which all the impossibly beautiful K-pop actresses have the caloric/carb count memorized, because it is their enshrined “cheat meal.” It’s the most frequently ordered item off of Korea’s version of Grubhub–the dish you eat when your boyfriend has just cheated on you, when your mom is giving you crap about your grades, when you’re feeling so fat the only rational thing to do is to eat something extremely delicious (and full of fat).

Made of fried jjajang–thick black fermented soy bean paste–and a deep rich broth (usually from beef or pork), it’s not the type of dish that you can burn off with an hour on the treadmill.

So, when Soe invited me to come to his #noodleholicsparty, I could think of no more perfect recipe to “bring” than jjajangmyun.

Now, the trick for me, of course, is making jjajangmyun vegan. I can guarantee you, there are ZERO Chinese-Korean restaurants in my area that serve vegan jjajangmyun.  And in fact, my father would probably scratch his head were I to attempt to order “meatless jjajangmyun,” before his face split in half with a wide, embarrassed grin.  “You can’t eat jjajang without meat!  You need the meat!”

If it isn’t evident, my father is not vegan.

Ironically, though, my Dad played an incredibly key role in my choice to cut out meat last year.  Right after watching all the movies about plant-based diets that zeroed in on the statistical and indisputable proof of the connection between meat consumption and cancer, in early January, my father got very sick. After a routine biopsy, he came down with Sepsis and nearly died. While his body was fighting to survive the sudden onset of poison, we learned that the biopsy came back positive–he had prostate cancer.

To me, that was about as close as it got to a lightning bolt from God.  I’m not saying that my father’s illness was the thing that made me go vegan, but it was undeniably one of the primary reasons I am vegan today.

And it’s why I try so hard to veganize Korean food.

Because Daddy likes Korean food.

Luckily, there’s no need to veganize the noodles.  Most noodle recipes are, by default, non-dairy (and meatless….).  While some noodle dishes call for eggs, most Asian noodles consist of flour, salt, water and possibly oil.  In order to give the noodles the requisite “jjeulgyuh” or chewiness, some type of alkaline substance should also be included (enter baking soda, kansui, lye water, etc.).

Non-luckily, handmade noodles are, well, a bitch.  Gluten formation is the lynchpin to all noodles, and it only happens when the dough gets beaten around a bit.  Whether using a stand mixer, bread machine, or your triceps, developing the requisite gluten is not easy and there will be more losses than wins during your first attempts to make your own noodles.  Trust me.

In the end, for my recipe, I settled for knife cut noodles or “kalguksoo.”  This is purely because after one solid hour of kneading, my arms started to feel numb and I didn’t have any more upper arm strength to stretch and pull the noodles by hand (not to mention the fact that I’d never done it before…!).

After steeping them in boiling water for about 3 minutes, I was happy to see that they didn’t disintegrate or fall a part even when I fished them out.  They were chewy, doughy, and, though a little uneven, quite yummy.  In fact, I like to think their unevenness provided more “hooks” for my sauce, so that it didn’t just slide off into a puddle at the bottom of my bowl (which, let’s face it, I would gladly spoon into my mouth-hole without any noodles).

The sauce wasn’t that difficult either.  In lieu of big chunks of meat or shrimp, I used some shiitake mushrooms.  And, to give the sauce that added depth, I added my Fishy Sauce in lieu of just water or store bought vegetable broth.  In the end, it all came together quite beautifully, and I had some for lunch, dinner, and then breakfast the next day (i.e., while I’m writing this post…).

Definitely good enough for binge watching Korean dramas.

And maybe even good enough for my Dad.

You can find the recipe for my jjajangmyun here.

You can find the recipes for all the other amazing noodle addicts who came to the #noodleholicsparty at the following links:


Moms & Baking Go Hand in Hand.


You’ve been there.  You’re 8 years old.  You’ve bragged to all your friends about the amazing cupcakes you’re going to bring to school the next day for your birthday.  You get home and share the good news to the one person in your life who actually knows how to bake cupcakes:

Your mom.

“Mommy!!  Guess what!! I told all my friends and my teacher and my gym teacher and the kids at recess and Mr. Bernard’s class that I’m bringing cupcakes for my birthday to school tomorrow!”

My mother was a full-time nurse in the Emergency Room of a mid-sized hospital in Chicago.  In other words, the last thing she wanted to do after coming home from literally one of the most stressful jobs on earth was bake cupcakes.  No, like most humans, my mom preferred windows down with a warm beverage before the television for an hour or so before heading to bed.

But, like most moms, my mother put to one side the fact that she was bone-tired and stayed up all night frosting a bunch of cupcakes for her daughter’s second grade classmates.

So, it was pretty appropriate that she asked me to bake her a bunch of shortbread cookies for Christmas this year, so that she could “show off” to all her friends. The past two months at work have been busier than normal and baking was honestly the last thing this food-blogger had in mind for the Christmas holiday.  But the thought of disappointing my 67 year old mother on Christmas Eve was about as appealing to me as disappointing an 8 year girl the day before her birthday.  So, I rolled up my sleeves, whipped out my rolling pin, and ganache’d the fuck out of these shortbread cookies.

And yes.  Mommy loved them.

Recipe for Chocolate Ganache Shortbread Cookies.


The Korean Vegan = Vegan Kimchi.


Can you recall your first day of kindergarten? To be honest, I’m not sure I can. I think I somehow mish-mashed a bunch of memories from that first year of school into what I now call my “first day.”  Here are the fragments that have stuck with me from that first day:

I didn’t speak English.  Everyone else did.

I had long black hair, black eyes, and yellow skin.  Very few others sported this ensemble.

I had to wear sok-neh-bok (Korean long underwear).  No one else’s grandmother appeared as concerned with the cold.

My grandmother packed for me kimbap and kimchi. Everyone else’s lunchbox contained ham sandwiches and potato chips.

I came home after that “first day” of kindergarten crying.  I hated my mother, my father, my grandmother, and everyone else who was “responsible” for making me so painfully different from everyone else, so Korean.  I fearlessly told my mother from that day forward,

“I am not Korean, Mommy.  I am American.”

Fast forward to my first day of college, at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign.  The first thing I hunted down was a decent Korean restaurant, to ensure that I would have sustenance for the next few years.  Thank goodness for Dorcas, the teensy-tiny family run Korean eatery on Green Street, that served unlimited quantities of kkong-namul-gook (bean sprout broth) through a water dispenser and made the best damn soon-doo-boo chigae of ever (…besides my mom’s, of course).  I could have stuck a chopstick in my “Korean-ness.”

Over the years, my palate continued to be my “tell.”  My favorite meal consisted of three things: rice, water, kimchi.  If I was feeling fancy, I’d have a few sheets of keem (roasted nori) to wrap around my rice.  And every time my mother saw me eating this way, she’d remark with a great deal of joy that, for some reason, continues to pierce my chest,

“You are definitely Korean.”

So, when I went vegan about a year ago, all I could think about was how my mother used to massage the great big heads of bright cabbage with handfuls of saewoojeot (fermented baby shrimp) on Kimchi Days…  and I wondered,

If I can’t eat kimchi anymore… am I still Korean?

As I’ve written about earlierThe Korean Vegan is, in large part, a project that aimed to prove to everyone and to me that I didn’t have to shed my identity together with meat.  Thus, figuring out a way to make vegan kimchi not just look like kimchi but taste like the kimchi I grew up eating was critical.

My favorite kimchi of all kimchi (there are many many different kinds of kimchi) is invariably chonggak kimchi, made with Korean baby radishes.  So, I knew when I decided to finally tackle kimchi, I would be making chonggak kimchi.  But first, I would have to figure out a way to mimic the fish sauce that was called for in every single recipe of chonggak kimchi I’ve ever seen.

Now, you might ask, “Why not just omit the fish sauce?  Surely, it can’t make that much difference!”  My mother took this approach when I first went vegan.  She spent hours making me a huge batch of regular kimchi without fish sauce.  She lugged it all the way to my house in a large kimchi jar to store in my new home.  We both agreed,

“This isn’t very good.”

I was thereafter pretty intimidated.  Despite receiving hundreds of requests from followers of the blog for my vegan kimchi recipe, I deflected.  I made vague assurances that one would be forthcoming, without any real plan in mind for how that would materialize.  But, after watching my mom and everyone else in my family chomp down on mouthwatering kimchi, and finding zero non-fish-sauce options at the Korean grocery store, I determined that the only way to address this gaping deficiency in my fridge was to make my own.

Starting with my own vegan fish sauce.

Google vegan fish sauce, and you’ll find plenty of recipes.  I’ve tried a bunch of them, but none of them provided the requisite tang for my kimchi–which is literally the only reason I would ever had any need for fish sauce.  So, after trying a few things here and there, I put together a bunch of flavors that I thought might work. After some trial and error, my Fishy Sauce was born.  I added it to my kimchi, and voila:

I had chonggak kimchi that tasted almost as good as I remembered it when I was busy trying to convince my mother that I was American.

Recipe for My Favorite Kimchi Of All Time.


The Pickled Perilla Leaf.

My grandmothers were both born in what is now known as North Korea.  Of course, it was just Korea back then and both my grandmothers died here in the United States, far away from the war-torn country they watched on their tv sets.  While they got to rear their grandchildren with things like wall-to-wall carpeting, VCRs, endless varieties of fresh fruit, and backyards to themselves, their worn hands held all the stories of poverty that very few in the US could ever tell.

They were farmers.  Above all things, to them, wealth was a function of growing things–lots of things.  So, when my mother’s mother first immigrated to the little town of Skokie, Illinois, she nearly wept at the expanse of our backyard.  Within a couple summers, we had stalks of golden corn lining the perimeter, squash the size of fairy tales  tucked into the corners, chilis peeking out from the eaves, and, her crown jewel, a patch of dark earth with neat rows of perilla leaves lifting their bright green faces to the sun.

It was my job to pick the leaves and bring them back to the kitchen.  By then, the stalks were so tall, I could imagine wandering through a thicket of alien trees, far far away from my home, Skokie, or even Earth.  Until, of course, my grandmother’s voice would peal through the summer air like an old familiar tune and reel me back,

“Sunyoung-ah!  Hurry back!”

What I wouldn’t give to have a backyard of my own with a patch of perilla leaves as tall as I am.  What I wouldn’t give to smell the sweet burning scent of gochugaru on my grandmother’s dark hands as she pickled the leaves I had only just picked for her. What I wouldn’t give to hear my hahl-muh-nee’s voice, tugging at my heart and pulling me back into the warmth of our kitchen.

What I wouldn’t give…

Pickled Perilla Leaf Recipe.


Banana Tahini Hemp IRON Waffles.

My boyfriend is an athlete.  He runs 2 marathons a year, can do 1,500 pull-ups per workout, and spends about 50% of his time planning other athletic milestones.  When we went vegan, we were both worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with this kind of lifestyle.

Truth is, vegans do have be a little careful about making sure they get their vitamins.  BUT, no more so than non-vegans.  The only thing that’s different is WHAT you have to watch for.  Vitamins B12 and D, and of course, protein and iron.

So, I try to find creative ways to sneak protein powders and other enriched ingredients into our everyday. This morning, I incorporated some hemp protein into our waffles to make these amazing, gluten free, DELICIOUS fluffy dream cakes.  I topped them with basically everything in my fridge.

Recipe here.  Enjoy and then hit the weights!


Kickin’ Gochujang Pesto, Because Boring Ole’ Pesto Was Getting Boring.

So, I’ve been eating pesto about 1-2 times per week these days.  Ever since I discovered just how easy it was to make and how FREAKING unbelievable it tastes with just about everything, it’s become one of my “go-to” dishes.  It literally takes 15 minutes, from start to finish, and you can even have your pasta cooking while you pulse all the ingredients in your food processor.

But, after having pesto 8 times in a month, I decided it was time to spice things up a bit–literally.  And thus, gochujang pesto was born.  Because I’ve realized that gochujang makes just about everything more delicious.

Check out there recipe here.


My No Fuss Un-Fuck-Up-Able Fuh.

A good friend asked me to veganize some pho.  When I think of pho, I think of very cold winters, Argyle Street, just north of the Green Mill, where resides some of the best pho you’ll ever have, with the smell of fresh thai basil and liquorish curling up into your face, still red from the Chicago bluster, until your stomach comes to life.

The key to a good pho is the stock.  How to recreate the rich, velvety beef broth that serves as the foundation for pho?

I turned to one of my favorite tricks on the book:


Otherwise known as dried kelp, it serves as the base for tons of Korean soups and chigaes, and as I suspected, it was the PERFECT base for my vegan pho.

You can check it out HERE.

That Time I Got Lost In Italy.

I’m not much of a traveler.  I’m too anal for that level of “fly by the seat of your pants” flexibility.  I like to plan every millimeter of my life, so endless days of required absence from structure is a little unnerving for me–particularly if I’m in a country that doesn’t speak the same language as me, doesn’t have all the foods I’m used to, and has questionable commitment to personal hygiene facilities (i.e., bathrooms).

But, over the past decade or so, I’ve learned to accommodate my planning obsession while letting myself loosen up for travel.  Last year, I took my first ever trip to Europe (chronicled here) and fell deeply in love with Rome–particularly Trastevere.  I loved stepping out of our little flat and breathing in the yeast wafting from the bakery just next door, or falling asleep to the crooning voices of carousers every night.

Going to Rome this year as a vegan, though, was a little intimidating.  I had no idea what to expect from a country that views almond butter with mistrust and doesn’t really understand the purpose of kale.  But, Rome did not disappoint.  Cheeseless pizza on every menu and plenty of egg-free pasta to make this carb lover quite happy.

AND dairy free gelato at every single fucking corner!!!

Here are some photos from my trip!!

That Time I Went Vegan…

Hey guys, I am so thrilled, honored, tickled, and excited to share this article that was published in The Mash-Up Americans: an astonishingly refreshing publication about what it’s like to be a mash-up.  Can’t think of a better way to describe my blog–The Korean Vegan.

Check it out here!

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