One of my favourite things about living in Korea is the amazing food I’ve been exposed to on a very frequent basis from bibimbap to dakgalbi to Korean bbq. If you ever get the chance to eat Korean food, I hope you get to experience it the way I did, right here in good ol’ Korea. When I first arrived, I ate out a lot more often than I do now. I usually reserved cooking for the weekends when I was home or an odd midweek meal.
One reason I ate out so much was that I could not get enough of the grilled meats. In many restaurants here, at each individual table, there is a gas or electric ring where you cook your own meat and vegetables. I can remember vividly placing each piece of mouth-watering pork, beef or chicken hot from the grill onto a piece of crunchy green lettuce. Using my chopsticks in my right hand, I top the meat with kimchi, raw or grilled garlic, ssamjang, onions, and whatever other vegetables I can find at my table. After closing the lettuce over this tempting concoction, I shove it in my mouth, savouring the different tastes. This method of wrapping meat, rice and sides in lettuce is called ssambap which, loosely translated, means wrapped rice.
A couple of years ago, not long after I first arrived, one of my cousins visited me from America. My very kind co-teacher invited us both to dinner. The spread was spectacular and very reminiscent of the restaurants I’ve described above, with all the side dishes, and wrappings. My cousin is vegetarian, so we were mostly presented with vegetables, but there was some seafood, raw salmon and bulgogi for the rest of us meat eaters. We wrapped our food in rice paper, lettuce and thin radish slices. It was heavenly. On my cousin’s last night, I hosted a goodbye dinner for her and also celebrated a friend’s birthday. Amongst the various sides we ate, one dish was prepared by my cousin that was reminiscent of the amazing meal at my co-teachers earlier that week. We had mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumber and peppers wrapped in lettuce. Instead of rice we used sesame noodles.
This method of eating ramen noodles has become an easy go-to meal for whenever I have a busy evening or am just too tired to peel potatoes. After all, here in Korea, there is a convenience shop on every corner which carry multitudes of flavours, shapes, and sizes of ramen. The recipe for sesame noodles is simplicity itself, but, to be honest, the noodles are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s how you use them that makes it fun. From eating them by themselves or adding them to salad, the choices are unlimited.
If you happen to have poor skills with chopsticks (like I did), try to get plenty of practice in while eating the sesame noodles. You can either serve this meal as a main dish for yourself, share with a friend, or split it between a few friends as a side dish to accompany Tuna and Kimchi Fried Rice or Stir-fried Lentils and Vegetables.
Ssambap with sesame noodles
- Lettuce leaves, washed* – 10 per person
- 1 package of ramen noodles, dry
- Boiling water, enough to cover noodles
- ½ – 1 tbsp of sesame oil, depending on personal taste
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- ⅓ large courgette/zucchini, chopped
- 1 small aubergine/eggplant, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- ¼ tsp chili flakes
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- dash of sesame oil
- dash of fish sauce (optional)
- Heat a pan or wok on medium-high heat for 30 seconds or until hot.
- Add grapeseed oil, and heat for 15-30 seconds. Don’t let it smoke.
- Add the courgette, eggplant, onion, carrot, sesame seeds, and chili flakes.
- Stir fry until the onion is slightly brown and the carrot is softening.
- Add the garlic and stir fry for 1-2 more minutes.
- Stir in the soy sauce, the dash of sesame oil and fish sauce and stir-fry until the soy sauce mixture had boiled off a little . Cook until everything is soft and lightly browned, around 5-7 minutes.
- Meanwhile, break the noodles and put them in a bowl.
- Add boiling water to the noodles to cover. Place a plate or lid on the bowl, and leave to stand to the side.
- Once cooked, which takes around 5 minutes, drain and add the sesame oil.
- Swirl the noodles in the oil, and if needed add some more oil. You want the noodles to be coated in oil, but not drowning in it. You also want the “sesame” taste.
- Leave to cool**.
- When the vegetables are cooked, place on a platter side by side with the lettuce and noodles.
How to eat: Place a piece of lettuce in your hand, top with noodles and some vegetables. Fold the lettuce around it, and eat it. Don’t put too much on, you want to try and eat everything in one bite. Repeat until you are full.
*Use your favourite lettuce or perilla leaves. If using as a main dish follow the rule above of around 10 leaves per person. If using as a side dish I usually get somewhere between 20-30 leaves, even for larger groups of around 10.
**I usually do the noodles just after step 3. I then drain them and add the oil. By the time the rest of the meal is cooked they will be slightly cooler. If you want, you can even make them the night before. I have done this on several occasions when using them for larger groups or in salads.