After months of rolling around town in her hugely popular Ahn-Joo food truck, chef Debbie Lee has found new ways to share her love for Korean pub food. The truck has been garaged, but her pub grub menu is now available at Lee's Ahn-Joo kiosk at the Americana at Brand. She also published a cookbook, "Seoultown Kitchen," this fall, with the hope of making her pub dishes accessible to the home cook.
Not every cook is familiar with Korean ingredients -- but we're lucky to have them in abundance in L.A. Lee herself likes to shop at the Galleria Market in Koreatown, which fills the ground floor of a three-story mall at the southeast corner of Western and Olympic. Explains Lee, "The Galleria Market is like the Pavilions of Koreatown. Everything you can imagine is under the sun, with the freshest ingredients. I prefer to shop at a market for variety, and the Galleria has just that."
Lee heads straight for the dark green bunches of sesame leaf (it's really part of the mint family, but in Korea it's referred to as sesame). "Perilla is similar to Japanese shiso." Lee uses the perilla leaf to make a pesto for pulled pork sliders at Ahn-Joo.
We also buy several large daikon radishes that have an ombre color, from white to pale green that she uses to make daikon kimchi.
Lee points out some beautiful leafy napa cabbage that she uses to make a classic napa baechu kimchi. She stresses the importance of starting with super fresh cabbage when making a batch of her northern style kimchi. "My anscestors are from pre-war Pyonyang. I believe in carrying the tradition of my late grandmother. She considers this the original kimchi. Northern style kimchi does not use rice flour as a slurry, nor do they typically use anchovies or oysters to ferment. The flavors you typically get with the first bite are ginger, garlic, chiles with the perfect blend of acid."
We wove up and down the aisles buying items needed to make recipes from her cookbook. For the gochugaru in her spicy pickled cucumbers, Lee recommended fine or course Haitai red pepper.
She serves these pickles as a side with a few of the Ahn-Joo dishes.
Lee uses frozen packages of naeng myun for the spicy chilled buckwheat noodle recipe that she makes with a gochujang vinaigrette.
We also bought tteok to make one of the most popular dishes from her Ahn-Joo truck menu. As a child, Lee's grandmother would make her snacks of crispy bacon wrapped around rice cakes. The Korean rice ovals can be found the in the refrigerator section. At Ahn-Joo, Lee serves them with with her own jalapeño ponzu.
We also purchased doenjang, a Korean miso paste, that Lee mixes with honey, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil to make a glaze for salmon and scallion skewers.
After shopping, it's snack time. For mall food options (the food court's on the third floor), Lee loves the Om rice (omelette with rice) at Mannaria. The eggs are cooked into a thin crepe-like shape, then filled with fried rice and topped with a savory sauce. They come with with a side of pickled radishes and a cabbage salad. Lee included her own version of Om Rice in her cookbook.
Time to go home, crack open Lee's "Seoultown Kitchen," and get cooking. The first recipe to tackle... bacon-wrapped rice cakes, of course.