Cooking for Silvia: four recipes by Songsoo Kim for a meal of fresh vegetables
Marinated aubergines with perilla leaves, steamed chard in argan oil, edamame and yubu salsify chan and boletus mushroom miso soup. Words, photos by Songsoo Kim.
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Welcome to Vittles Recipes! In this new weekly slot, our roster of six rotating columnists will share their recipes and wisdom with you. This week’s columnist is Songsoo Kim. You can read our archive of cookery writing here.
An introductory essay by Songsoo Kim.
In this column, I will be sharing simple menus for two or more that I make when I invite loved ones over for dinner. This is often a spontaneous, intuitive process, based partly on what I have to hand. You can make all the recipes in each menu, or just one two from the set. The recipes should serve as a guide, but please also use your own instincts. I would recommend reading each recipe once and then cooking from memory, as if retelling a story.
A lot of what I cook is simple, focusing more on the ingredients and their natural textures and tastes. The recipes are all centred around fresh and fermented vegetables. I get most of my fresh ingredients from the farmers’ market or a veg box from NamaYasai Farm in Lewes. In addition, I love visiting London’s multicultural shops to find new, exciting ingredients. I encourage you to go to different parts of your cities and towns, to different neighbourhoods, immigrant-owned shops, and farmers’ markets to see the ingredients and produce on offer.
That said, I will use a few primary ingredients over and over, so they would be useful to have to hand. These can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores:
Tamari or raw soy sauce
Soy sauce (Clearspring, Kikkoman, etc)
Healthy Boy mushroom soy sauce
Miso: brown rice, barley, and white miso can be used almost interchangeably. I usually make my own, but I like Clearspring miso too.
Vinegars: I have a habit of collecting vinegars. I seek out raw vinegars as a rule, and now I also make my own. If you have apple, rice, and wine vinegars, they should cover all the bases.
Oils: I tend to use olive oil for cooking and then a nicer olive oil and toasted sesame oil for finishing. In some recipes I will use nut oils, like argan oil and walnut oil, to finish dishes, but these can be replaced with sesame oil or olive oil if you’re allergic, on a budget, or don’t have time to locate them.
Sugars: I generally use unrefined sugars as they tend to be richer in minerals and add flavour. I group these sugars into two major groups, and recommend having one from each:
Coconut- or palm nectar-based sugars: palm jaggery, gula jawa, palm sugar, coconut sugar
Sugarcane-based sugars: panela, muscovado, turbinado, Taiwanese or Okinawan black sugar.
I hope finding and using these ingredients can be fun and adventurous, and also inspires you to create recipes with them of your own.
Cooking for Silvia
A meal of marinated aubergines with perilla leaves, steamed chard in argan oil, edamame and yubu salsify chan, boletus mushroom miso soup for my friend Silvia
In the kitchen, I stare in front of me. This is the first thing I do every morning, with the lights off to escape the violence of their brightness. At this moment, there are no thoughts, just ‘meong’, the suffix in Korean used for activities of staring into stillness, like ‘bull meong’ – staring into the fire. I snap out of this state suddenly, feeling the upcoming day and its tasks bombard me. I wish this shift could be more gradual, so I make tea – to try and prolong my morning. But the day has entered, and I think, What can I cook for myself today?
Amid all this, I wonder how Silvia’s doing. Silvia and I met when we worked at a restaurant together. I miss her, I think. I want to cook for her. I quickly message Silvia, and tell her that I would love to cook for her and feed her with nice vegetables that evening. Later, during my workday, I stop by Rice Wine Shop, a charming older Japanese grocery shop on Brewer Street in Soho. I pick up yubu (abura age). For this evening’s meal, I’m thinking … some salsify I spotted in my fridge from the farmer’s market … maybe with another textural element? I remember the edamame on my kitchen counter from Namayasai farm. On my way out of the shop I see a chilli oil with a cute label, so I get it. I check my phone to see that Silvia has said ‘Yes!’, and I feel excited to eat together at home.
Recently, I have started cooking for myself more outside the confines of work. In these meals, I ‘play’ in the kitchen, much like how as a child I foraged and tinkered with leaves, mud cakes, fruits, berries and flowers in the cavity of a tree that I pretended was a kitchen. Now, when I walk around neighbourhoods in London, I recognise trees and shrubs that are edible, I spot mushrooms I like. I wrap sticky rice in foraged fig leaves.
When I am back in my kitchen, I transition back into a daydream-like meong. The kettle boiling for tea and for steaming is my background music. I sit down to drink my tea at the table before I jolt into action. With these thoughts, I move-dance around the kitchen, humming, peeling, washing, cutting, and grouping. I rely on this feeling, the feeling that my care and aim to nourish myself and my friends will make something we will both enjoy. As I dance-move, the doorbell rings. Silvia is here!
Note: the following menu could be served with pickles and mixed grain rice, plain short grain rice, or jasmine rice.
Marinated aubergines with perilla leaves
Time 20 mins plus at least 20 mins marinating
2 Asian aubergines (or 2 ordinary aubergines if you can’t find Asian ones, or if they’re not in season)
a pinch of gochugaru
for the marinade
15g palm sugar (or 1 tbsp light brown sugar)
1 tbsp boiling water
1½ tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 small garlic clove, grated
salt, to taste
a drizzle of sesame oil
1 tbsp crispy garlic chilli oil
1 bunch perilla leaves (also known as sesame leaves or shiso leaves)
1 Cut the aubergines in half vertically so that the flesh is exposed, and place in the basket of a large steamer. Steam for 10–15 mins until soft – the time will depend on how thick your aubergines are, so keep checking them. They are ready when you poke the flesh with some chopsticks and they easily slide through without resistance.