Lethargic Spring Day
from Geumsuam Hermitage in Sancheong County
Pure Ingredients Improve Health
In the sunny fields of southern Korea, spring is palpable as green shoots poke through the earth. The same is true in Geumsu Valley on Mt. Jirisan. My heart begins to throb even before setting foot in the temple compound. Today, we will prepare the spring greens that grow around Geumsuam Hermitage for the table. We will greet these sweet messengers of spring with our taste buds in the refreshing environment of a mountain temple.
Ven. Dae-an greets me with a warm welcome and tells me about today’s menu. We will be preparing rice cooked with shepherd’s purse, a wild green salad with sweet, sour and spicy sauce, and mugwort gratin. Wild shepherd’s purse is foraged from the bamboo grove on the mountain behind the hermitage where their young sprouts were sticking up through the soil. Mugwort and stringy stonecrop were collected from earthen banks around a field next to the hermitage. The rest of the wild greens were sent from the village down the mountain. I also notice edible aster scaber, purple Korean toothed ixeris, and cham-namul (pimpinella brachycarpa) among the greens. Looking at those wild greens, freshly plucked from sunny fields, I feel my whole body being refreshed and energized. Before I knew it, I was tearing off one leaf after another and chewing them. Meanwhile, Ven. Dae-an began trimming the greens with skilled hands. She opened her cooking class with the following statement:
“One of the greatest joys of living in a remote mountain village is to set your table with seasonal ingredients cultivated by nature that have soaked up robust natural energy. There is nothing grand about our table. As I always emphasize, healthy and pure ingredients… With this main condition satisfied, we then prepare these ingredients to meet the physical needs and other circumstances of those who will eat them. Pure ingredients are all that is needed to set a good table.”
The green fragrance of crisp spring permeates the temple’s refectory and my mouth.
Rice Cooked with Shepherd’s Purse
rice, shepherd’s purse, fresh shiitake mushrooms, tofu
- Wash rice and soak in water.
- Wash shepherd’s purse under running water, then drain and chop, including the roots.
- Squeeze water out of tofu and mash gently.
- Put the soaked rice into a pressure cooker with an appropriate amount of water and add the mixture from steps 2 and 3. Finely chop the fresh shiitake mushrooms and place on top. Cook over medium heat.
- When the rice becomes tender, spoon into large bowls and serve with seasoned soy sauce.
Flavor Enhancing Tips
- Use equal amounts of rice and shepherd’s purse. Cooking them together from the start makes the fragrance of shepherd’s purse seep into every grain of rice. This ensures the fragrance lasts.
- For eating convenience, it is better to mince the shepherd’s purse and shiitake mushrooms.
- To prepare seasoned soy sauce, add a little fresh water or grain syrup to the house soy sauce (jipganjang) to lower salinity. Add minced red and green chili peppers, sesame oil and roasted sesame seeds to create a harmony of five elementary colors.
Indigenous wild greens growing in our soil have nutrients and medicinal value that promote overall health. Especially, young leaves sprouting in early spring are so packed with nutrition that our ancestors encouraged us to eat them all, except the poisonous ones. However, to familiarize oneself with the taste of these superb ingredients, it is important to eat them as often as possible. That’s why Ven. Dae-an uses wild greens in cooking rice, the staple food in Korea. She recommends using other wild greens in the same way, greens like mugwort, aster scaber leaves, and hardy kiwi tree shoots. Of note, if children acquire a taste for these wild greens early on, it will be a good beginning for lifelong health.
lotus roots, chamma (Dioscorea japonica), tofu, mugwort,
fresh shiitake mushrooms, red chili peppers, bamboo salt,
sesame oil, roasted white and black sesame seeds
- Wash lotus roots, peel, and grate them on a grater.
- Wash mugwort under running water twice. Shake off excess water and mince.
- Wash fresh shiitake mushrooms lightly under running water and mince.
- Blanch tofu in boiling water, squeeze out excess water and crumble into fine pieces.
- Mix all ingredients together. Toss well and season with a tablespoon of sesame oil and a little bamboo salt.
- Wash chamma, peel and grate on a grater.
- Put the mixture from step 5 into a microwave-safe pot, press evenly, and sprinkle with the ground chamma prepared in step 6. Garnish with minced red chili peppers and roasted white and black sesame seeds. Put in a microwave oven and cook 10-12 minutes.
Flavor Enhancing Tips
- Pick fresh lotus roots with robust joints on both sides and no bruises on the skin.
- You can substitute potatoes for lotus root.
- To get the best color from the chamma, it should be grated and added last, after putting all other ingredients in a microwave-safe pot.
Next to beans, lotus root is the most often used ingredient in temple food. With plenty of minerals, vitamin C, linoleic acid and dietary fiber, lotus root helps with the formation of bones, promotes regular elimination and healthier skin. They enhance digestive function, as well as brain function, and purify blood by removing toxins. The same is true of mugwort. By preparing these two ingredients in a gratin, a Western dish, Ven. Dae-an has created a special dish that can be enjoyed by many. The exquisite harmony of the savory lotus root and the fragrance of mugwort tantalized my tongue. It was an exotic delicacy I have never tasted before.
Wild Greens Chomuchim
purple Korean toothed ixeris, stringy stonecrop, aster scaber leaves, short-fruit pimpinella, cucumbers, hot chili paste, persimmon vinegar (or green plum vinegar), rice syrup
(or starch syrup), roasted sesame seeds
- Parboil the purple Korean toothed ixeris in boiling water. Soak in cold water about 10 minutes to remove the bitter taste.
- Blanch the aster scaber leaves and short-fruit pimpinella and wash in cold water.
- Wash the stringy stonecrop under running water a few times.
- Wash cucumbers and cut them diagonally but not too thin.
- Put appropriate amount of hot chili paste, rice syrup and persimmon vinegar in a large bowl and mix well to make chogochujang. First, add ingredients from step 1 and mix gently. Next, add ingredients from step 2 and mix again. Lastly, add stringy stonecrop and cucumbers and mix well again. Put in a serving dish and sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds.
Flavor Enhancing Tips
- Make chogochujang in advance and keep in refrigerator. Use it when needed to enjoy a more mature taste.
- You may use mashed tofu to enhance the savory taste.
- You may also use other wild greens as well as mung bean sprouts and leaf lettuce. You may also use other salad dressings instead of chogochujang.
- Purple Korean toothed ixeris should be boiled to remove the bitter taste until the root feels tender when pressed with fingers.
Lee Gyeong-ae | Bukchon Museum Director
Sucheol-ri, Geumseo-myeon, Sancheong-gun County, Gyeongnam Province
Tel: +82-55-973-6601, www.guemsuam.or.kr