The banchan (side dishes) tile the table in every possible space, many dangerously close to the hot flame and risk for melting the small bowls in which they sit. Every table is the same: diners all intently watch grills as the meat cooks, anticipating, drooling, and shoving banchan deftly into hungry mouths. The table glitters with choices: myulchi bokkeum (salty-sweet dried anchovies), ojingochae bokkeum (salty-sweet dried squid), kaktugi (radish kimchi), gaeran mari (rolled egg omelet), and sigmuchi namul (seasoned spinach), among many others.
Afterwards, we waddle to our respective transportation in the midst of meat sweats, reeking of smoke and beef, and garlic permeating our skin. We are unmistakeably noticeable in other venues soon after our meal: we have just attended a Korean barbeque, somewhere in the city. We carry its mark with us, that is, until we wash our clothing, take a soapy shower, and perspire eau de cologne garlique overnight.
Seeing as I don’t have a grill and I don’t have nearly enough little bowls in my kitchen to have proper mulitple banchan for a crowd, making a one-dish meal is good fix. And, against all primitive urges and drool, forget the meat. And the fire.
- 19 oz firm tofu (Mine was packaged as four slabs)
- ¼ cup gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste; look for a heavy, squat jar)
- 3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed through a garlic press
- 1 inch ginger, grated
- 1 small onion, grated
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 stalks green onions, chopped (which I forgot to add before I took the photo above....der!)
- cooked rice (white, brown, with beans, you choose)
- cucumber banchan (recipe follows in notes section)
- sprinkles of sesame seeds
- Before cubing tofu, press it to remove some moisture (for crisper tofu after cooking). Here's how: Place clean tea towels or paper towels on a large plate, top with tofu, and place another semi-thick clean tea towel on top. Place heavy pot on top for 15 minutes.
- Cut each slab into 16 cubes, thus giving 64 cubes total. Why is the number of cubes important? Marinating time may change, depending on how salty you want the tofu and how large the cubes are.
- Mix tofu cubes, gochujang, garlic, ginger, onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar together in a large bowl and marinate 2-3 hours, at least.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place marinated tofu onto lined baking sheet for 30 minutes.* When the wayward marinade is starting to blacken and the tofu browning, it is done.
- Prepare bowl with cooked rice, cucumbers, and tofu. Sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds. I also foresee some bowls with a fried egg blanketing the top.