Fresh Looks at Old Favorites

A month into ‘The Great Korean Adventure’, I’m realizing that this experience is less adventure and more ‘new spin on old life’. Don’t get me wrong, much of my life here in Seoul is different than it was in Seattle, but the formula is still the same: long work week + winter daylight hours = definite routine. As much as I try to break it up with Wow Moments (those heart-expanding do-it-for-the-first-time awesome experiences), routine and monotony kind of cling to winter like Ramen noodles and cheap beer do to college freshmen–it’s not your first choice, but hey, sometimes you do what you have to to survive.

Speaking of Ramen, and survival, to break it up and keep the creativity flowing I’ve been experimenting with food. On a minimal budget and able to read about a quarter of the labels in the grocery store, my shopping list is pretty mundane. I’m embarrassed to say that I still haven’t figured out which dark bottle is soy sauce, although whatever it is I purchased is quite delicious. Cooking for myself has also been a challenge. In Seattle, cooking when I got home (from cooking) was like asking a garbage man to take out the trash. Er, not. I think I’ll sit on the couch, thanks. Now, with a full day of teaching, cooking dinner is a creative release and the time of my day when I get to focus on something that I love. True, the menu rarely changes given budget and fridge contents, but with a paycheck later this week that is sure to change. In the meantime, surrounded by the amazing culinary profile that is Korean food, I’ve been attempting to change old favorites into new flavors.  Tonight’s menu? An egg salad sandwich.

egg salad

If I was back cooking in the states, I’d give this some ridiculously fancy write-up to make it sound complicated and exotic. Think, “Free-range quail and king oyster mushroom salad with fresh chilies, sweet mustard and toasted sesame seeds on freshly baked whole-seed bread.” In reality, it’s egg salad with a bunch of stuff in it on the only wheat bread I can find. We tend to experience food long before it hits our taste buds, often using all of our senses to enjoy a good meal, and a good write-up can make anything more delicious. Try it next time you serve a basic dish. It can be fun, at least to see how pretentious you can sound.

You’ll need:

Quail eggs  (a lot of them) or regular chicken eggs if you’re too lazy to peel a dozen bite-sized delicious cholesterol balls. Also, please ignore the foodie blasphemy surrounding the use of quail eggs in an egg salad. I’m not sure how to describe the difference in taste, but quail eggs are delicious. Also, they’re not as expensive as you’d think. You can probably find an 18-case in a produce vendor or good grocery store for around $3. Granted, that will probably make about 3 sandwiches. My favorite way to hard boil eggs is to put them into the pot with cold water, turn the burner on high, and once the water is boiling turn off the burner and set a timer for about 6 minutes. With quail eggs, you can set the timer for 3. They’re tiny. The shells should peel off rather easily. I’ve found that when peeling quail eggs, it’s important to get that inner membrane going otherwise the shell will just shatter.

Some kind of fresh chili, be it a jalapeno or something less spicy. If you’re not in the mood for chilies, green onions will do the trick. And then this will just be a normal egg salad sandwich. Depending on the spice level you can handle, remove the pith and seeds carefully. Be sure to wear gloves or wash your hands well.

The Korean mustard I happen to have in my fridge is yellow, but on the sweet side. Think yellow mustard with some honey in it. Since you have access to it in the States, and are going through the trouble of buying quail eggs anyway, I’d recommend some kind of whole-seed mustard or a sweet Dijon. (Pretentious theme continued). In my book, any egg salad isn’t really worth going out to buy ingredients for, so on second thought, use what you got, buddy. Make it your own. Lately I’ve steered away from mayonnaise, so mustard is really the only addition I use and it helps to keep it healthy and fresh.

I like egg salad with a bit of texture, but I’m not a pickle relish egg salad fan. Things like cucumber, celery or shredded carrot can be delicious, but today I chose mushrooms. I thought the texture would mimic the egg white, and fluff it up without having to use more eggs. It worked! Clean the mushrooms by rubbing the tops with a paper towel (water will make them soggy), then cut the mushrooms into small cubes. Use whichever variety you prefer, but a denser mushroom will more accurately mimic the egg white’s texture. White or crimini mushrooms work well, and king oyster mushrooms are so prevalent here in Asia that it was the logical choice for this recipe. they have a similar dense texture (like the cap of a white mushroom), and a delicious delicate earthy flavor. Goes quite well with the quail eggs.

Lastly, toast some sesame seeds in a dry pan. Coat the bottom of the skillet (no oil!) with seeds, turn the burner on medium, and basically just wait. Once they start to toast, begin  mixing them so all the sides get a nice toasty color. A delicious smell should develop, which lets you know they’re almost ready.

Feel free to add other ingredients, (obviously, I won’t be there to stop you, not that I would), and mix everything together. Be sure to add a dash of salt and pepper!  I like to mix in some of the sesame seeds and put more on top. They’re tasty! Save some on the side to mix into rice, or put on salad. Yum.

Be sure to toast your bread and add lettuce, etc. for some extra crunch. Enjoy!

P.S.- As a side dish alternative that you’d be more likely to serve on real plates than paper ones, try using all the same ingredients, but cut them into long strips. (Mushrooms, chilies, maybe add some thinly sliced carrots) Pan fry them slightly until browned in sparse canola oil. Add salt and pepper while they are cooking, and toss in the sesame seeds at the end once you’ve turned off the flame. Instead of mashing the quail eggs, peel them and quarter them lengthwise with a sharp knife to make them pretty and bite-sized. Serve on lettuce, with a thin drizzle of mustard and topped with more sesame seeds. Yum!