When I first started this “blog” back in 2010 it was really just a way for me to keep in touch with family and friends while I traveled throughout Korea and regale with my culinary adventures of pig guts and penis fish. It’s amazing how much has happened since then, and I would never in my wildest dreams have thought it possible to turn what was originally a bit of a tongue in cheek “performance piece” of feeding “kimchi für das volk” into a flourishing business of cooking up whatever crazy ideas come out of my head, with some heavy inspirations from my culinary idols. Life is strangely beautiful!
One of my original intentions of this blog was to write regular stories about culinary inspirations and have loads of photos and recipes and reviews of my favorite places to eat in Berlin and beyond and then….I got busy actually cooking which was not something I had foreseen coming and the blog writing fell to the wayside. Still, my head is always bursting with ideas and stories and well, things I just need to get out there, despite my excuses of…my photos aren’t professional, my recipes aren’t full proof yet, my blog/website layout is a travesty…I can come up with a lot of excuses 😉 but, dammit some recent experiences have made me realize, life is short, time is fleeting and there are some things I just need to share, flaws, mistakes and all.
I’ve been in Los Angeles the past few weeks and it’s brought up a lot of good memories of my idyllic time here as a film student and the time after. In what feels like a past life, when the beaches of Santa Monica were my daily playground, I was also studying holistic medicine, yoga, shiatsu and chi massage and life was very good. I had a busy massage practice and my weekly routine involved hiking through the Santa Monica mountains, yoga, juicing, tai chi, shopping at the farmer’s market where I personally knew several of the local farmers, diy yogurt and kombucha brewing, monthly camping trips to joshua tree or the mojave desert and well, lots of free time, sunshine and self improvement schemes. A lot of my Berlin friends asked me why I would have ever left what seemed like paradise to endure the culture and language clashes, a huge downturn in financial stability (well let’s be honest, abject poverty compared to my monthly earnings in LA! ;), grey skies, grumpy locals, and social isolation before I had built up networks of friends and acquaintances in Berlin. The answer to the question was that, sometimes even in paradise your soul just yearns for something more in order to grow, after all Adam and Eve did bite that apple.
I spent a considerable amount of time in my LA years dreaming about a european experience. So once Berlin beckoned, I followed her siren call. And what a song it was! Living in Berlin has challenged me, reduced me to tears more than once, broke and rebuilt my self confidence time after time, rehashed old unpleasant memories of racism experienced as a child lived through again with adult eyes, and it’s also matured me, strengthened my resolve, showed me incredible kindness and generosity through gestures of friends, acquaintances and strangers, allowed me amazing travels to countries I would never have imagined as a heartsick kid longing to escape life from the Chicago suburbs, led me to my dark side where I’ve sometimes stayed for much longer that I’d like (grey skies don’t help!), showed me the value of perseverance and determination and given me a chance to prove myself TO myself that indeed all things are possible with a bit of hard work, vision and love. It’s also led me full circle, in the way that life does, to once again embrace my former life of yogic resolve that I had let go of considerably while living in Berlin. I mean, cigarettes, coffee, beers, Club Mate, what?
So now I’m in LA to spend time with my family and more importantly to try and teach some nutritional tools to a family member who is going through chemotherapy and I guess I did learn something all those nights listening to lectures of my teachers at the Shiatsu School in traditional Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy, pain and orthopedic evaluation among others. I’m realizing that what I take for granted as common knowledge with meal planning and eating for health is not really common knowledge after all. We, as a culture are just not taught the fundamentals of health and leading a vibrant life and our current culture of convenience, pre-packaged and instant gratification is creating a lot of diseased people. I feel cautious offering up any advice, since, I myself am one of many extremes. I may drink green smoothies, but I also love to indulge in fried chicken, cheeseburgers and kimchi bacon fried rice once in a while…what? But I have learned through the years that dogmatic following of any lifestyle has not led me to any more happiness or enlightenment, especially when it leads to guilty deprivations. In fact, I may never have experienced as high a state of bliss as when I drank my first soul satisfying cappuccino with whole milk those first months in Berlin after years of coffee deprivation in LA. But all things in moderation! There are some basic principals that every human being could/should follow to increase their health and vibrancy and support them through disease and recovery, and even when I do indulge at times in less than healthy meals or am feeling particularly unwell I follow some simple rules to restore my health and digestion, so here we go…..
BONE BROTH and why you need it!
I love bone broth. It’s one of the things that most cultures used to eat traditionally before we were led down this diet of processed foods and “premium” cuts of meat (see, the thing about meat is that the filet may taste good and be more “fancy”, but the oxtails, the shanks, chicken feet, any bone in tougher cut of meat that requires a long braise or cook time is full of more connective tissue and collagen which is the stuff you want to eat to keep your own joints, ligaments and tendons lubricated and happy).
Bone broth is full of more nutrition and minerals than any supplement and we’d all be a lot better off environmental and health wise if we ate more bone broth based soups with some simple rice or grains rather than plates piled high with meat. It’s also an invaluable food if you are recovering from infection or disease as the minerals, amino acids, gelatin, collagen, and other nutrients are necessary to fight inflammation, promote good digestion, boost immune function, repair cellular damage, heal and seal your guts, etc. The list of benefits go on, and any quick google search will lead you to multiple articles fromhealth professionals to paleo fans to wellness mamas all pointing towards the same conclusion- bone broth = good for you! And it’s essential for healing digestive dysfunction. And if you are prone to any bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, burping, farting, etc., you are experiencing some level of digestive dysfunction!
Now I’m not saying that a bowl of bone broth is going to cure you of all your woes, I mean the bloating and burping maybe also be a symptom of bad food combinations, and let’s face it, downing a bacon cheese burger with fries and a coke, then polishing off some cheesecake is just not good food combining, so no amount of bone broth is gonna help you with that digestive nightmare (and let’s be honest…i’ve done it. more than once…*blush), but even eating a grilled chicken breast sandwich with smoked gouda on wholegrain bread while drinking an apple juice and then having a fruit salad with yogurt is also not great food combining, but more on that later! At any rate drinking a daily cupful of bone broth will do an immense amount of good to restoring health in your digestive tract so why not do it.
Aside from the health benefits, bone broth is just damn tasty. Most of my favorite Korean soups are based on recipes using ox bones, pig bones, and chicken bones to create hearty and rich soups with a velvety mouth feel you just can’t get from a jar of brühe or box of pre-made stock. My favorite bone soup is Seolleongtang, a Korean soup made out of ox bones and brisket. It is cooked for hours and served with a bowl of crisp kkakdugi (radish kimchi). Amazingly simple to make, all it takes is a bit of initial preparation and then you can leave it on the stove to do its magic while you go off and…I don’t know, use that time to make some fresh kimchi? ; ) The best part is that once your done you have food for the rest of the week! My mom always made a huge pot of this and we would eat from it all week long. I crave this whenever I’m feeling tired or run down, I crave this whenever I want a simple yet delicious meal, I crave this all the time because no one in Berlin actually makes this soup! (And don’t get me started on all the faux Pho going on in Berlin with their weak, flavorless broths! Pho is supposed to be a lush boney broth! Unfortunately what we get is a weak, watery chicken stock that tastes like slightly seasoned dishwater. There, I said it.
So here’s my recipe for Seolleongtang. The best part about this soup is that once the pot is eaten up, just keep the bones in it, refill it with fresh water, simmer away and you have a second pot of soup. Now that’s recycling in action!
1 large stock pot (16 quarts/ 15 liters)
3 lb/1.5 kg ox/beef bones*
1 lb/500 g beef brisket
1/2 white radish, cut into 3-4 pieces
1 large onion, cut into 4 pieces
*it’s best to use sections cut from the larger hip bones rather than just the smaller marrow bones, or a mixture of the two
Soak the bones and beef in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes then rinse in cold water and rinse off any blood and grit from the bones and meat.
Fill the pot half way with hot water and bring to a boil. Place the bones and meat into the pot and cook for about 7-10 minutes then remove from heat. Pour all the water out from the pot and rinse the bones and meat well under cold water to remove any last bits of fat, gristle and blood.
Wash the pot and refill with water. (yes it’s a lot of little steps, but it’s all worth it! skipping on the steps above will give you a browny yellow broth rather than the milky white creaminess of a well done Seolleongtang! Believe me, you want that creamy white broth!)
Place the clean bones, beef, onion and radish, turn the heat on high and bring to a boil. Scoop out any brown scum that may release from the bones/beef, then reduce the heat to low/medium, cover with a lid and let it simmer away! For the last hour or so I take off the lid and let it reduce more. If it reduces too much, just add more water and cover with a lid. If you find that it hasn’t reduced at all, then take the lid off completely. I like to fill the pot to the top with water and it will eventually reduce almost in half when it’s done.
There’s no hard and fast rule for how long you simmer the broth. It’s done when it’s done. The famous Seolleongtang restaurants have huge vats of broth simmering away days on end, and oh man…a bowl of that soup will heal all the troubles in the world! I’m salivating right now just thinking about it. At home, you will need to simmer until the broth has a lovely milky white color, all the marrow has released from inside the bones and the broth has a viscous feel to it that is more velvety than just a regular soup broth (this is because the marrow and gelatin from the bones have thickened the broth. Once the soup has cooled, it will have a jello like consistency). At home, my mother would sometimes start the soup in the evening and leave it to simmer overnight on a low heat. Now I don’t recommend you do this because you might just burn the house down! (something that did almost happen to my cousins’ house back in the day, oi vey!) It’s best to start the soup in the morning and let it simmer away during the day and you will have dinner ready to go in the evening.
Now it takes does take hours to prepare a proper bowl of Seolleongtang so I suggest you take the largest stock pot you have so that you get plenty of soup for the days ahead. You can easily divide these into individual portions and freeze them as well to be used for later. To serve, remove the onions and radish (my family sliced it up and ate it as well because my mom has this thing about not wasting food, but usually it gets thrown away) and thinly slice the beef. Ladle the broth into a large bowl, top with a few slices of meat and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and minced green onion and salt and pepper to your own taste. Interesting note- we don’t season Seolleongtang while cooking. This is something that is always left up to the diner so you will always find a huge bowl of korean sea salt as well as a bowl of green onions at most Seolleongtang restaurants. You can eat this with a bowl of rice and kimchi for an über traditional Korean meal, or just enjoy it however you like for breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, hangover cure. Or if you don’t feel like eating it as a meal, drink a mugful during the day. It’s not only good food, it’s healing for your body!
And if you aren’t up for a Korean bone broth, there are plenty of other great recipes out there. My chicken soup for the Seoul recipe will be coming up soon! So hop to the broth!