Thursday, May 04, 2006

Got Miyeok-Guk?

I want to get lost in a cavernous bowl of soothing broth redolent of the tides and the oceans- of seaweed. For me this soup is the clarion call from my childhood, tunneling through the years finding me in whatever current configuration I might be in; holding me steadfast and strong. For the last few weeks I have been searching for this place of comfort unaware that I have somehow come loose from my mooring.

J_ recently asked me ‘What My Top Five Comfort Foods Are’ as part of our getting-to-know-each-other talks. I considered my response needing more specifics. What would my emotional, mental, physical, spiritual profile be? Do I need comfort due to a slightly blue mood or have I been suffering from protracted earth shattering devastation? I carefully weighed the merits of tapioca pudding vs. cheetos, delicate soft boiled eggs with buttered toast or a bowl of cornflakes. I got so involved with the different variables I told her that I really could not answer because the comforter must be a direct remedy to the emotional makeup of the moment. Two weeks later this question still sounds in my head but this time I hear the repetitive echo of waves pounding, “Miyeok-guk, miyeok-guk…”

There is very little food wise that I need to retrieve from my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my mother’s cooking and like Korean food as an exclamation point amidst my diet every now and then. In fact, I wish that I had paid more attention to mom’s natural and intuitive ways in the kitchen. But my emotional constitution was weaker then, the food too bold and forceful for my taste. It stood up in a room and seized attention while I preferred to watch from the side: fiery kimchi brining in oversized mayonnaise jars huddled in the back of the fridge, salty pungent jjigae spewing bubbles from a piping hot stone bowl as it is brought to the table, plates of shredded stinky dried fish. Salt, Garlic, Fermented soy bean, Raw squid and Shrimp paste! These are some of the sights and tastes of The Land of the Morning Calm and while I am a descendent of these colorful people, I wanted watery broth. I dove into bowl after bowl of this nutritionally rich soup teeming with ink-green velvet slubs of ocean vegetation as if it were some lifeline then. I did not know that generations of Korean women ate this soup after giving birth to give them back their strength; the concentration of minerals and nutrients from the seaweed said to clean the blood, contract the uterus and encourage breast milk. Clearly restorative, I crave this ocean elixir now.

Alongside the excitement over this month’s birth of FOODChair, I am making side trips to outlying areas of sadness and grief. With the drafting of ideas, the food styling and prep, the scheduling of my cooking crew and the telling of stories- I am composing a recipe of my present. Sometimes the details of my life come into focus take shape and stand in jarring contrast to my past like a Gordon Matta-Clark photograph. Other times, the current moment unravels swiftly into a memory from the not far distance: one of banana pancakes on Saturday mornings dancing with my then-husband, the designing of our home in the Redwoods, celebratory dinners with friends alive with merriment. I remember having arms that can paint, lift, chop, mix and most importantly, hold. Food and the meals that I cook, take me to the heart of my life and central is a table for sharing and nourishing relationships. While the chairs at my table are being reorganized, top center stands a magnificent tureen full of soup which promises to reconstitute the hollow places within. The work of re-membering my life into fullness continues and seaweed is the tonic which will bring me back home. Miyeok-Guk: serves 4
1 oz. package of dried wakame. If new to this soup I recommend starting with 1/3 of a package.

9C of vegetable or chicken broth
½ a small onion cut into thin slices
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
Few grates of ginger
A few sliced shitake mushrooms
Soy sauce or brown rice miso to taste
2 teaspoons of sesame oil

Finely chopped scallions for garnish

Break seaweed into approximately 1” pieces and then soak in water for two hours or until soft. Drain and rinse seaweed. Put broth, onion, garlic, ginger and mushrooms into a large pot and bring to a boil, then simmer until onions look translucent. Add the seaweed, sesame oil and soy sauce or miso (make a slurry with some of the broth in a separate bowl and then add to the pot, do not let the broth boil once the miso is added) and cook a remaining five minutes to allow all the flavors to come together. Turn the fire off and sprinkle with chopped scallions. Enjoy this soup with a bowl of rice.


Honeycake said...

Soup, soup. This week, coming down with a cold, a trip to Pho 84 was defininitely in order. Back in the late 90's, I was hard-pressed to keep my visits there down to two a week. It's because of the soup...I used to like the seafood soup best, but the shrimp came to taste moldy sometimes, so I switched around. Wednesday night I had chicken noodle. Yum Yum. Nice to add all the fresh basil and jalapeno, not to mention that chili sauce sitting on the table, to the bowl and eat the whole thing!
I'm going to run out and get the seaweed for this soup. Sounds like just what I need today for this ear-ringing, feverish cold.

Callipygia said...

honeycake- Oh how I miss the pho! This soup is on the earthy primal side and apparently good for all kinds of things, hope you feel better. Beware of the expanding seaweed.

marcie said...

god how you make me hungry. and feel me so well.

Butta Buns said...

Being new to your blog I need to gush a bit before I say anything more. Lady, you rock! This is definatly more than just a recipe/food blog, it's smart, funny, and creative.

I wish I had seen this post before I attempted my first (first as in ever eating it at age 30) bowl of miyeok guk. I had read about the restorative and healing powers which is why I chose to make it during a particularly bad funk last month. I don't think I made it right but it was very nurturing.

Ellie said...

Ahh, ocean elixir is the perfect way of describing miyeok-guk :) A beautiful post, you describe so perfectly the way I feel about the foods of our culture :)