Sunday, March 04, 2007

Life Happens in the Cracks, One Bite at a Time

Now at least a full week beyond the sandwich of my dreams, there is space for full disclosure to take root. With little restraint, I ingested both the AM and the PM version at the same meal with no ill effect. I sat solidly present for the whole sensation session. Being that the time was approximately 11 o’clock AM, hovering on the edge of the cusp of the turnover, I reasoned that it was fully appropriate to turn up the volume on the AM version, which in my mind meant the replacement of the stoic boiled egg for the charismatic if not potentially volatile, egg over easy. There was so much activity happening on that single plate, every element while knock out stand-alone, worked in unison to create a sloppy, pungent, mouth watering whole. Somehow in the midst of dripping yolk and whines of sardine, I managed to anchor the flavor sandwich with a diminutive but powerful accessory, the pickled garlic.

I could sing the praises of Allium sativum L. any day of the week, but I don’t. I like garlic so much that I don’t usually think about it. It’s ever presence is quietly necessary and invisible like air. Last year during my pickle period I jolted to the past, below the surface where memory and story reside. I brought back to life, to my kitchen counter- a bite, a snap of peppery cloves brined in liquid soy. I pressed hard into my ear drums sounding out the faded directions from my mother and waited as one-note Charlie transformed into the pearl of the Orient, a multilayered jewel. It is hard to believe that within the silent ink bath, the bite and snarl of floating ivory claws temper into semi translucent nibbles of piquancy, salty verve and licorice flavored mystery before ending in a final tryst with heat.

Manul Changatchi or pickled garlic is one of the many interesting side dishes (banchan) used by Koreans to accent their meals. Growing up I ate these patina stained stubs of growl with sticky clumps of rice and charred veneers of bulgogi, a parade of flavors contained within a lettuce leaf wrap. Ssam, the Korean style wrap is a fresh garden palette of taste, color and texture. It was exotic counterpart to the all-American sandwich I consumed on the day side. I tried my best to be like the other girls and eat my peanut butter sandwiches inconspicuously at lunch time. It didn’t help that occasionally I would find thrust into my lunch bag, a rogue slab of head cheese muffled between bread, weirdness oozing out of me. And though I lived in a mint green toothpaste colored house that looked identical to half a dozen others on my street, none of them hid jars of kimchi fermenting in the garage, the basement and the refrigerator or sprouted lanky perilla plants between the irises along its perimeter. I was distinctly and hopelessly bound on all sides and threaded throughout with a heritage that reeked of flamboyant vibrancy, flavor, and colorful individuality.

Perhaps if I had not been properly pickled by all of those spice spiked banchan, I wouldn’t have the adequate orienteering skills to make sense of that sardine sandwich. Wading through it further, between exhilarating crescendos of garlic it seemed obvious that this week’s follow up needed to be ssam, the antidote to the stuffy sandwich. The light freshness of this wrap softly rouses senses dulled from the heavy handed bludgeon of winter foods. Crisp tender greens and sweet neutral rice swaddle shreds of blanched vegetables, briny spiced condiments and tender hunks of meat. The multi-flavors contained within these fully disposable packages combine effortlessly together, yet still retain their own distinct integrity.

Now when I think of the efforts that my parents made to plant vestiges of an old life into their new one, embarrassed discomfort is replaced with reflective appreciation. Like a smoldering bite of garlic standing out upon a canvas of rice, these traditional morsels of food enhanced and anchored a culture not yet understood. This push of taste, desire and nostalgia rose through the substrate of their immigrant life giving way to something ardent, real and wholly unique- even perfectly suited to stand alongside a sandwich.

Manul Changatchi: I’ve pretty much loosely stuck cloves of garlic in soy sauce, water and vinegar and left it in the refrigerator to pickle. But felt that a more “precise” recipe was needed for my readers. This is the most precise looking one that I found.

1 quart garlic cloves, papers removed and the root end cut.
1 C vinegar
4 C soy sauce
2/3 C sugar

Directions: Place the garlic cloves in a glass jar container and cover with vinegar and enough water for the cloves to be covered. Close the jar and leave it uninterrupted for a week in the refrigerator and then drain the liquid. Bring the soy sauce and sugar to a boil for ten minutes and then when cooled, pour the liquid over the cloves. Cover the jar and leave in the refrigerator for at least a month. Pickled garlic lasts indefinitely.

Ingredients for Ssam:
Clean and dried fresh red lettuce leaf
Pickled garlic

sliced jalapeno rings
Cooked short grain rice
Scallion greens in 2” strips
Seedless cucumber slivers
Shredded carrot
Fresh perilla leaves
Slices of onion
Marinated tofu
Slices of Sashimi grade tuna
Thin sliced cooked pork
Kochujang, fermented soybean chili paste (I’ve made a substitution by mixing a bit of brown rice miso (1 Tablespoon) with Sriracha chili sauce (dime size)

Instructions: Have all your ingredients in front of you and mix and match. Be careful not to fill your leaf so full that you cannot close it without the contents spilling into your lap.


Ellie said...

Awww, I've never been fond of pickled garlic (I'm a much bigger fan of pickled garlic stems!) but my mom and brother devour mountains of this stuff when we eat ssam at home!

Lydia said...

Great post! I don't think I've ever had pickled garlic. Must try some.

sher said...

What a post! It was like consuming a great meal. I will fix pickled garlic. I'm going to get the garlic today. And the sandwich? Sigh.

Love the art work too!

Freya said...

Another genius post! I love your writing and love for food! I want to pickle some garlic right now!

Gattina said...

That head cheese sounded delicious to me... wish we could have changed the clock, now eating Jap, Korean, Chinese or Indian food can be considering chic ... well,probably it still doesn't happen in school situation eh?!
My eyes lit up with delight after clicked on the banchan's link!!! I had some of them, sadly those Korean restaurants I been to never served us any pickled garlic, esp after reading your wonderful description, I know I've missed something great... Luckily the recipe looks easy enough, I think I can handle it :D

Callipygia said...

ellie- I will have to try the garlic stems, sounds good.

lydia- Hopefully if you go to a good Korean restaurant, they will serve it as one of their banchan.

sher- I know the recipe makes a lot. I've tinkered w/ various liquids, less sugar, more water. It'll be a great condiment with your stir frys. And the sandwich, it was so good but quite stinky if I do say so myself.

freya- Thanks, I do hope you try it and tell me what you think.

gattina- where were you growing up when I needed that classmate to swap headcheese for char-siu bow?

D-man said...

Mmm, garlic......when you lived on the west coast, did you ever go to The Stinking Rose? (I have a few more questions that I'll write you later.)
I'm gonna look for garlic tonight as I have a bottle of soy, lots of sugar and multiple vinegars. Calli, this post is awesome and way informative, good show!

Callipygia said...

d-man: Of course I did once! It is the sort of place that I'm not sure if it is meant to be a tourist trap. Then again, I loved the fisherman's wharf, loved riding the trolleys, loved going to Alcatraz island. I may have to email you a funny story about my one time at the Stinking rose.

jbird said...

You cant go wrong w/ Garlic in any form....remember the garlic ice cream at the Gilroy Garlic Festival? It almost tasted alittle like butter pecan. Or at Cafe Rustica on College, where you can get this big honking head of slowly roasted garlic and you basically pop those soft cloves onto a piece of their foccacia and you can schmear it on like buttah??
My mom is still pickling all sorts of stuff in the fridge, like daikons and wow, I only wished she opted to be sensible like your mom and set it up on the garage. Most enjoyable post yet again.

Callipygia said...

jbird- I never made it to Gilroy, but i do remember you telling me about the ice cream. And you need to find out what your mom is pickling and report back to me.

Bruno said...

Very informative post.... the ssam w/ pickled garlic sounds delicious!
Great illustration too.

Callipygia said...

bruno- thank you, yes the flavors burst alive with ssam- I think it is those greens, they intensify experience.

miragee said...

Wow, this sounds interesting. I've never tried pickled garlic though we consume a lot of the herb in our daily cuisine. I do know that my dad loves to eat meat or Chinese sausage with a slice of garlic and that does make the taste so much better despite the fact that our mouths smell afterwards:-).

miragee said...

Forgot to tell you that I find the illo really good:-).

Callipygia said...

miragee, I guess when consuming garlic one must eat within the company of other garlic eaters...or damn the consequences!