YouTube Star Maangchi Savors the Best Part of the Baguette

Maangchi eating kimbap in Central Park. Photo: Christian Rodriguez

Maangchi is the kimchee queen of YouTube. Her fans are devoted — the musician Japanese Breakfast called her a “hero” — and her charmingly joyful cooking videos, focused on recipes like kimchee, tteokbokki , or Korean dinner rolls can rack up millions of views. This week, Maangchi (whose real name is Emily Kim) released her second book, Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking, which has recipes for Buddhist vegan cooking and a whole chapter on Korean lunchbox meals. “My Korean fans are just surprised because I make food a very old-fashioned way,” she says. “All the time, food is changing.” Maangchi really loves to cook, and this week made bulgogi lettuce wraps for her family, got her favorite baguette from Maison Kayser to eat with sopressata, and got really excited about the mackerel she found at Hanyang Mart in Flushing. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet. 

Thursday, October 24
First thing I do every morning is to have a cup of coffee. These days I really love Variety coffee, from Brooklyn. Almost every one of theirs I try is delicious. I have a subscription and they deliver the beans to my house, freshly roasted. I use an Aeropress, I like my coffee light but flavorful, and nutty. Makes me alert. Then I start with my smoothie for a happy life.

More than two years ago I watched a Korean TV show on YouTube and I saw a man talking about the green smoothie he’d been making every morning for years. He talked about his cholesterol going down and all that stuff but what really got my attention was when he mentioned his freckles disappearing from his face! Okay, I was listening! I bought a Vitamix!

Ever since then, I’ve never skipped my morning smoothie unless I’m traveling, and my fridge is always full of fresh fruit and vegetables. I use grapes, kale, celery, spinach, lemon, apple, pear (or pineapple or peach), tomato, and omija (schisandra berries) along with a big spoonful of Greek yogurt.

I buy my fruits and vegetables from Whole Foods, Food Emporium, Union Square Greenmarket, or Amish Market, wherever I can find good fresh produce. This is for my health so I always remove all the bruised parts, always. I don’t want any oxidized stuff in my body, so each ingredient has to pass my test.

After my smoothie I had a nice Korean persimmon, too. Called dan-gam (단감) in Korean and “Fuyu persimmon” in English, I bought them at Hanyang Mart in Flushing last weekend. They are in season and very sweet, firm and crispy. I got a whole box for $ 12.

I had some abalone in the freezer that I bought from a Korean website run out of California called Wooltari Mall that sells wonderful, high-end Korean ingredients imported from Korea. I had ordered a dozen of abalone from them and these were the last four. I found this website after I went to Korea to learn about Korean red pepper flakes, gochugaru — how they make it, and how they harvest it. (Because my readers always asked me, “Which one should I buy to make kimchee?” But I didn’t always know the exact answer. So I would tell them, “Maybe the most expensive one.”) Then I went to some place famous for Korean hot peppers, where I found the really best-quality ones. They’re sold in America, including through this website.

So, I chopped up the abalone after removing the sand sack and mouth (but not the intestines — those are nutty and delicious!) and fried them with soaked rice, garlic, and sesame oil. I added water and chopped carrot and green onion for a quick, easy, and delicious porridge. With such a small amount of rice, it’s good food for a diet, because it makes a lot of porridge. I kept the leftovers in the fridge for later.

But the porridge didn’t have many carbs so I was hungry by 4 p.m. My stomach was asking for more so I had some frozen bread rolls, reheated in the microwave oven. It was a great snack with a glass of milk! The rolls are made from my original Korean roll-ppang dinner rolls recipe. I used to make them for my children all the time in Korea when they were growing up, so it was fun to share the recipe and hear about my viewers making them for their own families! I feel very attached to them.

I had a lot of promotion work to do for my new cookbook. On Friday, I was going to film a video for Vice on how to make the bulgogi wrap lunchbox recipe from the book, so even though I’m familiar with this recipe I wanted to make them again. A spoonful of warm rice on a sheet of lettuce, a touch of ssamjang (Korean spicy dipping paste made with fermented soybean paste), and the bulgogi on top, simple and delicious. The bulgogi was made with ribeye, thinly sliced. You have to put it in the freezer for one hour before preparing it so that it gets hard enough to slice thinly. One thing I like about this recipe is that one pound of meat is enough for four people once you add in all the rice and lettuce.

My family and I ate the bulgogi lettuce wraps for dinner and we loved them. I served them with mugwort soup made from mugwort (which is ssuk in Korean) I foraged from Riverside Park in May. I blanched and froze that in bunches and have been using it bit by bit ever since. I boiled the mugwort with water, dried anchovies, garlic, and homemade fermented soybean paste (doenjang). When the soup was done I took out the anchovies and served. It’s crazy delicious and flavorful. It went well with the bulgogi lettuce wrap and I didn’t even need kimchee!

Friday, October 25
Started with my coffee and smoothie, same routine.

It was a special day as I needed to be at Vice in Williamsburg to film a video at 12:30 p.m. I knew it would take an hour from my home, so I decided to have an early light lunch so that when I filmed I wouldn’t be hungry. I had a bowl of rice and my one-year-old perilla leaf pickles (kkaenip-jjangaji) made with my perilla leaves I grew on my balcony. I sometimes feel like just rice and pickles, or rice and kimchee — it makes for a great meal, full of flavor. And I won’t be distracted by any other side dishes, I can just concentrate on one!

The shoot at Vice was great, I made six wraps in a lunchbox. For the finale I ate one big wrap on-camera. I said, “Don’t tease me, I have a big mouth!” The crew laughed and encouraged me to stuff the whole wrap into my mouth even though it was too big! Later I asked them to edit that part out, but let’s see if they do it.

I had brought some of my homemade kimchee and perilla-leaf pickles for the producers and crew at Vice. They loved them. All through the summertime, I eat perilla leaf. Every day I pick it and wrap it around Korean barbecue, rice, and ssamjang and just eat it. This is really my happiness meal.

These days I love anything heirloom: eggs, tomatoes, turkeys, even heirloom people. Authentic, genuine, honest, and down to earth, that’s my definition of people who are heirloom. And it was heirloom tomato time! You have to be lucky to get good ones, and I was really lucky at Whole Foods. They were firm, thick, crispy, sweet, and juicy, perfect levels. Of course they are quite expensive but instead of buying expensive clothes or eating out at some upscale restaurant I choose top-quality ingredients because they are always worth it in terms of my happiness.

My dinner was heirloom tomatoes, peaches, cheese, and spicy sopressata with a sliced baguette. I recently discovered the best of the best, the baguette monge at the Maison Kayser near my house. I’d never tasted such delicious baguette anywhere else, including Paris! Crunchy and chewy crust with a soft and spongy inside. Both ends of the bread come to a pointed tip, like old-style traditional Korean shoes called gomusin. My whole family knows the tips are mine. I drizzle some olive oil on top, lovely!

For cheese I got Hervé Mons Camembert, Spring Koe Gouda (I love the beautiful orange color that reminds me of jade!), and some Saint Angel Triple Creme which is my favorite these days. I used to be addicted to Livarot from Normandy, the stinkiest cheese I could find, but these days I like smoother cheese with a milky flavor.

It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered sopressata. I’m actually not a big sausage or cured-meat person, but once in a while some meaty pungentness in my life is nice. When I eat it with baguette and cheese, it enhances the taste. As I discovered, not all sopressata is delicious. The best I found is sold at Esposito Meats in Hell’s Kitchen. They get it from the Alps Provision in Astoria. I slice it thin like paper with my sharp knife. The taste is deep and rich and spicy, and reminds me of well-fermented kimchee.

I also served it with more Korean persimmons and some pesto that the producers from Vice gave me, made with ingredients grown on the rooftop of their offices. It was great!

Saturday, October 26
Coffee and smoothie again.

When I bought that baguette yesterday from Maison Kaiser I also bought two financiers. There is so much butter inside it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s delicious with my morning coffee as a “weekend special,” so I just had half of one, and it was enough. I like the plain flavor. With my coffee it turned from guilty pleasure to just pleasure.

My lunch was white fluffy rice cooked on the stovetop, with steamed eggplant and kimchee soup. Koreans make huge quantities of kimchee, which surprises some people. We make so much because when it’s well-fermented we make other dishes out of it like kimchee pancakes, kimchee stew, steamed kimchee, braised kimchee, kimchee dumplings, and yes, kimchee soup! I made kimchee soup with my well-fermented sour kimchee, just chopped it up and added chopped pork shoulder with some gochujang and water and boiled until the pork and kimchee turned soft and the broth was flavorful. Then I added tofu and cooked it another five to ten minutes. This is my family’s favorite all wintertime, they love the combination and it’s always gone quickly.

Steamed eggplant, called gaji-namul in Korean, is one of my favorite side dishes. Korean eggplant is longer and thinner than Western eggplant, but I didn’t have any Korean eggplant in the house so I used American eggplant. I sliced it into a half-inch-thick pieces lengthwise and steamed it for five minutes until well cooked but not mushy. Then I tore it up with my fingers and seasoned it with soy sauce, garlic, green onion, toasted sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds. It was soft, savory, and comforting, and went well with the kimchee soup.

I made multigrain rice with my electric pressure rice cooker. I have a Cuckoo brand from Korea, which makes great rice every time and is especially good for multigrain rice. I used white short grain rice, barley, brown rice, and black rice.

I also made beef radish soup (soegogi muguk) with brisket from Dickson’s Meats in Chelsea Market. It’s the best brisket in New York City that I’ve found so far, and it reminds me of the brisket I used to buy from a butcher in my neighborhood in Korea. It tastes just like the Korean beef I used to taste, with just enough tasty fat to make the perfect beef radish soup. I salted the soup with my three-year-old homemade soy sauce! Yum!

These days, Korean radish is in peak season, and the past weekend I found some beautiful ones in Hanyang Mart in Flushing. Good radish is firm, crispy, sweet, and juicy. I cut it into matchsticks and made a very simple Korean radish salad called musaengchae. It’s one of the most Korean common side dishes.

Also at Hanyang Mart I bought some mackerel. Holy mackerel! They were so large with wonderful blue backs, and their eyes were so clear. It’s hard to get good mackerel in the summertime, but it’s in season, so I bought several and cleaned, butterflied, salted, and then wrapped them into individual pieces and put them in my freezer. Then for my dinner, I took one out and instead of pan-frying it as I usually do, I used my air fryer that my daughter bought me a while ago. It turned out great! Soft, flaky, salty flesh with crunchy skin, really delicious!

Sunday, October 27
Had my coffee and smoothie and, later, a quick lunch before shooting my video. I reheated some of the leftover kimchee soup in the fridge and added a scoop of rice to it. It’s a quick eating style that Koreans call “gukbap,” literally “soup rice.” I shoot my videos every 10 days or every 12 days. It’s not like, “Okay this is the date I’m supposed to.” That is too much obligation. I always want freedom.

It was a late dinner for me after filming. I ate the oxtail soup from the video shoot, served with well-fermented radish kimchee (kkakdugi) from my fridge. An oxtail soup recipe had been requested by my readers so many times, so I couldn’t wait to post the video! Oxtail has a lot of meat, so you need to cook it until the meat is tender but not falling off the bone into the soup. That meat has a lot of collagen and protein, and when I ate the light milky broth, my lips stick to each other. That’s when I’m satisfied with my oxtail soup.

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