Wednesday, September 12, 2012

UnRecipe: Kimchee Soup? That's Hot.

Despite the goodly merits of common sense, I've been on a spice-capade all summer long. Even on the days when we were sweltering in the hot, heavy air of 90-plus degrees in our own living room, my mind would still wander to things like, "I'm miserable but hey... a spicy ramen would be really tasty right about now." I even ventured out into the 100-degree hellfire that is Nevada in July to get -- what else -- kimchee saimin. So that's what the season has left me reduced to: a puddle of flopsweat, slowly inching towards a spicy bowl of kimchee soup.

Sweating summer away - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Why? Why?! WHY?? Maybe the addictive qualities of spicy food in summer is like how the Love in Janet Jackson song goes, like a moth to the flame, burned by the fire... but not really any of the rest of it. I've heard there's an evaporative cooling element in sweating over hot food and letting nature turn your body into a giant swamp cooler. Nice in theory but rather unpleasant, and like most swamp coolers, inefficient as all get-out. There's no way to Spock-logic this one, when the Spicy Bug bites you, the heat is on and it's never turning off.  

Which is why it's always number one on my list to visit Aloha Specialties to get their amazing kimchee saimin, on the second floor of the California Hotel in downtown Las Vegas.  Their menu is all local Hawaii food prepared the way people like it -- ono kine grindz with immense portions. Their kimchee saimin is no different, you could easily jump into the bowl and swim a few laps before the spicy heat reduced you to a withered nub. I had the benefit of getting there earlier in the day, so there were more tasty slices of beef, tofu and kimchee chunks swimming about, plus the broth just tasted more hearty with that peppery beef flavor -- it was probably the best bowl yet. I sweated off a layer of skin and smiled with delight at the vanquishing of this spicy hellbeast. It's an adventure to brave that part of Ye Olde Vegas. About the only thing Downtown has over the semi-gentrified Strip is the quotient of scary drunks and cracked-out bums, aka, The Real Las Vegas, but I did notice a new zipline "ride" that you can take which spans the length of the covered Fremont Street. No thanks, I'll take my deep fried Twinkies and creep away with what's left of my dignity. However, I'm not going to lie, I was disappointed I missed Night Ranger.

The heat is on, as is Night Ranger - Photos by Wasabi Prime
To drown my missing-Night Ranger-sorrows upon returning to the not so hellfire-hot land of Washington, I made a spicy kimchee soup of my own. In typical UnRecipe fashion, it was made with pretty much whatever vegetables were left that didn't get prepared before I left on my trip. Which is to say, it was a lot of veggies; so much so that I didn't add any noodles to the soup. I defrosted about two quarts of chicken broth, but any broth would do. I seared some thin slices of pork in a super-hot wok and got a good sizzle going on a mix of vegetables like strips of carrot, onion and even slices of sweet potato. Yeah, everything was going into the soup-pool. Right before I added the broth to deglaze the wok, I added some broccoli, bok choi and mushrooms. Then a whole jar of kimchee, pickling brine and all. Don't be scared, it's what makes this whole soup worthwhile. The broth was flavored with an extra dose of pepper/chili Korean kochujang sauce and soy sauce. I threw in dashes of rice wine vinegar to give it the tartness of a hot and sour soup. Large pieces of firm tofu were added last, right before serving, so they wouldn't get broken apart.

I was making this soup quite literally by the seat of my pants, as I'd never made kimchee soup before. I'd had versions of it as a stew, fried rice or saimin, but not like this. The devil-may-care attitude towards cooking was rewarded, as the soup turned out totally delicious, getting better like a stew as the flavors concentrated every day. Sweet potatoes added a slight sugary bite to combat the salty spiced broth. Even if it wasn't exactly like the saimin at Aloha Specialties, it curbed a major craving. Asian cuisine is actually quite basic and the strong flavored sauces tend to rely on the same ingredients like vinegar, soy, garlic and ginger to really punch those tastebuds in the kisser. If loving spicy food in the middle of summer is wrong, I don't want to be right. I also know it'll probably be Instant Rainy Season soon enough, and something like this will totally hit the spot.

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