Back in December when I first started attending the DGCA's weekly vegetarian meals, it was an all-Korean affair. There were small hints of globalization here and here - some American folk music on the record player, pasta salad on the menu - but, by and large, domestic dominated. Not because of any prejudice or lack of desire to open up; just because the group didn't advertise much and because of the cook's preferred dishes. Oh, and nobody there speaks much English.
For better or for worse, my arrival initiated the process. I brought a friend along on my second trip, went alone on the third and received a request to cook the following week, and along with two vegan pals of mine, served up dinner on the fourth, introducing the group to the wonders of hummus, baba ghanoush, and lentil soup. The meal, while challenging the taste buds of a few of the regulars, went off well, and ever since then, my friends and I - or, when I'm out of town, just my friends - have been guest cheffing about once a month.
Recently, Mina, who coordinates the Tuesday dinners, asked me if we could make it offic, and change the name once a month from "Vegetarian Dinner for the Earth" (지구를 위한 채식밥상) to "Mike's International Vegetarian Dinner." She said that it had been a year since they had started, they all knew each other too well, she was getting tired of cooking the same old meals (which are always awesome, if you ask me), and thought things needed to be shaken up a bit. Unable I refuse to help an activist in distress, I happily volunteered myself and my friends. Now, the deal is: Three nights out of the month, Mina will cook her usual excellent vegetarian dishes using local, organic ingredients from one of the cooperatives that supports our group; on the third Tuesday of each month, though, I'll suck up a little bit of guilt about extra carbon* and imported food, and do what I can to prove to the group that vegetarian cuisine can be exciting, varied, delicious, and even downright hedonistic.
Thinking that the inaugural meal would probably set the tone for ones to come, I decided to internationalize the meal thoroughly by bringing along two co-chefs: Mathan, my neighbor, coworker, and friend from Tamil Nadu, India, and Niall, my coworker from Gallway, Ireland.
Here are the three of us, hard at work:
And here's what we put together, for a cost of less than five bucks a person:
In no particular order, the dishes are:
Coconut chutney; Indian rice; raw onions with cumin powder and lemon juice; raw cucumbers and tomatoes; and cilantro.
The meal was met with near universal acclaim. Those who had been to India recognized the taste, and those who had only been to Indian restaurants in Korea recognized our superiority. Some fell for the beans, some for the rice; for me, it was the coconut. Even Mathan, who spent his first twenty-five years eating authentic Indian cuisine, said everything tasted as good as what he and his other Tamil friends make when they miss home. There was one woman, who had never tried Indian food before, who wasn't a huge fan, but I'll just win her over with something else next time.
We subdivided the labor, with Mathan assuming responsibility for the fried rice and tomato chutney, me for the bean curry and coconut chutney, while Niall did duty as a double souz-chef. Thus, regretfully, I can only present you with two recipes.
First, Rajma Masala, adapted from this recipe:
1 cup of (pre-cooked) beans, 1 tomato (not quite diced), 1 onion (diced)
3 cloves of garlic, about an equal amount of ginger, 1 or 2 spicy peppers, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander powder,, 1/2 tsp cumin powder, 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1/8 tsp turmeric, salt
(I don't pay much attention to spice proportions, partially because I don't want to bother with measuring and partially because stuff always comes out fine anyway. The important thing with Indian, I find, is to go really easy on the turmeric.)
1) Fry the cumin seeds over a medium flame for a minute or two in the cooking oil of your choice, then add the onion, turn the flame down, and give it five or ten minutes to get soft and translucent.
2) Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a minute or two.
3) Add the chilis, tomatoes, and all the spices except the salt. Roast for a minute or two.
4) Add the beans and about a cup of water. Salte to taste. As the water boils out, mash in the pan so that it becomes a little thickery.
5) Once the water has boiled out, you're ready to serve.
This recipe will give enough for about two people, if you have rice and something else on the side. I like it so much - particularly the rich, creaminess of the beans and the bite of the little chunks of ginger - that I could probably eat the whole thing myself. For the group, I tripled the recipe and added about an extra cup of beans to make it a little more hearty and filling (never a bad idea when you're cooking for ten).
Second, the coconut chutney, passed to me by word of mouth from Mathan's mother in Tamil Nadu. I don't quite remember the proportions, but something like this.
1.5 coconuts, cut into fingernail-sized pieces.
3 hot chillies, cut similarly
10 cloves of garlic (could be wrong on this), and about half that much ginger.
Tamarind (about equal to garlic)
2-3 tbsp split chana dhal
A few pinches of salt
Combine in food processor with a good amount of water. Keep blending and adding water as necessary, until it becomes a kind of dense, grainy cream, much heaver than Baba Ganoush. This chutney has a really interesting flavor: creamy and rich from the coconut, a little crunch due to the dhal, spicy thanks to the chillies, and a deep tang courtesy of the tamarind. It's amazing if you have time to chill it and let the flavors settle together before serving.
So, that was that. The next event will likely be held on the 9th or 16th of May, depending on whether or not I go out of town for our school's sports week. So, I've got at least a few weeks to think about what to serve. I'm thinking of trying my hand at bean burgers. If you know a good recipe, or have another suggestion, let me know!
May you all soon enjoy a delicious, home-cooked, eco-conscious meal with your friends!