Christine Kim makes Japanese-style pepper steak
Japanese-style pepper steak
You've got to love the American melting pot.
While working in Korea as a teacher in the American military, an American girl of German descent meets Japanese guy of Korean descent.
They get married, live in Korea and have one child. They move to Germany and have another child.
They move to Chicago, no more children. Then to Japan and finally Palatine, where they landed three years ago.
What do they eat at home? Anything.
Teriyaki chicken, sauerkraut and spaetzle, enchiladas, spaghetti, sloppy Joes, stuffed peppers and tacos.
"You never know what you're going to get," says Chris Kim, who cooks for her husband Jon and their 17-year-old daughter, Alex. (Their 23-year-old daughter is out of the house.)
"It depends on my mood," she says. "My family is very open to new ideas. They make no judgments until they try it."
Chris grew up in a rural Minnesota town of 100 where "most people were related," she says.
One of three girls, she learned to cook from her mother, grandmother and aunts. A typical dinner consisted of a "hot dish," known in these parts as a casserole, made with a protein, canned or frozen vegetables and canned soup.
"We always sat down to meals and there was always dessert," recalls Chris fondly.
After marrying Jon and while living in Korea she learned how to prepare Korean and Japanese dishes from his aunt and sister.
"When we were first married we would go over on Saturday night and I would watch them cook, write down ingredients and guesstimate amounts," she says. "I can pretty much reproduce it," with Jon as backup to confirm she's nailed the flavors.
Since the family moved back to the states Chris has been working on expanding and perfecting her Japanese "chops," consulting cookbooks like "Harumi's Japanese Cooking" and "Japanese Home Cooking" by Japan's popular author and chef Harumi Kurihara.
"My cooking goal is to become more proficient at Japanese and Korean dishes," says Chris, who is slowly accumulating the utensils, cookware and dishware specific to Asian cooking.
"I have two cupboards for Asian foods: one is full of noodles, the other has seasoning items like sauces, chilies and tubes of mustards, ginger paste and wasabi," she says.
In the refrigerator she designates shelves for Japanese ingredients like pickles, soy beans, fresh noodles and soy beans.
She has grown fond of the Asian custom of eating from a number of small plates and bowls.
"It keeps portions small but you feel like you have a lot of food," she says.
But she hasn't forgotten her own roots. This week she gives us German and Asian favorites to try.
For Pork Chops with Sauerkraut and Spaetzle she uses canned kraut for simplicity but makes the German noodles from scratch, and she promises they're easier than you imagine.
Japanese-seasoned steak with ginger mashed potatoes and soy sauce gravy is a great "gateway" recipe if you're just dipping a toe in Pacific Rim cooking. Korean Bulgogi is one of the most popular dishes of that culture, and another good beginner's recipe.
You may have to visit an Asian market, but won't that be fun?