Chef Louis Kim of Erbe Matte (a restaurant in Beverly Hills) says that Koreans love Italian food.  He should know; he and his business partners have three restaurants in Korea, two of them Italian.  He also denies that his food is “fusion” in character.  Nonetheless, it got me thinking; there are many examples of fusion cooking which pair Asian food with Central and South America or even French food.  I tried putting my mind to the parts of the Korean palate I enjoy and tried to see them from an Italian culinary point of view.  Then I flipped that experiment and tried to see Italian food from a Korean point of view.

The results I enjoyed the most:

BIBIMBAP:  This famous national Korean dish usually consists of rice baked on the bottom of a stone pot, topped with veggies, tofu (or some other protein source), and a fried egg complete with the famous Korean red pepper sauce (made from Gochujang).  The stone pot can of course be any oven proof “hot pot.” Cast iron works perfectly.  In this version, I’ve added zucchini, broccolini  and basil to other hot pot vegetables (like carrots and bok choy) and added some tomato paste to the sauce, which makes it sweeter.  Arranged in an artful appearance, with differing shapes, both in appearance and in aroma, it has a wonderful Italian nuance.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Gochujang, here is a recipe for the sauce (the paste, made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt, is fermented in much the same way miso is made).

Mix all these ingredients together (makes a little more than ½ C):

2 T gochujang (if you can’t find the paste, other chile pastes are available and will do the job – don’t worry if it’s not “authentic”)  Note:  you can use less if you want the sauce but don’t want too much “heat.”

1 T soy sauce

1 T rice wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 t sugar

2 t grated ginger root

1 t toasted sesame seed oil

Note: this is a small amount.  If you like it, and imagine you’ll use it in various dishes, make a larger batch and store in the refrigerator.

Rice BallsARANCINI (RICE BALLS)/JOOMUK-BAP: In Korea, rice balls are a summer time picnic favorite and they are made small, so you can pick them up and pop them in your mouth in one bite.  They can be “Italianized”  by making them more like Arancini (Italian stuffed rice balls), and in this case, make them a bit larger, and stuffed with a seasoned tofu mixture.  Traditionally, the Italian version is fried; I’ve baked them in the oven.  They can be served hot warm, room temperature or even cold. Joomuk-Bap is a dish not so well known, so I include the fusion recipe here:

Makes 10-12 (depending on size)

▪ 5 C  cooked short grain brown rice

▪ 3 T finely diced, rehydrated dried shitake mushrooms

▪ 1 C finely diced carrot

▪ 2 C finely diced  broccoli (florets  & peeled stems, both)

▪ 1 C finely diced other veggies (red pepper?  zucchini??)

▪ olive oil (for sautéing vegetables)

▪ 1 T soy sauce

▪ 2 T lemon juice or plum vinegar

▪ salt and black pepper

▪ ½  to 1 T sugar (to taste) or mirin

▪ 1 T  black sesame seeds (or toasted regular sesame seeds or even black chia seeds)

▪ 2 sheets roasted nori/kim (crumbled)

▪ 2 T sesame oil

▪ roasted sesame seeds (for coating the rice balls)

For the Stuffing:

▪ 1 C mashed tofu

▪ 2 T minced, sautéed onion

▪ ¼ C finely chopped basil

▪ Salt and pepper to taste

1. Dice the rehydrated mushrooms, broccoli, carrot, and other veggies.

2. Start stir frying the diced veggies and sesame/chia seeds with vegetable oil.

3. Add soy sauce, salt and black pepper and stir until veggies are cooked.

4. In a larger bowl, add the cooked brown rice, some salt, lemon juice/vinegar, and sugar/mirin and mix well with hand.

5. Add the stir fried veggies to the cooked rice and mix well.

6. Add the crumbled nori/kim with sesame oil and some of the rice/vegetable mixture to a food processor and purée in order to create a sticky mass.

7. Add back to the rice/vegetable mixture. Taste and add salt/pepper if needed.

8. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

9. Shape into rice balls.   (This is sticky rice, so if it clings to your hands, put some sesame oil on your hands then try shaping them).

10.  Refrigerate them till they are chilled (this makes it easier to stuff them).

11.  While the rice balls are chilling, now’s the time to toast the sesame seeds if they aren’t already toasted.

12.  Mix the tofu, sautéed onion, and basil together.  Taste and add salt/pepper as needed.

13.  Poke a generous hole in the chilled rice balls.

14.  Stuff a tablespoon of the tofu mixture into the rice ball and close the hole.

15. Refrigerate once more till they are chilled.

16. Preheat the oven to 400º.  Roll the rice balls in the sesame seeds.

17. Place the stuffed rice balls on a lined baking sheet and heat in the oven for 20 minutes.  Everything is already cooked; you’re just re-heating the ingredients.

18.  Serve hot, warm, room temperature, or cold.  As leftovers go, they’re great the next day.

Option:  If you want to make them small (e.g., bite-sized), combine the tofu stuffing with the rice/vegetable mixture, roll in balls and refrigerate.  Then roll them in toasted sesame seeds and warm and serve (or serve cold.)

Radish SaladRADISH SALAD/MUSAENGCHAE:  using Korean radishes or daikon, with a dressing of salt, vinegar, hot pepper flakes, sugar, garlic, green onion (scallion) and sesame seeds.  The change comes by adding thinly shaved fennel equal to the amount of radish, and some orange slices or pieces (blood oranges would be very dramatic). I added some carrot for color and for sweetness.


▪ 2 Daikon Radish, in matchsticks

▪ 1 carrot, in matchsticks

▪ 1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced

▪ 1 orange (or more, depending on the size), sectioned, sliced thin

▪ scallions (for garnish)

The Dressing:

▪ 2 ½  T rice wine vinegar

▪ 1 ½ T toasted sesame oil

▪ 1 T sugar

▪ ½ t salt

▪ ½ – 1 t hot pepper flakes (depending on hot you want it)

▪ 1 large clove garlic, minced

▪ 2 T fresh mint, chopped


  1. Combine the Dressing ingredients, and whisk.
  2. Peel the daikon, cut into strips and then into match sticks. Add to the Dressing.
  3. Add the carrot matchsticks and sliced fennel to the Dressing and mix well.
  4. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  5. Add the thinly sliced orange segments.
  6. Garnish with the chopped scallions.

Now the flip:

RISOTTO: made the classic Italian way, but adding some finely julienned kimchi to the onions/mushrooms sauté before adding the rice. Garnish the finished risotto with some more of the julienned kimchi and a final drizzle of roasted sesame oil.

PUTTANESCA SAUCE: basically, in Italian cooking, a tomato sauce which has the distinctive flavor of olives, but here we change the flavor a bit by adding sesame oil and Korean chili paste.


Korean Eggplant Salad, Italian Fusion, II

CAPONATA/ GAJI NAMUL (eggplant salad): I replaced the usual vegetables like tomatoes and zuchinni) with pears and green apple.  The sauce/dressing is itself a fusion, combining several different Asian flavors with some Mediterranean sensibilities.  Its Korean cousin is a dish called Gaji Namul.


▪ 2 Chinese or Italian eggplant, cut into 2” strips (the longer and skinnier the eggplant, the better)

▪ ½ sweet red pepper, sliced

▪ ½ medium onion, sliced

▪ 1 pear (your favorite kind), thinly sliced and cut in half

▪ 1 granny smith apple, thinly sliced and cut in half

The sauce:

▪ 2 T lime juice

▪ 3 T soy sauce

▪ 2 T roasted sesame oil

▪ 2 t pomegranate syrup

▪ 2 cloves garlic, minced

▪ 1 t chile sauce

▪ ½ t 5-spice powder

▪ 2 T fresh basil

▪ 2 T Seaweed Gomasio (sesame seeds ground with sea salt and sea vegetables ─ dulce, nori, kombu)

▪ 2 scallions, finely chopped (for garnish)


  1. Without peeling, cut the eggplant lengthwise into quarters and again into 2 ½ inch pieces.
  2. Steam the eggplant till tender.
  3. Mix the ingredients for the sauce.
  4. Add the red pepper and onion slices to the eggplant. Remove from heat and leave cover on for about two (2) minutes (the peppers and onions should be softened but not overcooked).
  5. Slice the eggplant into strips, skin and all.
  6. While the vegetables are still warm, add them to the sauce and mix.
  7. Cover and chill.
  8. Add the apple and pear slices. Mix thoroughly to coat.
  9. Serve cold or at room temperature, as you like.

Note: Salad? Side Dish? Add some tofu or other protein and serve it as a main course?

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