By Analiese Paik
I’ve said for years that if I ever opened a restaurant, I’d put Korean spinach salad, aka shigumchi namul, on the menu. I tasted the cold, seasoned spinach salad for the first time almost 20 years ago when I first met my husband and have loved it ever since. His mother, a native of South Korea, had made it as part of an impressive spread of at least 10 small dishes called panchan. If you’ve even been to a Korean restaurant, you’ll recognize panchan as the small dishes of cold vegetable salads, pickled vegetables, and other tasty morsels served before the main dishes are brought out. The spinach namul, richly flavored with nothing more than soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds, was refreshing and delicious. What’s served in restaurants, however, has never matched the flavor of what my mother-in-law makes, so I worked for years to perfect it at home and am happy to share the recipe here.
Now that spinach is in season, grab a bunch or two from your favorite organic farm stand or farmers’ market vendor and make sure you have soy sauce (organic please to avoid GMOs), sesame oil (toasted Asian), and toasted sesame seeds in the house so you can make this winning side dish. Serve it alongside an Asian meal, or not, or have some fun with it and make kimbap or bibimbap. My children learned to eat vegetables by layering them with steamed brown rice on top of small, thin sheets of kim, Korean seasoned seaweed, then rolling them up to make kimbap and popping them in their mouths. When there’s nothing to eat in the house, we each pile small mounds of cold leftover vegetables around the perimeter of a bowl of steaming brown rice, top it with a fried or poached egg, then add a spoonful of gochujang (hot pepper paste) to make bibimpop. This rice salad is best when one of the vegetables in shigumchi namul, but also try daikon, cucumber, carrot and bean sprout salads. Kimchi is of course mandatory with any Korean meal.
Cold Korean Spinach Salad (Shigumchi Namul)
10 minutes, plus time for chilling (optional)
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 1 bunch fresh, organic spinach (trimmed of root ends, stems removed only if they’re tough or cracked)
- 1 tablespoon organic or non-GMO soy sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted Asian sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (buy them toasted or toast in a toaster oven while keeping a close eye to avoid burning)
- Wash the spinach well in several changes of cold water until no grit remains. Heat a deep, heavy saute pan over medium heat, add the spinach, then cover until it’s just wilted. Remove the lid, turn the heat to high and let the water evaporate while stirring with tongs to cook evenly.
- Once the spinach is tender (I always taste test), remove it from the saute pan into a bowl. Use the tongs to squeeze out any excess liquid from the spinach. The flavor of the seasoning will be diluted if you skip this step.
- Mix together the soy sauce and sesame oil, the pour them over the spinach and mix well. Top with toasted sesame seeds and refrigerate until chilled or serve at room temperature.