In Korean cuisine, the side dishes are equally as important as the entrées. If you’ve ever been to a Korean barbecue, you’re likely familiar with “banchan,” or the dozens of small, refillable side dishes that are offered to you free-of-charge alongside your meal. These dishes are designed to be packed with unique flavors that compliment an entrée and freshly steamed rice. However, these small plates are fantastic additions to a wide variety of meals beyond traditional Korean food. With simple ingredient lists and short preparation times, these tasty dishes are super convenient. Below are five Korean small plates that will add some flare to your meals!
1. Korean Seasoned Bean Sprouts (Kongnamul Muchim)
Kongnamul muchim, or seasoned Korean bean sprouts, are normally served chilled as a side to warm rice. However, these sprouts are also a tasty, crisp addition to any salad, sandwich, or wrap. Not only does kongnamul muchim have a refreshing taste and texture, but the sprouts are also packed with nutrients. Check out the Health Benefits of Eating Sprouts and Sprouting Tips for detailed health benefits and tips for growing your own sprouts. You’ll need the following ingredients to make this simple dish:
- 1 lb soybean sprouts
- 3 cloves of minced garlic
- 1-2 green onion stalks, thinly sliced
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp. sesame seeds (toasted seeds preferred)
- 1 tsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. Korean red pepper flakes (cayenne pepper powder will also work)
- Optional: ½ tsp. of kelp powder for a seafood-like flavor
Begin preparing this dish by blanching soybean sprouts in a large pot of boiling water for one minute, or until sprouts are tender but still crunchy. Immediately drain the sprouts and rinse with cold water. Transfer blanched sprouts to an airtight container and place in the refrigerator while the seasonings are prepared. In a small bowl, whisk together minced garlic, sliced green onions, sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, pepper flakes, and kelp powder (if using). Combine soybean sprouts and seasoning together and voila! Your super easy seasoned soybean sprouts are complete.
2. Cucumber Kimchi
Cucumber kimchi is a more approachable and adaptable kimchi variation. With a base of diced cucumbers, this side dish emulates mildly spicy pickles (with a Korean flare, of course). Cucumber kimchi makes a great addition to steamed rice, buddha bowls, sushi, salads, sandwiches, and can even be repurposed into relish for your veggie dogs. Because fermenting cucumber kimchi is optional, you have the ability to control the amount of time you dedicate to this dish and how pungent the flavors become. Take a look at this Cucumber Kimchi recipe for a step-by-step guide to this sophisticated, hydrating side dish!
3. Korean Glazed Potatoes (Gamja Jorim)
Gamja jorim, or Korean glazed potatoes, is a simple, potato-based side dish that is braised in a sweet sauce. While gamja jorim is traditionally a banchan, or side dish, this dish also works perfectly as an appetizer or snack. This small plate is not spicy, nor does it highlight any overwhelming flavors, making it a crowd pleaser for people of all ages and almost all taste preferences. This recipe calls for the following ingredients:
- 2 diced potatoes (Yukon gold potatoes recommended)
- 1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1-2 tbsp of brown sugar or rice syrup
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tbsp of vegetable oil or sesame oil
- sesame seeds (add to your preference as garnish)
- black pepper to taste
- Optional additions: Korean red pepper flakes and sliced green onion
Begin this dish by allowing diced potatoes to soak in a bowl of cold water for ten minutes; this removes excess starch. In a large pan, heat the oil, add your diced potatoes and onion, and cook on high heat until potatoes are halfway cooked. If the veggies begin sticking to the pot, add a bit more oil or water. Combine all other ingredients in a small bowl and add the mixture to the pan with 3/4 cup of water. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pan with a lid, and allow the sauce to thicken for eight to ten minutes, stirring occasionally. If the potatoes become dry, add a small amount of water to re-awaken your sauce. Lastly, transfer your gamja jorim to a bowl and top with sesame seeds before serving.
4. Korean Spinach Salad (Sigeumchi Namul)
If wilted spinach salad sounds dull and flavorless, sigeumchi namul is here to change your mind. Sesame, garlic, and soy sauce flavors make this dish so tasty and satisfying that you may forget that you’re eating a healthy serving of spinach. Because it is so easy to assemble and economical, sigeumchi namul is a staple side dish served with almost every meal in Korean cuisine. If spinach isn’t your cup of tea, you can also use bok choy, turnip greens, kale, and other leafy greens as the base of this dish. If you’re in need of meal ideas, try including this Korean spinach salad in our Green Buddha Bowl. To make this dish you’ll need the following ingredients:
- 16 oz of spinach
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- sesame seeds (add to your preference)
- Recommended: sliced green onion and a pinch of Korean red pepper powder
The first step to assembling your Korean spinach salad is blanching your spinach in a pot of boiling water for one minute. Once spinach is slightly wilted (but not soggy), drain and gently rinse with cool water. At this point, squeeze the excess water out of your spinach until you are left with a ball of wilted spinach. Give this blanched spinach ball a rough chop and simply combine with all other ingredients in a mixing bowl. Chill before serving and enjoy!
5. Pan Fried Tofu (Dubu Jorim)
Tofu is a high-protein staple food that is featured in many different Asian cuisines. Tofu, pronounced ‘dubu‘ in Korean, comes in a variety of textures (silken, soft, firm, etc.) and flavors (original, smoked, spicy, etc.), making it adaptable to many different dishes. Soft or silken tofu is often used in Korean stews such as sundubu jjigae (spicy vegetable stew) or kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew). Medium and firm tofu varieties are used primarily as entrées and side dishes, as they are more durable and hearty.
Dubu jorim, or spicy braised tofu is a popular banchan eaten alongside rice and noodle dishes. This easy-to-make dish can also be subbed into your favorite wraps, sandwiches, and any other dish that showcases tofu. Because the tofu slices are braised in a savory sauce, the outside develops a crispy coating while the inside remains flavorful and juicy. Check out Dubu Jorim: Korean Spicy Braised Tofu for a detailed recipe guide to this dish. If cooking tofu is foreign to you, read over Tofu: How to Avoid 5 Common Cooking Mistakes and you’ll become a pro in no time!
Want more kimchi recipes? Check out these 15 Gut-Health Vegan Recipes Featuring Kimchi.
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