What’s Minari? Recipes and a Historical past of Korean Greens within the Oscar Candidate Movie.

Minari often heralds the first days of spring. The namul (vegetable) has a long stem with fronds that resemble American parsley. It has a delicate taste with a grassy, ​​peppery aftertaste. In a meal, minari can be a welcome surprise: a huge handful of bright green plants can decorate a bubbly, flavorful fish stew or sit between many sides of banchan in a full Korean dinner.

Minari has many English names in the various Asian countries where it also grows: waterdrop herb, Chinese celery, Indian pennywort, Japanese parsley. The Korean word itself is divided into mi (water) and nari (vegetable). Minari now enters the American lexicon of Lee Isaac Chung’s new film of the same name, a deeply personal version of the director’s Korean-American childhood that follows an immigrant family who settled in rural Arkansas.

In the film, Jacob, played by Steven Yeun, opens a Korean fruit and vegetable farm. Native Korean greens such as minari, perilla leaves, ssuk (mugwort), ssukgat (chrysanthemum green), and gosari (remote brake) have long grown wild in South Korean farmland. Food has been medicine since the Joseon era, and this vegetable has been used to treat a wide variety of diseases. Minari was thought to be a detoxifier and used to treat fever, dehydration, and high blood pressure. It was often used in the Korean royal kitchen, particularly over a dish called minari ganghwe, a dish made of pressed meat, red pepper, and egg tied into small bundles with blanched minari as a ribbon.

Foods that became popular at the king’s court seeped through the aristocratic class and people and eventually found their way into the unique culinary landscape of Korea. High in vitamins A and B, potassium and calcium, Minari is currently being sought as a hangover remedy and anti-inflammatory ointment. When my sister broke out in beehives because of a fish allergy during a childhood trip to Seoul, she was prescribed a drinkable extract of powdered minari. It’s also popular in maeuntang, a flavorful fish stew that is used as both a drinking and hangover remedy. Minari is believed to negate potential toxins found in fish as well as your soaked bloodstream.

While it is a vegetable that is easily adaptable to many climates due to its short growing season, Minari grows most strongly in the southern provinces of South Korea. There are many fields, wetlands and places near water where the sun shines longer than in the north of the capital. Minari was grown in these regions in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it was specifically planted in rice fields and grown in greenhouses. In connection with the two to three month growing season, Minari could be produced up to three times throughout the year.

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One area, Hanjae Village in Cheongdo, is particularly known for its variety of minari, known as “Hanjae Minari,” which has a thicker stem with purple tips. Here the harvest of minari heralds the arrival of spring as early as February, and foodies travel for hours to indulge in the first minari picked. Grills are being set up throughout the village for visitors to cook samgyeopsal. This is the perfect combination for the delicate minari of early spring. Harder varieties emerge as the growing season progresses. These minari are usually served as a banchan called minari muchim, in which the greens are simply blanched and seasoned with garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil. They are also popularly cooked in jeon (a type of Korean pancake), added to stews, or used as one of the many vegetables in bibimbap.

Minari is not found very commonly in the States. As with many native Asian vegetables, minari is usually only available at Asian grocery stores serving larger Korean-American populations like New York City and Los Angeles, and even then it’s unreliable – I visited four different stores before I found a few grapes for the following recipes. The scarcity here seems to further emphasize the unique Korean nature. Many enterprising Korean immigrants have brought their own seeds back on home visits to grow in their backyards or gardens.

This could shed a little more light on the title of Chung’s film. One character says it’s an ingredient that everyone from beggars to millionaires eats. Youn Yuh-jung, a renowned South Korean film and television actress who plays the film’s grandmother, suggested that minari was a vegetable that can grow anywhere and represents Korean immigrants who could settle anywhere. While Jacob and his family settle in Arkansas, a state at a similar latitude to the southern regions of South Korea, Minari is both a connection to their homeland and a sign of a new beginning.

Here are two different recipes using the Korean minari. Minari Jeon, a simple pancake made with minari as the main ingredient, also contains samgyeopsal (pork belly), which it is often paired with during the spring harvest in South Korea. Minari muchim is a common banchan preparation – an elegant and hearty side dish that goes perfectly with rice.

Minari Jeon

Ingredients:

1 bunch of minari (find it at your local Korean or Asian grocery store labeled Dropwort, water celery, or water parsley)
8 small pieces of very thinly sliced ​​pork belly or 4 slices of bacon cut in half (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon of dwenjang (Korean soybean paste)
1 tablespoon of gochugaru
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
2 tablespoons of perilla oil (can be replaced with sesame or rapeseed oil)

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Ingredients for dip sauce:

2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of sugar

Directions:

1. Prepare the dough by mixing the flour, water, dwenjang, gochugaru, and garlic together until incorporated.

2. Cut minari into 1-inch pieces and mix in batter. The batter should just coat the minari without leaving much loose batter, but it’s okay if there is more.

3. Heat the perilla oil in a non-stick pan over medium-low heat (you can divide the oil and cook in batches if needed). When the oil begins to shimmer, drop large spoons of the battered minari like pancakes. Each piece should be about 3 inches in diameter.

4. Cook on one side for about three minutes until bubbles form around the edges. If you are using, put pork belly slices on top of the pancakes.

5. Once the pancakes are golden on the side that is down, turn them so that the pork belly side is down. Cook for another three to five minutes until golden brown and remove from the pan.

6. Mix the sauce ingredients and serve next to pancakes.

Minari Muchim

Ingredients:

1 bunch of minari (find it at your local Korean or Asian grocery store labeled Dropwort, water celery, or water parsley)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of sugar
½ teaspoon salt (more to taste)

Directions:

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Blanch the minari for 30 seconds – it should turn light green – then remove and quickly rinse in cold water until it cools.

2. Drain the minari and squeeze it thoroughly to remove any excess water.

3. Cut into 3-inch pieces and mix with the remaining ingredients until well blended.

4. Serve with rice and other banchan. This dish stays in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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