Seasonal treat: Spring greens

🐦Birds are singing.🕊
🌸Flowers are blooming.🌼
🦋Insects are buzzing around.🐝
🌱New leaves are sprouting on plants.🌿

Everything is basically yelling:

Young plants of edible mugwort (ssuk 쑥).

How else can you tell?

🤤Fresh spring greens (bom-namul 봄나물) are back!!💚

Traditional Korean food is characterized by turning seasonal and local ingredients into diverse, healthy and flavorful dishes. The abundance of side dishes (banchan 반찬), which consist mainly of 🥦vegetables, 🍄mushrooms and 🌿wild herbs, is a wonderful aspect of Korean cuisine and particularly accommodating to vegans, vegetarians and vegetable-lovers! 🤤💚🥕 And now, with spring greens in season, they are used to upgrade dishes with the special flavor of spring.🌱 Accordingly, there are more fresh greens sold in grocery stores and on traditional markets at this time of the year. In restaurants, you may be served different kinds of vegetable side dishes. And you may notice elderly ladies picking plants from patches of green, mountain paths and meadows…

There exists quite a variety of edible greens, which are native to the Korean peninsula. Among the more common ones, you will find:

  • ssuk (쑥): The young leaves of Korean mugwort (Artemisia princeps) are harvested before the plant develops tough and stringy leaves. It is very fragrant and its aroma is popular among certain people. In modern South Korea, rice cakes (tteok 떡), bakery products and beverages (e.g. tea or ssuk latte 쑥라떼) are flavored with it all year round.
  • chwi-namul (취나물): This name is given to various species from the family Asteraceae, e.g. chamchwi 참취 (Aster scaber / Doellingeria scabra), gomchwi 곰취 (Ligularia fischeri), miyeok-chwi 미역취 (Solidago japonica), danpung-chwi 단풍취 (Ainsliaea acerifolia). They each have an individual smell and taste.
  • cham-namul (참나물): Pimpinella brachycarpa can be eaten raw as well as blanched or cooked. It has a distinctive, fresh and herby aroma.
  • bangpung-namul (방풍나물): The leaves of Peucedanum japonicum, which belongs to the same botanical family as carrot, parsnip and parsley, are consumed and they taste rather mild.
  • bireum-namul (비름나물): The greens of edible amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor or Amaranthus mangostanus), are consumed in Korea, as long as the plant is young and soft.
  • sebal-namul (세발나물) / gaet-namul 갯나물: The fine, thread-like leaves of this plant (Spergularia) are edible raw as well as blanched. They taste slightly salty, but hardly smell of anything.
  • dol-namul (돌나물 石上菜): Sedum samentosum is a Xerophytic plant and it thus has a slightly juicy texture. Its flavor is quite mild.
  • meowi-namul (머위나물): The leaves and leaf stems of butterbur (Petasites japonicus) are edible as long as they are small and soft. They taste rather bitter and are very fibrous.
  • gosari (고사리): The young shoots of bracken (various ferns from the family Dennstaedtiaceae), which have not yet unfolded their leaves, are a typical ingredient of tradition Korean cuisine. The shoots are poisonous unless they are properly watered and heated.
  • mindeulle (민들레): The leaves of Korean dandelion (Taraxacum platycarpum) taste bitter, similar to regular dandelion.
  • sseumbagwi (씀바귀): The roots from a plant scientifically called Ixeridium dentatum can be eaten and, as the name implies, they taste quite bitter (slightly reminiscent of dandelion).
  • wonchuri-namul (원추리나물): The leaves of daylilies (Hemerocallis) are edible when they are young and soft. While in China, the flowers or flower buds are consumed, in Korean cuisine only the young shoots are regarded as food. Do not consume the leaves raw, always blanch/cook them properly.
  • bibichu-namul (비비추나물) or okjamhwa (옥잠화 玉簪花): Plantain lilies, alias Hosta, are edible as long as the greens are small and thereby still soft.
  • dallae (달래): Allium monanthum is a species of wild chives native to the Korean peninsula, which looks like tiny spring onions. In Korean cuisine, the entire plant is consumed: The leaves as well as the bulb, including its roots, are used as a vegetable or seasoning, similar to regular scallions. When raw, the bulbs taste as pungent as onions.
  • myeongi-namul (명이나물 茗荑) / san-maneul (산마늘): Allium microdictyon or Allium ochotense are species of Korean wild garlic. The leaves, which are broader than other types of wild garlic, are mainly used for wrapping. The smell is reminiscent of garlic flowers, and the taste is slightly pungent.
  • nun-gae seungma (눈개승마) / sam-namul (삼나물): Young shoots of goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus). The taste is very bitter.
  • daenamu sun (대나무순) / juksun (죽순): Bamboo shoots. Bamboo grows in the southern regions of the country and the shoots are normally harvested in May.
  • young shoots of trees:
    • daraesun (다래순): Young leaves of Actinidia arguta, aka hardy kiwi, a kiwi vine that is native to Korea.
    • dureup (두릅): There are two species of Aralia that are generally referred to as dureup: Aralia elata (also: namu dureup 나무두릅 / cham dureup 참두릅) and Aralia cordata (also: ttang dureup 땅두릅). The new shoots are eaten after cooking them briefly and thus softening the thorns. The shoots are fragrant and slightly bitter.
    • eom-namusun (엄나무순) / eum-namusun (음나무순): Shoots of tree aralia, Kalopanax septemlobus. The young greens of this thorny tree have a particular aroma with strong bitter taste.
    • gajuk-namul (가죽나물) / gajuk-namusun (가죽나무순) / chamjuk-namusun (참죽나무순): The new leaves of Toona sinensis, aka Chinese toona or “beef and onion plant”, are either green or red, and they exude a distinct fragrance, reminiscent of onions or garlic.
    • ogapi sun (오가피순): Shoots of Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus.
    • otsun (옻순): Shoots of Chinese lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum). Some people react allergic to this plant, so handling the greens needs to be done with caution.

Prices for these greens vary by type, but they are generally quite affordable – often distinctly cheaper than common vegetables from Western cuisines such as spinach, lettuce or cabbage! Normally, you can buy a package in a supermarket or a ‘shovel full of greens’ at traditional Korean markets for something between 1000 KRW and 3000 KRW. Note that the availability of certain spring greens is short and may last only a few weeks!

If you wonder how to eat Korean spring greens, there are innumerable ways of serving spring greens! In general, most of them can be turned into simple vegetable side dishes by blanching them in lightly salted water and then seasoning them according to personal preference. In addition to that, some can be eaten raw in combination with a flavorful dressing. Sebal-namul and dol-namul, for instance, are often combined with a sweet, sour and spicy chili sauce called cho-gochujang (초고추장). 🌶 Other ideas on how to use Korean spring greens are adding them to soups and stews, making savory pancakes or using them as a topping in a bowl of mixed rice (Bibimbap 비빔밥). 🥗🍲

During the rest of the year, you may encounter some of these greens in dried form as well. However, texture, flavor and aroma differ decisively from the taste of the fresh plants. So better not miss the opportunity and enjoy this seasonal treat as long as fresh spring greens are available over the next few weeks!

Wishing you a good spring with sunshine and fun exploring the various flavors of these local vegetables! 😊


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