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Salt and Stone: Korean Beef Bulgogi with Sauteed Veggies and Quick Pickled Cucumbers

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Anyone else feel like they’re limping into the new year? I certainly do. When we embarked on homeschooling, I dreamed that we would power through academics in the mornings so that we could spend afternoons hiking, skiing, playing outside and hitting up the YMCA pool. To say that it hasn’t exactly worked out that way would be an understatement. But no one can deny I have an excellent imagination.

Our days are a bit of a blur. There is generalized grumpiness and blatant eye-rolling combined with sibling angst and downright hard days as three kids and one mom navigate the ups and downs of trying to accomplish three grade levels at the same time. I was in awe of teachers and school staff before; these days my appreciation for them renders me speechless.

Not that it’s all bad. Really, truly (I’ve been known to be just a tiny bit dramatic). There are silver linings: genuinely lovely days and funny things to laugh about every day. But something about getting back into a rhythm these first couple of weeks of January has been akin to having a tooth pulled.

Speaking of silver linings, one of my favorite parts of quarantine life, especially over the last several weeks, has been the freedom to lounge on the couch and read just because. I read Bryan Washington’s novel “Memorial” a few weeks ago. The central character is a Japanese-born chef raised most of his life in Texas. He returns to Osaka to confront his ailing father, and much of the book revolves around the food he prepares. The descriptions of spicy noodles and slivered fish, homemade kimchi and so many other dishes made my mouth water and had me dreaming of traveling and eating in faraway places.

This little offering of beef bulgogi is in no way meant to mirror the traditional dish, but it hits all the right notes when it comes to a savory, full-flavored meal that also happens to be incredibly easy to throw together. Bulgogi typically calls for beef steak, but I used lean ground beef. I wanted the sweet and savory flavors of bulgogi without any hassle or fuss. I also wanted a few vegetables on my plate, so I did the easiest thing possible: I used the same pan I cooked the meat in and threw in a bunch of veggies for a quick saute. I chose purple cabbage, carrots and baby spinach because that’s what I had that looked good, but green beans, broccoli or bok choy would be lovely, too. The quick pickled cucumbers add a nice bright crunchy addition to the dish and balance the richness of the meat.

• Andrea McCoy writes the column Kitchen Captivated for Yakima Magazine and at The Salt and Stone, a home cooking blog. She also writes this monthly column for SCENE. The Salt and Stone is a nod not just to the essence of cooking, but also to the Yakima Valley. Read more at

Korean Beef Bulgogi with Sauteed Veggies and Quick Pickled Cucumbers

1.5 to 2 pounds extra-lean ground beef (you could sub ground turkey or chicken)

1 tablespoon sesame oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon sambal oelek (spicy garlic ginger sauce)

2 to 3 cups cooked rice

3 cups purple cabbage, thinly sliced (about half a small head)

3 large carrots, peeled and diced

2 cups baby spinach leaves

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced

* Quick-pickled cucumbers

Start by cooking the rice and quick pickling the cucumbers. Follow package instructions to make your rice. For a fun little twist and added flavor, sub half a cup of water for half a cup of canned coconut milk in your rice. The result is delicious rice with just a hint of creamy coconut flavor.

In a large sauté pan, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add the ground hamburger to the pan and begin to stir and mix, using a spatula to break the hamburger into small pieces. Add the garlic and ginger to the beef and continue to stir often while the beef cooks.

In a small bowl, combine the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar and sambal oelek. Use a fork to combine and then pour over the beef mixture. Turn heat to a low simmer and stir until the sauce is well-combined and the beef is cooked all the way through, about 10 to 12 minutes total cooking time.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef from the pan, setting aside in a bowl. Leave the remaining sauce in the pan and add the sliced cabbage and carrots. Turn heat back up to medium-low, stirring often until the cabbage begins to wilt and the carrots slightly soften, about 5 to 6 minutes. Just before turning the heat off, stir in the baby spinach, mixing one last time to slightly wilt the spinach. If you need a little extra moisture, splash a little soy sauce over the vegetables.

To serve, scoop rice into a shallow bowl or plate. Pile the beef bulgogi over the rice along with the vegetables. Garnish with pickled cucumbers and minced cilantro.

* For the cucumbers, simply slice an English cucumber into discs. Place them in a bowl or jar and cover with 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Fill the rest of the way with lukewarm water. Place in the refrigerator for up to a week or leave on the counter to use later in the day.

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