Cooking Korean food in North Iowa is often an adventure.
This weekend, Twin Cities food critic, James Beard award-winning writer and author Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl invited me to pop into her radio show/podcast Off the Menu to talk about food and community in North Iowa. She is one of the first food writers I ever followed and her writing inspired me to be curious about exploring our local dining scene. The invitation was very much an honor.
I felt like a North Iowan ambassador. We discussed ham balls, the low ceilings in the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, Greek influence on our culinary scene, Casey’s gas station breakfast pizza, and North Iowa blogging community. You can actually download the podcast on iTunes later this week.
Our conversation made me reflect upon the challenges that arise from having access to a smaller variety of multicultural grocery stores and food products.
On one hand, I can’t just make Pad Thai or vegetable korma on a whim. Obtaining the ingredients to make these dishes requires enough forethought to grow the ingredients (such as Thai basil) or purchase them online or while visiting a bigger city. Don’t try to find tamarind paste here, it’s basically impossible. On the plus side, I’ve learned how to be more creative and replicate certain flavors with the ingredients that I can find.
We may not have an Asian market or Indian restaurant in town, but friends continue to eagerly introduce me to their favorite food traditions and restaurants. Ham balls, pork burgers, pork tenderloins, loose meat sandwiches, old school supper clubs like Half Moon Inn in Clear Lake, Iowa, gas station breakfast pizza, it’s all been fun. As Deb Brown, the Executive Director of the Webster City Chamber of Commerce said, “We make magic out of small towns because we have to.”
Here’s a simple recipe for pork-tofu patties. I riffed on a recipe from The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm. I served the patties with a soy sauce dip, marinated zucchini strips, steamed rice, and kimchi.
Korean Pork-Tofu Patties
Adapted from the recipe for Gogi Chun (Bean Curd and Pork Patties) from The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm
1 package of firm tofu. Crumble, squeeze out in towel
1/2 pound ground pork
Handful of finely diced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
1/3 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Panko break crumbs. Enough to bind mixture, about 1/2 cup.
Crushed garlic clove
- Remove tofu from package. Crumble with your hands. Wrap tofu crumble in a clean towel and squeeze out excess water.
- In a large bowl, combine crumbled and drained tofu with ground pork, one egg, handful of minced onion, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
- Add enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes before adding more breadcrumbs. It will tighten up as the breadcrumbs absorb the moisture.
- Form into small patties.
- Fry on each side in a thin layer of hot vegetable oil (I used peanut) until the pork is cooked through. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the oven on a cooling rack set on a sheet pan until you are ready to serve.
- To prepare the dipping sauce, season soy sauce with grated ginger, crushed garlic, brown sugar and vinegar. I did not have rice wine vinegar, so I used a splash of plain vinegar.