THE GOOD TYPE OF SCORCHED


Although South Korea is mostly homogenous, influences from all over the world have found their way to the dinner table. This has led to the popularity of fusion food. Many restaurants boast serving a new twist on traditional Korean dishes, and I've enjoyed sampling international cuisine that's been Koreanized.

As my taste has changed since arriving in South Korea nearly two years ago, I’ve begun experimenting with new addictions such as nurungji (scorched rice).

Nurungji is relatively cheap, can be homemade or purchased at most supermarkets in South Korea, and is somewhat nutritional.

I don’t think enough foreigners give what’s usually left at the bottom of a pot enough credit. There are actually many uses for scorched rice, aside from the obvious of eating it in crisp form, or adding it to hot water to make a stew.

Even though I enjoy Korean food (except for anything with tentacles), some days I just want to gnaw on a block of cheese, or eat spoonfuls of peanut butter. Many of my new concoctions involving nurungji have something to do with cheese or peanut butter as well. I started simple, with some of my favorite snacks, and found that nurungji goes well with about everything.

Below are six ways nurungji has added to my palate for the better. There are many more. I’d love to hear your ideas. Please share ways in which you’ve Koreanized your meals using scorched rice or any other type of Korean food.

Nurungji pizza with bell peppers, onions, mushroom, and cheese in South Korea.
Nurungji pizza with bell peppers, onions, mushroom, and cheese.
NURUNGJI PIZZA

All you need is a toaster oven, and a whole piece of nurungji to start. Nurungji usually comes in flat, circular portions which work perfectly for personal-sized pizzas.

Top the nurungji with vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Adding tomato sauce might make the nurungji too soggy. Give it a try. Just don't forget to add plenty of cheese.

Simply bake or toast until the cheese is melted. Flavorful juices from the vegetables and cheese will soak into the nurungji, softening it a bit, but not too much.

What you end up with is an incredible snack, or quick meal, that tastes like a crispy thin-crust pizza.

Nurungji covered in caramel in South Korea.
Caramelized nurungji in South Korea. June, 2013.
CARAMELIZED NURUNGJI

I intended to share the caramelized nurungji I just made, but ended up eating all of it. That’s what happens when you add caramel and butter to anything. I also feel sick now.

Start by breaking apart the nurungji into smaller, bite-size pieces. Set them on a baking sheet or plate.

Melt caramel with butter in a microwave (or on a stove). You can make your own caramel, or find a bag of milk caramels. You don't have to add butter, but why not?  Stir in a little milk once it’s melted. Blend until smooth.

Pour the buttery deliciousness on top of the nurungji. Flip to coat both sides. Caramelized nurungji is best when it’s warm, but lasts for quite a while after the caramel has hardened.

Homemade hummus with nurungji chips in South Korea.
Homemade hummus with nurungji chips in South Korea. June, 2013.
NURUNGJI CHIPS AND HUMMUS

It seems nurungji can be substituted for chips or crackers for most types of dips.

I found a great recipe for making nurungji chips from scratch, but it looks like too much work. I’m almost 30, and living on my own in South Korea. I prefer fast and convenient food. But, not fast food. To make nurungji chips you just need to walk to the store, buy nurungji, walk back to your apartment, and break the scorched rice into chip-size pieces.

I usually make my own dips such as hummus, and nurungji goes very well with it. If you’ve never made hummus before, it’s actually quite easy if you have a blender. Don’t have Tahini? That’s okay! Just use peanut butter instead.

African Peanut Soup with nurungji in South Korea.
African Peanut Soup with nurungji in South Korea. June, 2013.
AFRICAN PEANUT SOUP WITH NURUNGJI

Peanut soup is actually one of the best soups I’ve ever had, and has been a hearty love of mine for many years. Since it’s quite a process to make, I usually only whip up a big batch once or twice a year. Freezing smaller portions to enjoy whenever I’m craving it makes up for all the extra work.

I use a recipe similar to variations you can find online, but I’ve made African Peanut Soup so many times I’m accustomed to just throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot.

The main ingredients are: bell peppers, onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, rice, and a jar of peanut butter. Yes, a jar of peanut butter with bell peppers and tomatoes. You read that right. Sounds disgusting, but tastes amazing. Don't knock until you try it.

Peanut butter and banana nurungji sandwich in South Korea.
Peanut butter and banana nurungji sandwich in South Korea.

Here’s where the nurungji comes in. Instead of uncooked rice, I toss in some nurungji as the soup is simmering. It softens in less time than uncooked rice. I also like to sprinkle crushed chunks of nurungji on top, just as I would add crackers before diving in with a spoon.

PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA NURUNGJI SANDWICHES

I love peanut butter and banana sandwiches drizzled in honey. It’s a relatively healthy treat, one I often eat for breakfast.

I wondered if bananas and peanut butter would taste good with nurungji. The answer is yes. However, scorched rice is a bit too hard to eat in a hurry. That’s a problem for me. I’m always running late in the morning.

Nurungji topped with cheese and bell peppers in South Korea.
Nurungji topped with cheese and peppers in South Korea.
This snack is more enjoyable after work, and is a great alternative to peanut butter and banana sandwiches made with bread.

NURUNGJI AND CHEESE

It all started with cheese, so I’ll cut it with cheese. The very first food I combined with nurungji was cheese. Instead of using a cracker, I topped pieces of nurungji with various cheeses, bell peppers, and onion. You can go wild with this one.

Trying making many of the same appetizers and finger foods you’re used to with nurungji instead of crackers.

I actually prefer eating cheese with nurungji as opposed to crackers now. The distinct, burnt flavor pairs well with mild types of cheese. Serving nurungji with cheese looks more fun as well.

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