Top Ten Essentials of a Korean Kitchen

Most Korean dishes use the same couple of ingredients. As long as you have the basic ingredients on hand, you'll be able to make a variety of Korean dishes. Here are some of the ingredients that I make sure I always have in my pantry or refrigerator. Besides the basic staple of sugar, salt, and black pepper, you'll never find my kitchen without:
 
1. Red pepper paste and powder
Red pepper paste (gochujang, 고추장) is Korea's ketchup Sriracha. It can be used to make sauces, stews, and other fiery dishes. It's also used as a binding agent for bibimbap. Red pepper powder (gochugaru, 고추가루) is used to make kimchi. If you had to pick one thing to get at the Korean grocery store, this would be top priority, numero uno.Red Pepper PowderFun fact: If you're watching the Korean show "Reply 1994" (응답하라 1994), then you'll know that the Korean county of Sunchang is known for its red pepper paste.
 
2. Korean soybean paste
The Korean soybean paste (doenjang, 된장) packs a powerful salty kick to the taste buds. If you haven't noticed by now, Korean cuisine isn't known for subtlety. The soybean paste is used instead of or in addition to salt. It's often used to make doenjang jjigae, which is a popular and simple stew. Traditionally, soybean paste and its neighbor, red pepper paste, were stored in large jars. Nowadays, you'll find the plastic container of soybean paste next to the red pepper paste in the refrigerator.
 
3. Soy sauce
Soy sauce (ganjang, 간장) is the liquid byproduct of making soybean paste. It's not unique to Korea, but it's an important ingredient that any proper Korean cook will have in his or her kitchen. I always have a 1 gallon in my pantry.TIP: Get naturally brewed soy sauce. Make sure it doesn't have food coloring, which non-brewed soy sauces contain.Korean Soy Bean Paste
 

4. Sesame seeds and Sesame oil
Sesame oil (Cham gereum, 참기름) is Korea's answer to EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil). Mix it with salt and pepper and you have dipping sauce for grilled pork. You can drizzle some on your bibimbap for some nutty and savory flavor. I also use some when making kimchi fried rice. Sesame seeds (참깨 or Sesame Salt, 깨소금) are used to garnish dishes. I usually buy sesame seeds and roast them myself at home.

5. Seaweed and Kelp
It's dried, so it keeps well in the pantry. You can use the thicker sheets of kelp for making stock. And you always need seaweed on hand for making seaweed soup on birthdays. There are other forms of seaweed, such as laver (kim, 김) and kimjaban (김자반 or doljaban, 돌자반).

6. Garlic
Garlic (mahneul, 마늘) is in everything! Kimchee, stews, marinades, etc. I eat it raw. I eat it cooked with my KBBQ (Korean Barbeque). Vampires cannot come near a 5 mile radius of the Korean peninsula or Korean home.

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7. Ginger
Ginger (saenggang, 생강) is often paired with pork dishes. I recommend mincing the ginger, freezing them in ice cube trays, and then keeping them frozen in a container. Since ginger has a very powerful flavor, you'll probably never use a whole ginger in one dish, so it's convenient to have frozen minced ginger in the freezer.

8. Green onions
Green onions (Pa, 파) are used for garnishing dishes. You can also make different varieties of kimchi with green onions. They're also the main ingredient in green onion pancakes (pajeon, 파전). I keep chopped up green onions in my freezer, so I can add it to stews and other hot dishes.

9. Medium-grain rice (e.g. Calrose rice)
Rice (Ssal, 쌀 or Bap, 밥) is a staple in any Korean household. Unlike Chinese fried rice, Koreans like to use the stickier medium-grain rice when making fried rice, since that's most likely what they have on hand.

10. Kimchi
I could not end my top ten list without mentioning the Korean cuisine ambassador, Kimchi. Not only is kimchi consumed as a side dish, but it's used in a variety of dishes. You can have them in pancakes, fried rice, stews, and whatever you can cook up.

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