sweet potato lentil soup and tea culture

Lentils are hard to come by in South Korea. Unfortunately for me, I normally eat lentils about once or twice a week. However, I was very lucky to have my pal Kaz visit me about a month ago and bring me an ample supply of split red lentils and toothpaste with fluoride (OK, I know fluoride is controversial, but one loosely translated package of Korean toothpaste says, “Using our company’s expertise, we developed a product that keeps twenty (20) healthy teeth until the age of eighty (80).” I need better odds than 20 teeth until 80. Most Caswells live well past 100!!!) So, I have successfully rationed my three bags of lentils and I still have one left. I have been experimenting with tasty dishes, so fear not, Kaz, I am not wasting the lentils on bland dishes!

About a week ago, my friend Min Young brought be a big bag of sweet potatoes from the countryside (yes, I am lucky to have such friends!).  Normally I wait until I get to work to eat; you can’t go wrong with rice, kimchi, sprouts, etc. My schedule last semester, which actually just ended on Friday, was tough, though, because on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I couldn’t eat until after 7. I’ll admit this wasn’t really a problem, it just meant I had to think ahead and remember to eat at home. Luckily for me, I had a half a bag of lentils and tons of sweet potatoes, so I experimented with a nice filling stew.

Here's the actual bag of lentils Kaz brought me..
Here’s the actual bag of lentils Kaz brought me..

Ingredients:

6 large sweet potatoes

2 cups of lentils

1 onion

5 cloves of garlic

shakes of cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper

curry cubes (I’m not sure where you’d find these)

water

All of my cooking includes copious amounts of onions and garlic, so first I sautéed onions, garlic and a bit of ginger in my large soup pot. I also added a bit of pepper, cumin and turmeric. Next I added about 10 cups of water, the sweet potatoes and the lentils. I let the stew boil for about 20-25 minutes then used my immersion blender to puree. It was one of the simplest dishes I’ve made lately, and it successfully kept me filled until dinner time. Overall I’d say it was a good, easy use of both lentils and sweet potatoes.

On another note, yesterday I visited a traditional Korean teahouse. Tea, and coffee houses, are small pleasures I enjoy, and I think I am going to start dedicating more time to exploring tea in Korea. This teahouse was particularly nice, albeit far away. I will admit I would not have been able to find it on my own; it was in a tiny village outside of Gwangju, and the path week took included trekking through a muddy cabbage patch.

First we went to Soswaewon Garden, which was quite lovely. According to wikipedia, Soswaewon was constructed by Yang San-bo in the 1500s. Apparently his mentor had been killed and took it rather seriously, constructing a beautiful garden to exile himself and rid himself of his social position.

I'd live there and write poetry to ease a broken heart too!
I’d live there and write poetry to ease a broken heart too!

 

Next we stumbled upon a loving hut where we were given free food because it was almost closing time. Then we walked and walked to the teahouse.

To be honest, I'm not sure where Min Young got her directions... GoogleMaps doesn't tell me to find the narrowest path through a muddy field. Maybe Korean search engine, Naver, gives those kind of directions!
To be honest, I’m not sure where Min Young got her directions… GoogleMaps doesn’t tell me to find the narrowest path through a muddy field. Maybe Korean search engine, Naver, gives those kind of directions!
 

It was an interesting, but fun path.

Here's me along the way.
Here’s me along the way.

Eventually we ended up back on the main road, and got to the teahouse. It was quite lovely and relaxing.

The view from inside the teahouse
The view from inside the teahouse
Here's everything else: tea pot, tea scooper, cups and saucers, water, rice cakes (both pumpkin and mugwort)
Here’s everything else: tea pot, tea scooper, cups and saucers, water, rice cakes (both pumpkin and mugwort)
 

I definitely think tea should be a ceremony all the time. Normally, I do drink tea out of a tea pot, but since I don’t have one here, I’ve just been using a teabag in a cup. I find it rather wasteful, actually, because two teabags lasts for 4 cups when brewed in a pot.

Min Young waiting for her tea
Min Young waiting patiently for her tea

Next, mugwort, Artemisia argyiis a plant I am going to start incorporating into more of my cooking and teas.

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