The other day I scouted some of my early morel spots to see if there might be anything starting to pop, given the ridiculously mild winter we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest. But no, nada. Seems like the fruiting schedule of morels in my area doesn’t vary much more than a week no matter how much snow falls in the mountains, although pickers down in Oregon have been talking about morels coming up two weeks earlier than usual in some of their patches.
Nevertheless, I came away with something nearly as good for my effort: wild watercress. Watercress is one of the first spring greens of the season, and depending where you live, it often has a second act in the fall. No doubt there are patches in Northern California that produce much of winter. As I plucked the tender leafy shoots, I already knew what I’d be making.
I mostly use my Korean clay pot for Soondubu, but after ordering a dish simply called “Beef Stew” at a local lunch joint recently I realized it was time to branch out. Unlike a typical American beef stew that requires hours of slow cooking, the Korean version can be whipped together in minutes if you marinate the meat in advance. And the presentation in the clay pot earns extra points. Like those miniature cast iron skillets you see in restaurants that make such a cool presentation of clams or mussels, clay pots are used for both cooking and serving.
With a little prepping, this bulgogi stew is easy. It’s essential, however, to marinate the beef for at least an hour beforehand (overnight is even better). I’ve used various marinade recipes for bulgogi and kalbi ribs over the years, including Bittman’s simple version. More traditional recipes call for an Asian pear to help sweeten and tenderize the meat, as in this recipe, although other recipes omit the fruit. As it happens, my local butcher sells thin-sliced beef trimmings already marinated.
A typical clay pot bulgogi will have some sort of leafy green vegetable such as spinach stirred in at the end; this one owes its vibrant color to the wild and very nutritious watercress that’s leafing out across much of the country right now.
1/2 pound marinated bulgogi, preferably thin-sliced ribeye (see marinade recipes above)
1/2 small yellow onion, cut into thin slices (add to marinating meat if desired)
1 cup water
1 cup beef stock or dashi
1 handful cellophane sweet potato noodles, about 5 oz
1 green onion, sliced
1 handful fresh wild greens such as watercress, bittercress, dandelions, lambs-quarters
Other optional ingredients: shiitake or enoki mushrooms, sliced carrots, egg
1. Add cellophane noodles to a bowl of warm water and set aside for 20 minutes.
2. Heat clay pot (or conventional pot) over high heat, then add beef and onions and stir-fry a couple minutes until the meat is lightly browned.
3. Add water and stock. If using a clay pot, leave enough room for noodles.
4. Once boiling, stir in pre-softened noodles and cook until tender.
5. When noodles are ready, stir in wild greens and green onion and remove from heat.
Serves 2 with rice.