Before it broke the internet, avocado toast was the one thing my big brother Kevin made for us all the time. This was in the late '90s, before he moved to California and restaurants would, years later, use it as a crutch on their menus like beet salad with goat cheese. His had lemon and red pepper flakes, maybe a little salt.
I remember wanting to update it even then, not because my brother was a terrible cook (he was), but because those sharp tastes weren't what I craved after a hard day at
the office band camp. When you're a latchkey kid left to fend for himself in the summer while the parents are at work, there's something elementally necessary about coming home to foods that don't bite back. For me, what I craved most was something deep and savory, what the Koreans call gosohae.
There's no perfect English word for gosohae. Koreans use it to describe foods that are rich, tasty, lip-smacking. When I called my mother the other day to ask her how she'd translate gosohae, she said, "Sesame oil." And I said, "Mom. I said translate." She paused for a second, then said, "Sesame oil. Eric, I have no idea how to translate that."
What she meant, and what most Koreans mean, I think, when they take a bite of food and roll their eyes back into their heads, or hold their chopsticks close to their mouths, chewing and thinking, nodding with quiet approval ("Mmm, this is gosohae") is that it's nutty.
When an ingredient is as central to a cuisine as sesame oil is to Korean food, then it makes sense that a taste word would eventually manifest to describe it. If the Japanese have foods with umami, then the Koreans have foods that are gosohae. They're low and resonant, and pull you from any semblance of discomposure because they're just that comforting. They're gosohae.
My pantry ingredients growing up consisted of an industrial-sized can of sesame oil (très gosohae) and a tall, rectangular prism–shaped Tupperware of gim, or what we in the Trader Joe's age of culinary cosmopolitanism have coined "roasted seaweed snack" (the thing you slip into your cart last minute at the checkout counter). It's worth mentioning that roasted seaweed snack is nori that's been brushed with sesame oil before toasted, giving it that deep, nutty savor.
I remember coming home from band camp to an empty house, and the way an avocado half would make me full; even fuller when I'd smash roasted seaweed snack, sesame oil, and salt into it with a fork. Flecked onto a slice of white plastic bread, it was the most delicious way to satisfy those after-school hunger pangs.
Winner, Winner, Avocado Dinner
Everyone likes to wax nostalgic about a time when the sky was bluer, the air was clearer, and there was no crime at all, none whatsoever.
Believe it or not, there was a time before avocado toast. But it's unclear how far back one would have to go. Mari Uyehara, in her report for Taste, suggests that people have been eating some semblance of it as far back as the 1500s, when Spanish settlers brought bread to Mexico. John Birdsall, mining the archives for Bon Appétit, found a 1920 recipe for "Avocado on Toast" that said to: "Remove the skin and mash with a fork. Spread thickly on a small square of hot toast. Add a little salt and pepper."
My own "small square of hot toast" comes close. It doesn't have any acid either (very important when you're in the realm of gosohae), neither lemon juice nor the lime juice that Bill Granger's first avo toast had back in 1993 and many others' would, as well, in the years following.
Maybe my nori avocado toast is just another avocado toast. But let me tell you, growing up, it moved mountains. It was filling and nutritious, and fed me when I needed it most.
Even now, as a platonically challenged hermit who never gets asked to dinner, I eat this at least three or four times a week, not least because I always have avocados, roasted seaweed snack, sesame oil, and good chewy sourdough bread on hand. And because it takes five minutes to make.
This recipe is a four-ingredient pantry staple in our household (of 1.5). It's proof that "pantry" doesn’t have to mean a sad, oily pasta or a half-empty can of chickpeas sitting in the back of your fridge. The trick is to fill your kitchen with powerhouse ingredients like nori and sesame oil that can transmogrify bland, ordinary foodstuffs with a flick of the wrist. And if you can restrain yourself from noshing on that pack of roasted seaweed snack, then you're already halfway there.
- 2 slices sourdough bread, toasted
- 1 ripe avocado
- 1 pack roasted seaweed snack, crushed by hand
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Black sesame seeds, for garnish, very optional
How do you take your avocado toast? Tell us in the comments below.