While hearty, rich dishes are increasingly common as the weather turns brisk, my family’s table always had a spicy banchan (side dish) to complement the meal. Kimchi was a mainstay but, when I was lucky, my grandma would whip up musaengchae, a spicy, sweet, and savory radish strip salad. Whenever the bright red, marinated vegetable dish emerged from the kitchen, I knew the meal—whether we were having frozen pizza or soondubu jjigae (spicy soft tofu stew)—was going to receive an instant upgrade.
Musaengchae, like other Korean side dishes, is often served as a complement to rice and soups. For my family, however, it was less about pairing specific dishes, more about always having a spicy, refreshing side—or several—on hand, no matter what’s for dinner. It was a no-brainer to pull out the marinated perilla leaves to cut through the richness of creamy pasta; and for Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes shared the buffet table with a sizable dish of kimchi.
This is my attempt to recreate my grandma’s superb rendition of musaengchae, which ranks high on the banchan list for me. It’s always seemed to me a mystery of eyeballing and adjusting to taste on her part, a concept I found both freeing and challenging, as a pastry person where precision is king. This may not be my grandma’s banchan, but perhaps that’s the beauty of it—using memory (and a FaceTime call) to guide the development process, and putting the harmony of flavors, as I remember them, to pen and paper, so I can revisit this special dish again and again. —Joy Cho
25 to 30 ounces
Korean radish (mu), peeled (about 1/2 large radish)
gochugaru (Korean red chile pepper flakes)
green onion, finely diced
plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
roasted sesame seeds
3 1/2 teaspoons
gochujang (Korean red chile paste)