LIFE

ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS Dureup
A Precious Spring Green

With its rough, crunchy texture and bitterish taste, dureup can be enjoyed only briefly, like the fleeting spring season itself. Prepared today in many ways in both local and Western styles of cooking, the tender young shoots of the Korean angelica tree convey the scent of the season.

Koreans love their greens. Among OECD countries, the daily per capita consumption of vegetables is highest in Korea for two main culinary reasons: one is kimchi and the other is namul, the generic name for fresh greens. Many of these can be eaten only in spring before the plants harden, or in some cases, even begin to produce poisons as they grow.

Dureup in particular can only be eaten during a very short period in spring, around the time the cherry blossoms bloom. In the southern part of the country, it is harvested in early April; in the central and northern regions, from mid- to late April. As the shoots don’t all emerge at once, they need to be harvested three or four times. These days, dureup is grown in greenhouses so that it can be eaten not only in spring but throughout the year.

Dureup is a delectable spring green harvested only briefly in April. These crunchy, slightly bitter shoots bring the taste of spring itself to the table.

Appealing Texture
Dureup has a bitter taste and a unique fragrance that’s somewhere between wood and grass. However, its distinguishing feature is its texture. Blanched dureup has both a soft and crunchy mouthfeel.

It also lacks the tough texture typical of most spring greens. The little prickles on the surface may feel a bit rough at first, but they easily break like fine string when chewed. Anyone eating this green for the first time may be compelled to keep chewing on it because of its intriguing texture.

And it’s thanks to this texture that the vegetable is eaten in a way similar to raw fish:
blanched dureup is dipped in red pepper paste mixed with a little vinegar, often served with blanched squid. The very different textures of the two ingredients go together unexpectedly well. Squid may also be replaced with slices of boiled and pressed pork.

The dureup side dish featured in “Various New Korean Recipes” (Joseon mussang sinsik yori jebeop) from 1924, Korea’s first cookbook printed in color, is remarkably simple.

“Fresh dureup, blanched and cut diagonally like licorice root added to herbal medicine, sprinkled with salt and crushed sesame seeds and mixed with plenty of sesame oil makes one of the best vegetable dishes, loved by everybody.”

If cooked for a long time, the shoots soften and taste dull and boring. Only when boiled quickly do they retain their flavor and texture. Varieties of young angelica shoots called ddangdureup (aka dokhwal, aralia cordata) and gaedureup (aka eumnamu, castor aralia) are all eaten blanched. The April 30, 1959 edition of the daily Dong-A Ilbo introduced dureup recipes such as young shoots peeled and dipped in red pepper paste and vinegar, or stir-fried with minced beef and various condiments, in addition to the abovementioned method of seasoning with salt, sesame seeds and oil.

While dureup is most commonly eaten with red pepper paste and vinegar, this sauce tends to cover the fragrance of the shoots. When pickled in soy sauce, however, the natural fragrance is enhanced. After washing and draining dry, the shoots are layered in a container, and a boiled mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and water in the proportion of 1:1:1:1.5 is poured over them. This is kept for two or three days at room temperature before eating, and afterwards is stored in the refrigerator. The bitterness is reduced and the woody, herbal aroma grows stronger. Eating these pickled shoots, called dureup jangajji, somehow makes you feel healthy.

Cheon Yong-ho, a dureup grower in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, has patents for dureup jangajji and dureup kimchi. His pickling mixture differs from the usual homemade proportion of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and water, and his dureup jangajji is aged differently, as well. It is ripened in three stages and, when vacuum packaged, can be kept for more than three years in the fridge. Dureup kimchi is generally made in the same way as cabbage kimchi, but with blanched dureup as the main ingredient. The fresh shoots can also be preserved in salt, ready to be eaten as soon as they are removed and rinsed.

Dureup shoots are most commonly eaten blanched. Thick shoots are cut in half lengthwise or a cross-shaped cut is made at the bottom before cooking.

Dureup rice rolls are made by placing blanched shoots on cooked rice that has been mixed with a briefly boiled solution of vinegar, sugar and salt – all rolled up in a strip of dried laver.

The taste of bibimbap, or rice mixed with various greens, is enhanced by adding the unique, strong flavor of blanched dureup.

Eaten in Diverse Ways
In some ways, dureup is a lot like asparagus. Both are shoots that grow in the spring, but they have a different aroma. Though blanched dureup doesn’t have exactly the same texture as blanched asparagus, the two are fairly similar. Dureup briefly boiled in leftover pasta water can be added to pasta with anchovy oil to create a dish that brings Eastern and Western flavors together.

Today, the barbecued beef and dureup skewers of the 1970s have been transformed into skewers of ham or crab meat and asparagus, probably inspired by the similarity between the two vegetables. In Japan, both dureup and asparagus are eaten deep-fried, as tempura.

More recently, the March 17, 2018 edition of the daily JoongAng Ilbo featured a dureup gratin recipe. Blanched dureup mixed with chopped boiled eggs is covered with bechamel sauce and baked. Similarly, modern fine dining restaurants in Seoul often serve spring dureup. Thanks to creative recipes from home and abroad, the local ingredient can delight global palates seeking the scent of the season.

Dureup has a bitter taste and a unique fragrance that’s somewhere between wood and grass. However, its distinguishing feature is its texture. Blanched dureup has both a soft and crunchy mouthfeel.

Underrated Identity
If dureup could speak, what would it say? It probably wouldn’t bother asking why it was cooked in the Italian or French way instead of the Korean way. Rather, it might ask, “Do you know how I would look if I hadn’t been cut up and served on your dining table?”

We often forget that the food we eat was originally a living thing. Though people may consider dureup shoots familiar, few have seen how they can grow to become a tree. The same goes for asparagus, so often eaten as a side with steak. Hardly anyone knows what a fully grown asparagus plant looks like.

Fortunately, even when dureup shoots are cut off and asparagus is harvested, the plants don’t die. The branches are pruned after harvesting, and if a suitable number of branches are left, the plant grows big in the summer. Left alone, the angelica tree that produces dureup shoots will grow three to four meters high.

But that makes it difficult to take care of the trees and harvest their young shoots. By pruning branches, thinning out buds and adjusting the number of stems, farmers can control the height of the tree and increase the yield of fresh shoots in the spring.

Meanwhile, if the temperature in a greenhouse rises too much, the shoots grow too quickly and lose their taste and aroma, so farmers also have to adjust the temperature and humidity day and night.

In grocery stores, consumers only see the shoots, knowing nothing about the tree they came from. So the next time dureup is served at your table, try asking yourself how much you know about it.

Jeong Jae-hoon Pharmacist and Food Writer
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