Namul in Korean refers to a variety of edible vegetable, herb or green - including roots, leaves, stems, seeds, sprouts, petals, and fruits. Every namul has distinct tastes. Some of them can be strong, like herbs. Koreans use namul as the main ingredient for a dish, unlike herbs which are generally used in small amounts and provide flavour. Regardless of the season, you can find a variety of wild greens called san-namul on supermarket shelves and street fruit&veg vendors in Korea. Spring is undoubtedly the best season for growing your own greens or foraging wild greens, and countless types of fresh spring vegetables/greens called bom-namul can be easily found in that season.
Savouring seasonal namul is the best way to enjoy namul's tastes and unique fragrances, but if you can't source fresh seasonal namul, dried namul is an excellent alternative. In fact, dried namul is as popular as fresh namul in the local market. There's also a special day in Korea that eating dried namul is a part of its holiday traditions. On the day of Daeboreum, the first full moon of the year, Koreans eat boreum-namul ("full moon namul") with five-grain rice. Boreum-namul are dried namul harvested from the previous spring, summer, autumn and winter. Our ancestors believed that eating boreum-namul on Daeboreum can help to endure the upcoming hot summer season well. Certainly, it is not scientifically verified, and the blazing and steaming heat from my homeland's summer has never been my friend. Yet, as a matter of fact, herbs dried in the sun for a long time have a variety of nutrients such as fibre, minerals, and vitamins. Though I need to admit that either the mythical origin or their nutritional effects aren't why I am greatly fond of dried namul. They are simply tasty and have unique textures that fresh namul don't have. Those charms are not for everyone. Most dried namul are incredibly fibrous, which cause a peculiar chewy texture, and you will probably need to floss after eating them.
Image: Dried namul
I haven't seen various dried namul at Korean groceries in the UK but was lucky to get just enough varieties for this year's Daeboreum. One of them was dried naengi, which is known as Shepherd's purse in English. It is called Shepherd's purse from the likeness of the seed hath with that kind of leatherarne bag, wherein Speheards carry their food and drink into the field, according to William Coles (1657). It isn't really considered as food here, but naengi is one of the most commonly eaten spring namul in Korea. It is used as a root vegetable in dishes. It's the first to appear at the end of wintertime and can be found until mid-spring. It is rich in protein, vitamins A, C, B1, calcium, and iron. In particular, it is an alkaline food that is rich in calcium and iron compared to other wild vegetables. Once it is dried, Naengi's unmistakable fragrance is less distinctive, and its fine, elegant shape is less recognisable. Yet dried naengi is just as tasty as the fresh one.
Naengi-jeon (naengi pancake)
Dried naengi 30g (You can replace it with fresh naengi)
Dried shitake mushrooms 10g
Dashima (dried kelp) 1 small piece (around 3*3cm)
Finely chopped carrots 3 Tsp
All-purpose flour 45g
Cold water 300ml
a pinch of salt
a pinch of pepper
Soak dried naengi in cold water overnight. If you are using fresh naengi, soak the shoots in water for at least 30 minutes to let the dirt sink down, then rinse with running cold water.
Soak dried shitake mushroom with a piece of dashima in cold water (300ml) for a few hours or preferably overnight. If you are in a hurry, soak them in lukewarm water for 30 minutes or until softened. Soaking time will vary depending on the size and thickness of the mushrooms. This water will be used as a stock. Remove the dashima before mixing the stock in a batter.
Once the mushrooms are ready, squeeze excess water and chop them finely. I prefer to use their stems, but if you don't like mushroom stems' chewy texture, you can remove them.
Squeeze the naengi to eliminate any excess moisture and cut to a size you want.
Mix all ingredients together.
Pre-heat a frying pan until well heated. Put a generous amount of vegetable oil or sesame oil into the pan. Make sure the oil is spread all the way over the pan.
Cook the mix on high heat initially for 20-30 seconds, then reduce the heat to medium to low. Cook and finish with medium/low-temperature setting.
Turn the pancake over when 60-70% of the pancake is cooked.
When both sides are cooked, take it out from the pan and brush sesame oil or perilla oil. Slice it into easy to bite-size. Enjoy!