Updated: Nov 10, 2022
I have long had the fear that I will end up in a dystopian world of the near future in which I will be forced to eat bugs. This fear is not triggered by climate change, but disturbing frequency (every year or so) of articles in the food and dining section of the New York Times touting bug-eating as the last frontier of cuisine, profiling edgy hipsters toasting crickets or stewing grubs. The fear really takes hold whenever interest in bug-eating synchronizes among food editors, and bug stories appear simultaneously in the Times, the New Yorker, and maybe a food magazine, in the same month. Do they know something that I don't know?
Maangchi is a Korean food personality- she has published many cookbooks and has a YouTube channel that is wildly popular. A Korean co-worker who is an enthusiastic home cook recommended her website and recipes to me. I love Korean food, and because the food known in this country is always heavy on the meat dishes, I have always wanted to explore vegetarian side of this fantastic cuisine (pan chan is my favorite thing in Korean restaurants).
There is a Korean dish called heukimja juk which is a toasted black sesame porridge that I have long been curious about since the words toasted black sesame sound delicious together. There are many tastes I have not acquired, like English Marmite (machine grease) or Japanese natto (toe jam), so I reserve judgment on the dish itself, and I would be still game to try it if a Korean chef made it for me. But I am here to warn you that Maanghi's recipe for heukimja juk is one of the worst things I have ever tasted, worse than the mouthful of riding ring dirt I ate after falling off a horse just the other day.
Here is the recipe for the masochists among you.
Mistake #1 is buying an exotic ingredient that will be mostly likely used solely for this one dish. This is probably the reason why I don't have black sesame seeds in my cupboard, other than the fact that once they are introduced in any recipe they resemble rodent droppings.
I measured out black sesame seeds into a pan for toasting (sometimes called "dry frying"). They started jumping around, so I covered the pan as instructed, but then could not really see how they were cooking, or move them around in the pan, which was a problem. I managed not to burn them, and moved onto the next step.
The first thing that should have tipped me off was being asked to "blend" the toasted seeds and water. How do the rodent pellet-like seeds "blend" with water? Do I grind the seeds to a powder? Who knows. If Maangchi knows, she's not telling.
I decided to run the seeds through a grinder, and, after much struggle, got the mixture to a dark grey, gritty consistency, kind of like what's on the bottom of a mop bucket after cleaning the floor of the entrance to your house some time around late February. It still held the nice toasted smell, though.
The next step was to add sweet rice flour to the mixture. That's it. That's the pudding.
The end result was a tepid slate-gray goo that tasted like something you would find in your charcoal barbecue if you left the lid open and it rained in the night. Going beyond the overpowering flavor of charcoal, all I can say is that when I put salt in it, it tasted salty. When I put sugar in it, it tasted sweet.
Maangchi's recipe for heukimja juk is what we will eat when we are out of bugs, and then run through remaining stockpiles of Soylent Green.
We ordered in for pizza.