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Korean Banchan: Spicy Sesame Bean Sprouts

July 9, 2012

I just got back from the scorching hot Midwest, where I made sure to eat Korean food once in Chicago and once in Madison.*

Can you believe there is no Korean restaurant in Santa Barbara even though this is Southern California?! (My friends and family can believe it by now; I complain about it ALL the time.)

Since moving here (and since becoming obsessed with the spicy awesomeness that is Korean cuisine) I’ve gradually been expanding my repertoire of Korean food I can make at home. But the best part about eating out at Korean restaurants is banchan! A.k.a. side dishes.

Banchan at a restaurant in Berkeley, CA (although usually 4-8 side dishes is more typical).

The little dishes arrive in time to appetize and stay right through the end of the meal as a mid-feast palate-cleansing snack. And any Korean restaurant worth its kochukaru will give you free banchan refills.

The classic banchan side is, of course, kimchi. (Specifically baechu kimchi, made with cabbage.) Kimchi isn’t limited to wide slabs of fermented cabbage; there’s also oi gimchi (made with cucumbers), kkaennip kimchi (made with sesame leaves), and my favorite, kkakdugi (spicy cubed daikon radish).

Banchan can be as varied as broiled seasoned eggplant, satuéed zucchini, spicy stir-fried dried squid, sweet syrupy potatoes, lightly pickled shreds of daikon radish, simmered spicy fish cakes (eomuk jorim), parboiled spinach with sesame, steamed egg with scallions, mini whole grilled fish, sweet potato noodles with beef and vegetables (japchae), squid and scallion pancake (haemul pajeon), and…

…the star of my First Official Banchan Blog Post: kongnamul muchim. Bean sprouts seasoned with sesame oil and garlic.

Kongnamul muchim can be spicy or simply flavored with sesame. I made some of each.

This is a perfect prelude to a series of banchan that I’d eventually like to post on this blog, since it is probably the fastest and easiest to prepare. (And bean sprouts are cheap!)

Kongnamul muchim is so simple to make, you can even find time to mix some up alongside a Korean main dish– you may have noticed some spicy bean sprouts peeking out of the corner of a photo back in my blog post on Kimchi Fried Rice.

You might even feel like you’re dining out at a Korean restaurant.

* If I’m going to eat steaming hot soup and stir-fried goodness in 95° weather, I want it to be SPICY.

Print this recipe.


Korean Spicy Sesame Bean Sprouts
Adapted from the “Seasoned Bean Sprouts” recipe in the cookbook: Korean Favorites, by Yu-kyoung Moon and Jonathan Hopfner.

(Serves 4-6, as a side dish)

~ 1 cup water
~ dash of salt
~ 12-16 oz. bean sprouts
~ 1-3 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 scallion, very finely diced
~ 2 tsp. sesame oil
~ 2 tsp. sesame seeds
~ salt and white pepper, to taste
OPTIONAL: (to make spicy)
~ ½ Tbsp. kochukaru (Korean red chili flakes), or to taste
~ pinch of sugar

How to make it:

1. Rinse the bean sprouts if necessary, then arrange in a metal steamer, or place directly into a pot, with only about ⅔-1 cup of water poured into the bottom of it, and a dash of salt.

2. Cover the pot and cook over high heat for 5-6 minutes. Then immediately drain bean sprouts and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop them from cooking.

3. Mix other ingredients together in a large bowl. Then make sure to pat the bean sprouts dry with a paper towel or dishcloth before adding them to the bowl. Stir well to coat the sprouts in the dressing, and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

4. Allow to cool before serving. Serve as a side dish to a Korean main course. (Best if eaten the same day it’s made.)

Print this recipe!

Related Posts:
> Kimchi Fried Rice (Bokkeumbap)
> Broiled Bulgogi Chicken
> Travel Photos: Bibimbap and Banchan in Korea

27 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2012 9:50 am

    This looks awesome! I am bookmarking right now!

  2. July 9, 2012 10:52 am

    Making this today…thanks…! As a side to sanchu ssam…

  3. Kelly Savage permalink
    July 9, 2012 11:48 am

    I’m going to make this one soon!

    • July 10, 2012 8:58 am

      Awesome! (It’s a rare Korean dish that– without being modified– is already vegan!)

  4. July 9, 2012 1:17 pm

    When eating at our local Korean restaurant, bean sprout banchan is our favourite and we always ask for refills – and it’s always free :) I am for sure going to make this at home now!

    • July 10, 2012 8:59 am

      Wonderful! I’m sure this won’t stop you from eating at your local Korean restaurant (and I’m jealous you have one of those), but it will help you reproduce that experience a little bit at home. :)

  5. July 9, 2012 1:57 pm

    Bean sprouts have never looked more gorgeous my friend, I love it :D
    Absolutely delish!


  6. July 9, 2012 2:56 pm

    Oh man! Thank you for blogging about this! I lived in Korea for 3 years and I miss the food SO much. I drooled the whole time I read.

    • July 10, 2012 9:03 am

      You’re welcome! Where were you living in Korea? I lived there just for a few months (in Seoul), and I agree, the food is SO amazing. Even if I didn’t have friends in Seoul, I’d fly there just to eat!

      • July 10, 2012 3:55 pm

        Lived in Changwon the first year and Seoul the rest of the time. Loved Seoul. So much to see and do and so accessible. I’d go back just for the food too!

      • July 10, 2012 5:02 pm

        I haven’t been to Changwon, only Busan (and Gyeongju, but I guess that’s a little farther away). I loved Seoul, too! I’m jealous you got to live there two years.

  7. July 10, 2012 5:03 pm

    These bean sprouts look super easy and really healthy. I don’t think I ever realized that they were steamed — I just thought they were marinated. Got to love the on-the-house banchan!

    • July 23, 2012 4:46 pm

      Whoa, sorry for the delay in my response to your comment– I just today rescued it from the automated comments spam folder! Sorry about that! Anyway, yes I also thought the bean sprouts were raw and marinated the first time I tried eating this dish. I was surprised that you can steam them and yet they’ll still be crispy and crunchy, but it works! (…for the day you make it… that’s why I included a note to say best if eaten the first day, since after that they will lose their crunch.)

  8. July 11, 2012 11:47 am

    I feel like these would be a good stand-in for pasta for someone who is gluten-intolerant.

    • July 12, 2012 9:36 am

      Yeah, that could work… bean sprouts can be a little watery though… and they don’t hold up to much cooking or they lose their crunch. (But they could definitely work as a substitute in a cold “noodle” dish.)

  9. Nami | Just One Cookbook permalink
    July 15, 2012 2:09 am

    Really? I still can’t believe SB doesn’t have a Korean restaurant. I live in the Bay Area, but my city doesn’t have “good” Korean restaurant either and sometimes we drive like 30 minutes to just go eat Korean food. It’s wonderful that you learned how to cook banchan. I love bean sprout namul – it’s so easy and delicious. Perfect for summer.

    • July 16, 2012 9:31 am

      I know, it’s hard to believe! There is one tiny little Korean market that sells some prepared banchan (Choi’s), a restaurant called New China with Korean owners and several Korean items on the menu (but mostly Chinese and Vietnamese food), and one Korean/Mexican fusion place that I’ve never been to, since it’s located in the UCSB undergraduate party zone… For good Korean food, we have to go all the way to LA (or make it at home!).

  10. September 20, 2012 1:01 pm

    Looks delicious! Which Berkeley restaurant did you visit?

    • September 20, 2012 6:51 pm

      Oh man, I really don’t remember the name of it… (That was about 4 years ago!) I know it was on a less busy section of a somewhat main and restaurant-ful street. I could ask the friends who I was staying with in Berkeley who took me to the restaurant, but they only lived there a year or two (and now they’re back on the east coast) so they might not remember.


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