Seoul Taco David Choi

Chef-owner David Choi.

While doing their part to maintain social distance, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs and business owners for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome meals using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, snacks and more.

David Choi is the chef-owner of fast-casual Korean-Mexican eatery Seoul Taco. Seoul Taco’s three St. Louis area locations in the Delmar Loop, Chesterfield and The Grove are currently offering pickup and delivery via online ordering. Visit the Seoul Taco website for details and the full menu which includes entrees, family meal kits, a selection of grocery staples and more.

What are some unique essential ingredients in your home kitchen that you always like to keep on hand? Do you have a secret weapon spice or ingredient? I like to eat spicy foods, so I make sure to have ingredients on hand that can bring the heat and add depth and flavor to recipes. Gochugaru (red pepper flakes) and gochujang (red pepper paste) are two of my essentials. I also like anything that I can quickly pickle like radish and cabbage to make kimchi. Soybean sprouts make an easy side dish. I like to keep ingredients on hand that easily pair with rice and soups.

What are some lesser-known Korean pantry staples that home cooks can use to take their cooking to the next level? I like cooking with perilla leaves. It is a common Korean ingredient — it’s technically part of the mint family but it has more of nutty, woodsy flavor. Korean radish is another produce ingredient I use a lot. It is bigger than conventional radishes, kind of like daikon. Doenjang is a soybean paste that is a great base for soups and sauces. From that, you can make doenjang-jjigae (soybean stew) with meat or fish and whatever veggies you have on hand.

What is a convenient, comforting meal you like to make at home? Tteokbokki or spicy rice cakes. It’s very easy to make — you boil down the rice cakes and top it with a spicy sauce made from gochugaru and gochujang. It is a common street food dish you would find in Korea at an outdoor market or food stall. You grab a few plates of things, some soju and you sit down and cobble together a meal.

Can you share a recipe for a snack or meal idea that incorporates some of the ideas you’ve discussed?

Kimchi Jjigae

Serves | 2-4 people |

  • 8 oz pork belly, cut into cubes
  • 2 cups kimchi*
  • 1/2-1 cup kimchi juice from the kimchi jar
  • 8 oz tofu, cubed
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-3 green onions
  • gochugaru to taste (optional, for heat)
  • 1 Tbsp gochujang (optional, for heat)

| Preparation | Place pork belly in a medium-sized pot to cook down. Add kimchi and sauté on high heat. Once pork and kimchi are seared for one to two minutes, lower heat to medium to medium high and add tofu, kimchi juice and water. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes. (This is where you can add gochugaru and gochujang for a little more heat.) Stir the pot and cook covered over medium heat for another 10 minutes. Add green onions and serve with a side of white rice and an ice cold beer or soju. Enjoy!

*Note: You can use store-bought. I prefer kimchi that has been fermenting for at least two weeks for it to have the sour acidic taste to it.