Rachel Yang, the James Beard Award-nominated chef behind Seattle's Joule, Revel, and Trove restaurants, and Portland, Oregon's Revelry, is a force. Her food— undeniably Korean at its roots, unabashedly creative in practice — combines noodles, dumplings, barbecue, and hot pots with flavors from all over the globe. But after cooking with her week after week during the process of writing her cookbook, My Rice Bowl: Korean Cooking Outside the Lines, I've learned her food is always one thing: Even though it's restaurant food, it's always comforting.
I suppose that's why I can't stay away. Normally, when I co-author a cookbook with a chef, there's a bit of a cooling-off period afterward, when I need a little break from the food — a few weeks without fish after a fish-grilling book, say, or a month or two without a donut after a donut cookbook. If there's a reason I haven't needed a breakup with Rachel's food, it's because of that comfort factor. Her food is infinitely craveable. But now, everyone asks me the same question: Isn't it hard to cook such complicated recipes every day?
Truth: Some of the recipes are extensive. No one with a day job should decide to make homemade beef curry dumplings or poach an octopus on a Wednesday night and still expect to eat at 6 p.m. As I was testing recipes, though, I found that a lot of the restaurants' recipes are easy without any adaptations (case in point: make a spicy, savory dipping sauce by stirring together 1 cup Korean bean paste, 1/2 cup Korean chili paste, 2 tablespoons of water, and a tablespoon of sesame oil). My refrigerator's shelves are now constantly stocked with new favorites like Rachel's salty shrimp vinaigrette, a killer miso-cumin sauce she uses on grilled eggplant, and, yes, homemade kimchi.
And while we're not a family that relies on a weekly or monthly dinner plan rotation, I've noticed that now, when I crave deeply flavorful Korean-ish food on a weeknight, I turn to Rachel's recipes — often with my own hacks that make them a little less time-intensive. If you told the pre-My Rice Bowl me that turning out Korean-inspired restaurant recipes on a weeknight is totally doable, I might have flinched. Now, I do it two or three nights a week.
Take the Korean pancake. At Revel, Rachel and Seif have had a classic pork belly- and kimchi-studded version on the menu since they opened seven years ago. Warm from the pan with that mix of spice and crunch, Korean pancakes qualify unequivocally as comfort food. They seem mystifying if you haven't made them, but listen up: They're almost as easy as making regular pancakes from scratch. And like pasta, once you learn the basics, they become a quick go-to when there's nothing else in the fridge.
I also grill a ton at home, in all seasons. (Dear Seattle, I love you.) Since Korean barbecue typically entails meats sliced super thin, it's both faster to marinate and quicker to cook — meaning that super-flavorful grilled meat isn't something you have to save for when you have time to fire up the Egg.
Of course, there are things I never had in my kitchen before. Rachel's sweet and spicy all-purpose sauce is just that — sweet and spicy from Korean gochujang, Korean chili paste, and ready to be thrown into anything (think stir-fries and soups, especially). It's what makes the rice cake and chorizo dish at Joule so popular — and it's why I've hacked those rice cakes, buying pre-made chorizo instead of making my own and keeping a bag of store-bought fermented mustard greens around whenever I can, so I can pretend I'm eating at Joule any night of the week.
Sometimes writing a cookbook feels like writing two books at once — the book that goes out into the world, which I use exactly as is when I have the time, plus the book I use at home when I'm crunched, with ingredients on hand in the kitchen, with whatever time I happen to have that night. That's why the book's called My Rice Bowl, actually — because ultimately, isn't that constant adaptation what makes dinner taste so great?