On the strawberry patch: Comfort food with grandma

Ground Beef Bulkogi makes for an approachable introduction to Korean cuisine

As we crossed the bridge over the tiny creek, I saw memories of sparkling summer sunlight and slipping barefoot on wet stones. We bumped across ruts in the dirt of the country road, heading toward a giant tree so burdened with ivy the vines drip from the branches. Up a hill and around a corner, and we have arrived at my Grandmother’s house for my son’s first visit.

The comfort of familiar sights and sounds put me at ease after a long overnight of travel. The barn behind the swinging metal gate, the giant dog announcing our arrival loud enough for the distant neighbors to hear, one of her cats slips through the flapping pet door in the back of the house to sneak out of sight, and inside, her old grandfather clock sings out to announce the passing of every quarter hour, all day and night. They all invoke memories of childhood visits and the summer before I turned 16, when I lived in my Grandmother’s care.

That summer we went shopping and to movies and to the beach to eat crab and burn our legs in the Oregon sunshine. She used to leave hard candies in our pockets for us to find, and little notes for us in pretty, curled cursive. That was a hard time for me, but her thoughtfulness and care made me feel safe and comfortable, and above all, loved.

Twenty years from that summer, I brought my son here to meet her and fill her home once again with heavy little footsteps and sticky fingerprints. She brought out her heirloom high chair for his place at the table, and we dined with four generations gathered for just a little while.

She asked me to prepare a Korean dinner for her to try one night. I thought a mild and approachable introduction would be best, so ground beef bulkogi and japchae noodles were my offering. This recipe for bulkogi is not quite traditional, but utilizes ingredients that are much easier to find out in farm country. The picture is of my son’s plate — as I cleaned up the remnants of sticky rice and noodles, my stepmom told me I would miss it someday, and I’m glad I got to bring the mess back to my Grandma’s dining room.

Ground Beef Bulkogi


1 pound ground beef

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

½ large yellow or white onion, minced

¼ cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons minced garlic

4 stalks chopped green onion

Black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except the green onions in a large bowl.

Knead with your hands to thoroughly mix.

Allow to marinade for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Cook over medium heat in a large skillet until the beef is cooked and as much of the liquid as possible is cooked off. (The amount of liquid fat that remains after the meat is cooked is dependent upon the fat content of your beef, so the amount of liquid will vary.)

Cook the beef for at least 15 minutes, but you really can’t overdo it, so cook it down as far as you like without burning it.

Strain the remaining liquid before transferring to a serving bowl and topping with green onion and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Serve with sticky rice.