korean-spiced sweet potato fries

I think the lack of posting regularity speaks to the fact that I’ve been preoccupied with other things in my life – apologies! I have such a backlog of entries I want to publish but haven’t gotten around to. On a different note, I got an e-mail from a reader who remarked that I eat well for a college student… I’m absolutely flattered, but one of these days I’ll show you what I actually eat on a regular basis; it’ll be a whole post of lazy stir-fries, pasta, and peanut butter sandwiches (sometimes with bananas, sometimes without bread. You heard me correctly).

But honestly, things have in fact been a little crazy on this end; I just finished a 6-week winter session in which I took two courses on topics I’ve been wanting to learn about for a long time (Design & Entrepreneurial Thinking and Web Design) and then traveled to NJ both to visit a friend and to help lead a workshop for Design for America at Princeton. Now spring semester is in high gear, to say the least, and all I’d like is just a little bit of free time to decompress. The most common phrases heard around my department recently go something like:

“Have you made your portfolio yet? How many pieces are in it?”

“I need to update my resume…”

“Do you know where you’re interning this summer?”

I sympathize completely; in fact, I’m writing this post as an outlet because, like everyone else, I’m feelin’ the pressure. Right now it’s like everyone’s on edge, looking at each other’s work and freaking about how much more they have to do before their own resume or portfolio is ready.

But a lesson I’ve learned (and forgotten, and am constantly re-learning) is that my value and my worth aren’t derived from my resume, what I do, or even what I say. As Immanuel Kant would say, my value is inherent in who I am. I think this is something we easily forget when we get caught up in our work and projects; the feeling of inadequacy always kind of finds its way in when we observe the incredible things that others do. But our own work isn’t diminished because of someone else’s; it’s not like awesomeness is finite and someone else is using up a portion that could’ve been yours. What you create, who you are, what you will become – these are all things that have their own intrinsic value. It’s ok to look at and be inspired by the amazing work that others may do, but it shouldn’t negate the value of your own.

I hope what I’m saying is true – I want to believe it is. I was going to write that maybe you should take what I say with a grain of salt, but instead I think you should use it for these sweet potato fries (a tenuous connection, I know). Sesame and sweet potato is my new favorite flavor combination: unexpected, but delicious. And with the kick from the pepper flakes and a little salt, these fries are really quite extraordinary.

Korean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries

1-2 sweet potatoes (I used Hannah sweet potatoes – they look like regular potatoes but are as sweet as yams)
1-2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
pinch of salt to taste (I originally used soy sauce, but I found it a bit too wet)
1 tsp Korean red pepper flakes (as per your spice preferences)
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp black sesame seeds

1. Take your sweet potato(es) of choice and slice ’em into fry shapes (peel the skin off beforehand if you like).

2. Assemble your crew. Mix up everything except for the honey and sesame seeds.

it kind of looks like this.

3. Toss the potato slices with the oil-spice-marinade mixture and splay them out on a sheet (I used a silpat so they wouldn’t stick to my pan)

4. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until desired doneness. Remove and let it cool for a few minutes; drizzle with honey and coat in black sesame seeds.

um, yum.

my favorite fries are the little ones that get extra crispy and crunchy.

A few days ago I had the ‘real thing’ (deep-fried sweet potato fries coated in corn syrup and sesame seeds) and I have to admit that I prefer these – they’re more subtle, and have the sweet-spicy-salty interplay going on. But if you’re not a fan of the spices I’ve chosen, no worries! The flavor combinations are  truly endless; use whatever’s in your pantry, or just straight up salt and pepper. You can’t go wrong!


spicy garlic shrimp

It is slowly dawning on me that only 2 weeks of my summer remain. As amazing a learning experience it has been, I am more than eager to return back to the midwest, where things are admittedly simpler and slower, because at this rate I’m starting to forget what it feels like to take a break and truly relax. In anticipation of this, I noticed I’ve been incorporating bits and pieces of home into my life here in Providence. I turn on NPR, and instantly I am taken back to car rides with my father in the mornings on the way to school; on Saturday afternoons I put on ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!’ not only because I adore Peter Sagal, but also because it reminds me of spontaneous weekend trips out to lunch. I even felt a twinge of homesickness the other day when I heard an old couple speaking Chinese on the bus.

Food always has that component of nostalgia (remember Anton Ego in Ratatouille?). Take this garlic shrimp, for instance. One of my mother’s frequent meals at home is a plate of large tiger prawns, sauteed in fragrant garlic, ginger, and a bit of soy sauce. When I went to Whole Foods I had no intention of making this dish at all, but the friendly Whole Foods fish guy convinced me to try out these crustaceans. As I was contemplating the unexpected purchase, I thought I’d try to recreate her recipe, but then I decided I’d include a bit of a twist inspired by my own experiences. I decided to add a spoonful of Korean red pepper paste (고추장, or gochujang), a condiment that has become one of my favorites after a trip to Korea last summer. We rarely eat anything spicy at home because my father and brother’s palates can’t tolerate any degree of it, but an expedition last summer to Korea and Southern China has definitely adapted mine (I kept a short travel diary here). Balanced with honey, the flavor combination worked out perfectly.

I’ve never really handled whole shrimp before, but I love a challenge; deveining turned out not to be that bad (just be gentle!). Interestingly enough, my entire life when I would eat prawns at home I would be completely grossed out by my parents eating the portion inside the head, but after making them myself… There’s just something about lovingly and painstakingly preparing and cooking the shrimp (or any food, for that matter) that makes you not want to waste any of it. Plus, I learned how absolutely awesome that portion is: all the flavor is concentrated there! Ultimately, this was precisely what I needed, what I envisioned: flavors of home, with a kick of my own. It was entirely satisfying and delicious.

Spicy Garlic Shrimp
serves 1

1/2 lb (8 oz.) medium-size shrimp (whole)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp Korean red pepper paste (고추장, or gochujang. I love this stuff, though in a pinch I really think any hot sauce will work. Thicken with cornstarch or flour as needed)
rice wine (I used a combination of chicken broth and white wine)
1 tsp soy sauce
2-3 tsp honey
chopped scallions for garnish

1. Wash shrimp and pat dry. Devein, leaving heads on.


2. Turn pan on to medium low, and heat olive oil. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add shrimp to pan and stir to coat.

3. Add soy sauce and red pepper paste to pan and stir.

adding the red pepper paste

3. Once the shrimp are almost fully cooked, deglaze the pan with wine or stock (trust me, you will want to deglaze this pan well. The shrimp essence is wonderful). Add honey to taste, and simmer until done.

4. Plate. Pour sauce on top, sprinkle with green onions, and serve. Eat as messily as you like.