As a child, I had a deep distaste for meat. Adults in my family used to sneak meat into one of my favorite things in the whole-wide world—Ssam: it literally means “to wrap” in Korean.
Traditionally, it is filled with BBQ meat, slivers of thinly sliced raw garlic, a bias cut or two of fresh, green hot chili pepper and spiced scallions (dress it in sesame oil and a hot chili pepper powder known as gochugaru with a dash of fish sauce, it’s both additive and heavenly). Depending on the season, a pungent, fragrant shiso leaf or two makes an excellent playmate. Take a piece of lettuce that’s the size of a child’s hand, stuff and pile on these components, and top it off with a dollop of garlicky-spiced miso paste.
In the old days, I’d pick the Ssam up with my hands and munch away with happiness. Of course, my favorite thing to do then was to add rice and take out the meat, but even I couldn’t resist the charm and brilliance of the perfect bite—it’s a party of flavors in your mouth.
As an adult, meat and I became friends. Sometimes, when my veggie bins are overflowing with its abundance and during those nights I simply can’t be bothered preparing a salad for appetizer along with an entrée for dinner, I combine them both—and make some Ssam.
Obviously, the stars of this wrap party are the seasonal vegetables and I use more elaborate choices than the traditional Korean approach. A mélange of vegetables with lovingly sliced and diced herbs are arranged in neat, colorful rows. Stuff everything in a lettuce; wrap it up like a beggar’s purse.
Ssam is vegetarian-friendly, although I’ve prepared it with rotisserie chicken, baked tofu, as well as a BBQ broiled loin of Tuna. Then, there is that simple, no-fail crowd pleaser—the trusted steamed rice. Also, this is a slick way to resurrect your leftovers, just arrange them prettily and spike up the seasoning. It’s whimsically fun to eat with your hands once in a while.
At this moment, I’m hopelessly holding onto this last slice of summer and feeling a bit of separation anxiety. For those of us on the East coast, farmers’ markets in the winter are colored in sepia tones. As we have about a month left of colorful vegetables, my husband and I will consume as much as we can before I’m forced to bid my beloved summer a sorrowful good-bye.
To pursue my perfect bite of Ssam, I try to use only seasonal vegetables, but whenever the craving hits? Improvise.
****This list displays my personal favorites, you can edit as your palate desires*****
Lettuce (Buttercup Lettuce is my favorite)
Hot Green Chili Peppers