Seoul Food Ssammiches

Behold, the Seoul Food Ssammich!

Family and Friend Inspiration.  My dear, High Powered Executive Friend, suggested Lettuce Wraps and Kimchi for Dinner Roulette.  This healthy, flavortastic wrap is such a great suggestion for dinner, but I’d be lying if I told you the recipe’s punability didn’t have anything to do with me picking it for the first post.

Jump To Recipe– there’s a way to jump to the text of the recipe without pictures and other distractions, I just don’t know how to do that yet. Coming Soon!

  • Course Lunch, Appetizer, Dinner
  • Cuisine Korean, Southeast Asian
  • Keyword asian, meatballs, healthy, flavortastic (which is not really a word, let alone a keyword)
  • Prep Time: Not Too Long unless you’re slow
  • Cook Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Servings 4

This recipe is best if you give the pickles and meat some time to soak in all the fun flavors, so if you have the time, mix everything up in the morning and keep it on stand by in the fridge until you’re ready for dinner later that day.  


Quick Pickled Asian Veggies:

  • 1/2 cup carrot, julienned- a carrot or two
  • 1/2 cup daikon, julienned- a small daikon or you can substitute a cucumber if you don’t know or care what daikon is. Also, I forgot daikon at the store, so I used a cucumber and standard issue supermarket radishes.
  • 1/4 cup or more of rice vinegar, depending on how tart you like it
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • a bit of red pepper flakes, Gochugaru, Gochujang, spices or herbs to taste- optional, but this is where you make it your own.
Oops! There’s some lemongrass in this shot that shouldn’t be there. 5 Bonus Points if you can find it!

Special Spicy Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup Mayo, or better yet, Ranch Dressing, even Light Ranch will work!
  • 1-2 teaspoons, at least, of Sriracha- add, stir and taste, bit by bit, until you are happy and remember how much you added for next time. Honestly, you should be using Gochujang or Gochugaru, but more on that later.
  • juice from 1/4 of a lime, if you have any leftover from your gin and tonics

Thinking I shouldn’t have used a glass bowl here- can you even see it?

Ssammich Filling:

  • 1 pound of ground meat (turkey, chicken, pork, etc.) 
  • 2-3 scallion, minced
  • a handful of cilantro, or to taste, minced.  I know there are strong feelings on cilantro out there- dearest Mother-In-Law hates it, so I made her a portion of meatballs without it.  Yes, I am a great son-in-law!
  • 1″ ginger, piece minced or grated on Microplane
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated on Microplane
  • 1-2 lemongrass bulbs, smashed and finely minced (optional because this is more Vietnamese than Korean, but I like it)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, or too taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, or too taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1 head Butter, Bibb or your Favorite Lettuce
  • 1 jalapeño, thinly, and I mean thinly, sliced for garnish
I set this up outside to see if it was worth the effort for better lighting- it wasn’t!


– tell Alexa to play Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” while you make this!

1. Quick Pickled Southeast Asian Veggies. Massage 1/2 cup of julienned carrots, 1/2 cup of julienned daikon, 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, pinch or so of kosher salt and your mystery spice/herb, etc in a small bowl.   Toss every once in a while, as you have time or spoon it into a ziplock sandwich bag, push out the air and set aside until ready.  Keep these in the fridge- they’ll last at least a few days if you have leftovers.

Ohhh- this is not a bad looking picture, you probably shouldn’t get used to it.

2. Spicy Southeast Asian Special Sauce. Mix 1/2 cup of mayo or Ranch, at least 1-2 teaspoons of Sriricha- add a bit, taste, stir and add some more until you are happy- and the juice from 1/4 of a lime in an even smaller bowl. 

3. The Filling. Mix together: 1 pound of ground meat (turkey, chicken, pork, etc.), 2-3 minced scallions, a handful of minced cilantro, or to taste, 1” piece of minced/grated, ginger, 2 minced/grated garlic cloves, 1-2 smashed and finely minced lemongrass bulbs, 1 tablespoon fish sauce,  1-2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, or to taste in the biggest bowl. If you’re an overachiever and want to check the seasoning of your meat mix , fry up a small bit of it, see how it tastes and adjust the season accordingly.

Two in a row!

4. Cook It. Coat you cooking vessel with 1-2 tablespoons of canola oil, and you can sauté your meat mix, like a hash; bake or fry it as meatballs; or press it into a thin meatloaf in a baking/loaf pan, cutting it into meat sticks after it cools down.  Whichever way you roll, make sure you cook the meat until the center mass is 165 degrees. If you fry, start with medium high heat and adjust as needed.  If you’re baking, 350 degrees is a good place to start, for about 15-20 minutes, and raise the temp to 425 for the last 5 minutes to get some tasty browning on your meat.  You’ll need to cook it a bit longer if it’s been in the fridge.

5. Making the SSammich. Place your meat form of choice on the lettuce of your choice (if you haven’t realized it yet, I am Pro Choice!) and garnish with pickles, jalapeños and sauce- make it look good! 

Not that you could tell, but from left to right- Meatstick, Meatball and Meat Hash.


The Dad Joke.  Most Dad Jokes are painfully obvious, but this may not completely be that case with these Seoul Food Ssammiches.   Certainly, Seoul Food refers to Seoul, South Korea and the Korean flavors in the recipe, but the Ssammich reference is a bit more complex, assuming Dad Jokes can even be complex.  It is not a typo of sammich, the beloved slang for a sandwich, but a play on ssam, the Korean word for wrap.   Now, aren’t you glad you read this?  On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed sammiches, ever since I learned about them back in the day from my best friend, who worked for the power company.  He was my Urban Dictionary before there ever was an Urban Dictionary.  He told me who Bebe’s kids were and why they don’t die; what the Hawk was doing out at night; and just how hot fish grease could get.  So when he started calling the sandwiches he packed for work, “sammiches” I was hooked.  

The Essence of The Lettuce Wrap. Lettuce, Protein, Pickled Veg and Sauce. Lettuce wraps have been around for centuries in Asia, long before the low carb craze hit the US shores, just before the turn of the century, so you know they have some staying power. Not only that, look how much better the Seoul Food Ssammich look compared to your everyday sammich- 

Best of all, you can pretty much stuff them with whatever you have- leftover steak, pork tenderloin, grilled chicken, baby back ribs (I’d take out the rib first)- and once you top them with the pickles and sauce you are transformed!  Now, what about the lettuce.  I used Butter Lettuce for this post and, if lettuce can be sexy, then Butter Lettuce is just that!  It’s soft, supple and caresses your taste buds with each bite. Its leaves can be on the smaller side, but if you overlap a few of the small ones, like a flower, you’ll get a good sized wrap.  Bibb, Romaine and even Iceberg (the only lettuce I knew existed into my 20s) will all work. 

Special Equipment. The term “julienne” is one that’s always challenged me, both from an execution standpoint (my worst knife cut was julienning carrots as a prep cook), as well as a spelling one- I’ve had to use spell check each time I’ve attempted to spell it in this post. Fortunately, there is such a thing as a julienne peeler. You can also cheap out with your standard vegetable peeler and stack the peels to cut into thinner strips or you can go Michelin Star and use a chef’s knife or mandolin slicer. Oxo brand, is usually a safe and quality bet for most kitchen gadgets, and it makes a julienne peeler that should work well for you. I found one at Bed Bath and Beyond for $7.99. BTW- this is well worth the investment because colorful strips of food make your dish look amazing! Some people will even think it tastes better if it looks good- how shallow!

Ingredients of Note.   Daikon. Crisp is the first thing I think of with this Asian Radish, that has more of a tingle than a bite. It’s not much for looks- a bit like an albino carrot on steroids- but it’s what’s inside that counts- right girls?. It’s commonly used as a pickle in Asian dishes. Turns out I forgot this when I was shopping, so sorry to get your hopes up.  Rice Vinegar. A mild vinegar- therefore, a great starter vinegar for pickles. Experiment with other vinegars as you like. Fish Sauce. This is beyond funky- there are small, smelly dried fish involved here! As funky as it is, once it’s properly incorporated into a recipe it provides an unparalleled taste of umami (Dad Joke Warning! Umami so fat, that when she cuts her finger… gravy comes out!  Oh no he didn’t!). Lemongrass. This looks like a rough and tumble scallion that offers a pleasant note of lemon without the bitterness. It’s very fibrous so you use only the light colored bulb end- peeling off the outer layers to get to the pale greenish yellow layers before smashing and chopping it up finely. You’ll be throwing most of this away, like an artichoke, so get over it!  Sriracha. Sriracha used to be noteworthy but now it’s not- sorry Sriracha. Still, I have it in the recipe because this sauce is a bit of an addiction in our house. To be more authentic in your cultural appropriation, you should really use Gochujang (Korean Chili Paste) or Gochugaru (Korean Chili Flakes)

Quick Pickled Veggies vs Kimchi. Quick pickled anything (cucumbers, carrots, beets, etc.) is such a good recipe to have in your back pocket to brighten up any dish- it’s basically thinly sliced veggies, or dare I say fruit, of any kind, doused in a vinegar of your choice. You can add some spices, if you’re feeling spicy, and some water and/or sugar if you want to tone down the sour.  The salty-sour brine is typically boiled and poured over the veggies to speed up the pickling process, but the veggies in this recipe are sliced so thinly you don’t have to worry about that- plus the veggies stay crisper without the heat.  I would suggest “massaging” the salt and any spice/herb into the veggie strips, and then massaging everything again once you’ve added the vinegar.  Kimchi, on the other hand, is traditionally fermented (which takes time and offers up a funkalicious flavor in return), but it’s anything but quick. Of course, you could make kimchi and eat it without waiting for the microbes to funkify it, but you won’t find a recipe for that here at this point. You could also swap out the quick pickles in this recipe with some kimchi from a food store or restaurant if you were so inclined.  Not A Pro Tip. You do realize that you can save the leftover pickle juice from your favorite jar of pickles and use this to brine veggies? I usually have an arsenal of leftover pickle juice in my fridge and have almost come to blows when they’ve been mistakenly thrown out in the interest of a cleaner refrigerator- dill pickle, pickled jalapeños, banana peppers, kimchi, the list goes on. Not to mention, using it in Picklebacks, Vinaigrettes, Coleslaw, Potato Salad, Baked Beans, BBQ Sauce, the list goes on…..

My Pickle Juice Arsenal- some I put in fancy Mason Jars so they look homemade and not from a jar.- you can’t trust anyone these days!

Special Spicy Sauce. When I was a kid, the most intriguing part of the Big Mac was the “special sauce”. So I figured I could take a page from this savvy corporate marketing technique that made something like 1000 Island Dressing sound so cool and use it to my benefit.  This mayo or Ranch, hot sauce combo is such a big pay off for so little work and endlessly versatile, working with pretty much any hot sauce you like.  It’s so good, I’ve always used Light Ranch without missing a beat.  I will admit, I got a little cheffy with the sauce for the recipe and put it in a squeeze bottle, because darn it, squeeze bottles are fun!

The Filling. I went with rather lean turkey, shaped into meatballs for this post because I made a Vietnamese Meatball Lettuce Cup appetizer for a party that my wife liked so much, she actually beat me to the Fridge the next morning to eat the leftovers for breakfast- just another reason why I married her! It’s certainly easier to make a “hash” of ground meat or beans and scoop it on the lettuce, but whenever I’ve done that, much of the hash falls onto the floor where it has no chance with 3 dogs hovering and hoovering about. It’s a nicer presentation as well.  I also stumbled upon an amazing discovery- not on the level of penicillin, but still pretty cool.  I decided to add a bit of brown sugar for the recipe to balance out the fish sauce and because Korean meat often has an added sweet element.  What this appeared to do, in addition to balancing the fish sauce, was to boost the bownabilty/flavor of the lean turkey, which rarely occurs when one cooks lean turkey. 

Cooking Your Meat.  Just to make sure you got your money’s worth, I cooked the ground turkey three different ways- in a cast iron skillet (the easiest), baked as meatballs (the most aesthetically pleasing) and in a loaf pan (I don’t think I’d do it again).  Before we go any farther, do me and yourself a favor and get a good instant read thermometer, like a Thermapen, which is expensive, but you’re worth it!  On the other hand, if you don’t think you’re worth it, here’s a less expensive alternative from ThermoWorks.  Cooking, at its essence, is not over cooking your meat so that you disappoint everyone or undercooking it so that you hospitalize everyone.  If it were up to me, I wouldn’t even put cooking times in recipes, but that would probably drive you people crazy.  You see, there are so many factors that affect cooking times- was the food cold or laying around on the counter beforehand, the thickness of the food, whether or not you have a crap oven, and so on- it’s impossible to account for all these variables.  What really matters for good and safe cooking is the temperature in the middle of your food. 

The Three A-Meat-gos! Now that’s a Dad Joke! I can hear the groans through my browser.

Old School. If you’re interested in even more knowledge from more informed sources, here are some cookbooks I looked at for this recipe: Koreatown by Hong and Rodbard (2016), Momofuku by Chang and Meehan (2009), Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen (2006), Essentials of Asian Cuisine by Corinne Trang (2003) and Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Alford and Duguid (2000).

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