Words and photos by Sonja Swanson and Seoyoung Jang
You may have seen these dark leafy greens with their roots attached at your local market or grocery store. And if you’re already a fan, bravo! Because naengi (냉이, shepherd’s purse) is a delicious spring green that you shouldn’t pass up.
Naengi can be found across several continents, and you may recognize it by the tiny white flowers at the top of a tall stem dotted with small heart-shaped seed pockets (hence the name “shepherd’s purse” in English). But in Korea, naengi is usually harvested before the flowers and seeds develop, when the young radial shoots just begin to creep out of the cold earth. It’s one of the first spring greens (봄나물, bom-namul) to appear, and Koreans like to say that it contains a lot of energy because it has the strength to push through the last traces of winter. Naengi is also harvested in the fall, but the roots are much thicker and the leaves are much tougher then, requiring a little more work to get it onto your table. It’s also a member of the mustard family, and takes on a bit more spice as it gets older.
Bury your nose in a pile of spring naengi, however, and you’ll inhale an unmistakably naengi-like aroma—it’s green and earthy and smells just like spring. When choosing your naengi at the market, look for greens that haven’t wilted or rotted where the leaves meet the roots (you’ll end up trimming most of it away). And keep in mind that bigger roots mean you’ll have to cook them longer.
To clean: Most grocery store naengi is pre-cleaned, but there’s often some grit hiding at the base of the leaves and top of the root. Soak the naengi for about 20–30 minutes ahead of time to make washing easier. If you’re storing your naengi to eat later, don’t wash them now: store in the fridge in an airtight container after wrapping with a paper towel.
Cooking tips: For starters, don’t chop off that root! It’s nutty and delicious, a perfect complement to the leaves. You can use naengi in all sorts of ways: One of the most common is naengi-guk (냉이국), a variation on a basic doenjang soup recipe with fresh naengi thrown in. Blanch your naengi by throwing into boiling water until the roots are just softened, and shock in cold water to keep the color. You can use this blanched naengi all kinds of ways:Throw it into your pasta or on top of a pizza, or try out the recipe below for naengi muchim (냉이 무침), a basic vegetable banchan for a Korean table.
Naengi muchim recipe
There are a couple of making this naengi salad, you can simply interchange the main seasoning between either salt, doenjang (the most common), or a doenjang-gochujang mix if you like a little heat. We’ll go with a little heat this time around!
100g naengi (roughly 2 big handfuls)
1 tsp doenjang
1/2 tsp gochujang
1 tsp minced scallion (daepah)
1 tsp minced garlic
11/2 tsp roasted ground sesame
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ of a red chili, sliced thinly (optional)
- Clean the naengi by either soaking (as described above) or scraping the roots with a paring knife under cold running water
- Blanch until the roots are just softened then shock in cold water
- Squeeze out the moisture and cut the ball of naengi into 3 or 4 sections (the goal is to get bite-sized pieces)
- Put the naengi into a large mixing bowl and add the seasonings all together on one side. Add the red chili slivers if you’d like, for color. Put on a plastic glove and mix the seasonings together first before mixing thoroughly with the greens.
- Adjust the flavor with salt as-needed and serve as a banchan. It’s best eaten right away but you can keep it in the fridge for another day.