Shigeumchi: Book Bites with Yoon Ha Lee

Book Bites is Cooking the Books‘ more easygoing cousin. Authors talk about their book and share a recipe, all in one tasty bite. 

Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee’s short fiction has appeared in, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and other venues.  His short story collection Conservation of Shadows came out from Prime Books in 2013.  You can find him online at  He lives in Louisiana with his family and an extremely lazy cat, and has not yet been eaten by gators.

Today, Yoon joins Book Bites to talk about Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of Empire #1), out June 14 – available for preorder now!

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I have always liked space opera and military sf, but the food in those genres rarely bears any resemblance to the foods my mother cooked for me when I was growing up.  Which is fine!  I’m Korean-American, but I was born in Houston and I like a good medium-rare steak as much as the next carnivorous Texan.

My space opera’s heroine, Captain Kel Cheris, lives in a cockamamie Asian multicultural dystopia.  (Whew, that’s a mouthful!)  To redeem herself, she teams up with Shuos Jedao, an undead tactician who was preserved for his brilliance despite going crazy and massacring his own soldiers 400 years ago.  As the two work together, however, she starts to wonder what Jedao is up to–and if her regime is really worth being loyal to.

Most of the military work is handled by Cheris’s faction, the Kel, and I was determined that they would zip around in their spaceships serving their soldiers Korean food because *I* like Korean food.  So Cheris eats gimchi on a regular basis.  It’s not ever called by that name, but every mention you see of “Kel spiced cabbage pickles”?  Gimchi.

I considered giving you my family gimchi recipe, but for one thing, I don’t believe in sharing recipes I haven’t tested and I’m not brave enough to try to make gimchi myself.  If you have a good Korean supermarket or Asian grocery near you, you can probably buy pretty good gimchi for yourself.  The other problem is that “recipe” is something of a misnomer for how cooking happens in my mother’s family.  For Korean food, my mother eyeballs everything and never measures, and it comes out tasting delicious.  She thinks I’m a wimp for using measuring implements.  (Unless I am baking; measuring things is allowed for baking.)  And also, let’s be real, not everyone likes gimchi.  So instead I will share something much easier that the Kel probably serve:

Korean-style sauteed spinach, or shigeumchi:

You’ll need:

  • 2 bundles spinach (I use baby spinach because I’m lazy about trimming stems, but feel free to use grown-up spinach if you are less lazy than I am)
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • a few minced garlic cloves
  • salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted crushed sesame seeds

Wash and trim the spinach.  Blanch in boiling water, then plunge into cold water to stop the cooking.  Squeeze out the water.

Heat sesame oil in a skillet.  Stir-fry the garlic for a couple minutes.  Add the spinach, then remove the whole deal from the heat.  Add the salt and sesame seeds, and toss.  Let sit for about ten minutes so the spinach can absorb the flavors.

Visit the whole Book Bites larder… and the Cooking the Books pantry!

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