Mu Ssam Mari — Why Eat It, How To Prepare It
August is National Family Fun month, an opportunity to enjoy some family time preparing together an easy-to-make, healthy snack or side dish called Mu Ssam Mari. This favorite Korean food of mine is a pickled radish wrap or roll, and happens to be a fun way to eat more vegetables, especially for children. The word “Mu” means radish in Korean. “Ssam” means wrapping and “Mari” means roll. Most of the ingredients are vegetables, but some versions of Mu Ssam Mari also include beef or eggs.
As a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner as well as a nutritionist, I prefer a more harmonized vegetarian version containing the five colors and five tastes considered to provide the Yin/Yang balance of Five Elements theory.
In Traditional Chinese medicine, red represents the circulatory system; yellow, the digestive system; white, the respiratory system; black or purple, the reproductive system; and green, the nervous system.
In the Mu Ssam Mari recipe below, the colors are provided by the careful choice of ingredients: red bell pepper (red); carrot (yellow); radish (white); shiitake mushroom (black); pea or radish sprouts, chives, cucumber and avocado (green).
Additionally, in functional nutrition, orange/red foods contain beneficial carotenoids and lutein. Green foods provide potassium, dietary fiber, folate, and vitamins E and C. Purple and black foods provide flavonoids. White foods offer vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus, which promotes digestive health and supports immune function. Many yellow foods (such as fats and oils) have omega 3 fatty acid and omega 6 fatty acid, which are important for proper growth in children, healthy skin, and to help regulate cholesterol.
The five tastes of TCM in the recipe are provided by the combination of ingredients. Pungent or spicy comes from radish and chives, helping to disperse and invigorate circulation. The bitter taste of radish, radish sprouts and cucumber (especially the peel) helps dry dampness and clear heat, so it reduces water retention and edema. The salty taste comes from salt and soy sauce, which help with softening hardness and moistening the intestines. A sweet taste comes from mushroom, pea sprout, carrot, bell pepper and avocado, all of them nourishing and calming. The sour taste of vinegar is absorbing and consolidating, helping prevent excessive perspiration, diarrhea and enuresis.
I recommend that my patients and anyone enjoy Mu Ssam Mari and benefit from its ability to harmonize blood circulation and strengthen both the digestive system and respiratory system. The ingredients are both healing and disease preventative, when we keep in mind that about 80 percent of immunity relies on gut health. I especially recommend it for people who are suffering from irritability, digestive problems, and the dry and polluted air in cities from summer through the fall.
MU SSAM MARI
Makes 20 to 25 wraps; serves 3 or 4 people.
• 1 package of sliced pickled radish wraps (Ssam-Mu, available at any Korean market or the Korean section of an Asian grocery)
• ½ medium-size red bell pepper, julienned
• ½ medium-size carrot, peeled, julienned
• ½ medium-size cucumber, julienned
• 1 medium-size avocado, peeled and julienned
• 4 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
• 1 small package of radish sprouts or snow pea sprouts
• 20-25 fresh garlic chives (to use as wrap ties)
• pinch of fine sea salt
• 1½ teaspoons minced garlic
• 3 tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 drops sesame oil
Mix these together in a bowl:
• 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
• 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon water
1. Open the package of sliced pickled radish wraps and set aside.
2. Boil 2 cups water in a pot and add a pinch of salt. Once boiling, parboil chives for 10 seconds. Drain and set aside.
3. Lightly pan fry the red bell pepper and carrot in a frying pan without any oil for 10 seconds.
4. Briefly pan fry mushrooms with the minced garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil.
5. Place a radish wrap in one hand, then place a small amount of each prepared ingredient (red pepper, carrot, cucumber, avocado, mushroom and sprouts) onto the radish wrap.
6. Fold the wrap gently, leaving one end of the wrap open (it should look like a cone).
7. Tie the closed end with one chive. Repeat this with remaining ingredients.
8. Arrange radish wraps on a plate with the dipping sauce for an appetizer, snack or side dish for a lunch or dinner that might include a protein such as eggs or meat.