Photos by Chihon Kim
Photos by Chihon Kim

Spring is in the air and so is the Naeng-i

by Chihon Kim
Stripes Korea

A long chilly winter is finally gone, and spring has arrived. For many, the hints of spring are in the new flowers blooming, a slight change in the temperature, or a certain scent in the air. What reminded you of the fact that spring is just around the corner? As a child, my first hint of spring was Naeng-i.

Known as “Shepherd’s Purse” in English, this herb is paired with Korean soy bean paste stew, or “daenjang jjigae.” As an adult, Naeng-i is my favorite spring green even though as a kid I really didn’t like the peculiar scent of the herb, but my father was pretty strict and wouldn’t let me leave home without a good breakfast.

I didn’t know what this green plant in my soup was until my mother sent me to the market to pick some up. I had to keep repeating its name, so I wouldn’t forget, but by the time I reached the herb section of the market they all looked the same! Unable to distinguish which was the Naeng-i, the vendor helped me and taught me a quick trick to finding it in the future: always look for the ugliest herb in the group.

Though its appearance is not attractive, Naeng-i is filled with nutrition sure to help you beat spring fatigue and regain your appetite. The herb features a thick, white root attached to green leaves that resemble dandelion leaves and it is one of the most common herbs grown on farms, in the hills, and, sometimes, even popping up randomly in home gardens.

Consider adding spring herbs to your shopping list next time you visit a Korean market. They are healthy and add the flavor of spring to any meal. Don’t forget to wash them thoroughly and add them to some soy bean-paste stew (daenjang jjigae). Another way to enjoy Naeng-i is seasoned with soy sauce and perilla oil then used as a substitute for some of the veggies in bibimbap. Try it and see why naeng-i’s scent is the real smell of spring in Korea.

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