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Korean cooking Hyunji Lee

Hyunji Lee is shown at her Dakota Dunes, South Dakota home with a cookbook she authored in 2005 in Korea. A native of Seoul, Lee cooked on several Korean television shows and worked as a food stylist. 

DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. | Hyunji Lee said she is excited that the 23rd Winter Olympics will be coming from Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 9.

A Seoul, South Korea, native now living in Dakota Dunes, she wants more people to be aware of Eastern Asia culture.

"For many people, Korean culture is still a bit of a mystery," Lee said. "Hopefully, the Olympic Games will bring more attention to everything the country has to offer."

Specifically, she'd like more Americans to become aware of South Korea's increasingly important role in world cuisine.

A classically trained chef and food stylist, Lee was a well-known television personality and food writer for newspapers and magazines in South Korea. She even wrote "Everyday Delicious," which puts a new spin on traditional cuisine.

"I specialize in fusion cuisine," Lee said, inside her home kitchen. "I'll take a recipe that is very common in a Korean home and give it a Western twist with a few new ingredients."

Or she will re-imagine a dish, making it healthier with fresh ingredients.

Which isn't to say that Korean isn't already very healthy.

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Korean cooking Hyunji Lee

The back cover of Hyunji Lee's Korean-language cookbook, "Everyday Delicious" is shown in this photograph. Lee, a native of Seoul, South Korea, now lives in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, and has cooked on several Korean television shows and worked as a food stylist. 

"Korean food uses plenty of vegetables and herbs," Lee said. "It is already low in calories and cholesterol."  

Indeed, she said, her fusion style of cooking is merely updating tried-and-true dishes.

Considered a pioneering voice in Modern South Korean food scene, Lee has seen Korean fusion cuisine take off in Western Europe as well as in major cities across the United States.

However, the Midwest has proven slightly less receptive to her unique take on Seoul cooking. 

"Some Korean foods are becoming better-known," Lee said, mentioning that Korean-style barbecue and kimchi (a traditional side dish made with fermented vegetables) can be found on many restaurant menus.

With the Winter Olympics bringing more attention to Korea, she predicts Americans will become more aware of such legendary dishes as galbi (barbecue ribs cooked on a metal plate over charcoal) and japchae (a sweet and savory dish of stir-fried noodles, meats and veggies that is seasoned with sesame and soy sauce). 

Lee also said bibimbap (a very popular Korean meal in which warm white rice is topped with sauteed vegetables, a spicy chili paste called gochujang, meat and an egg are served in the same bowl) is a very popular dish.

"Everything in bibimbap is stirred together," she said, noting this is a variation of Korean fast food.

In fact, a typical Korean meal is made up of small plates of a multitude of different foods.

Lee said a meal may be made up of as many as seven to 10 banchans -- or tiny bowls.

"I think that's the biggest difference between American food and Korean food," she acknowledged. "Americans like big plates of meat and potatoes while Korean prefer plates of smaller portion representing different types of foods."

This also sets Korean cuisine apart from other cuisines in Asia.

"In taste as well as ingredients, Chinese food is somewhat similar to Thai and Vietnamese cuisine," Lee suggested. "Korean cuisine is different as is Japanese cuisine."

Still, Korean cuisine is as delicious as it is healthy. She simply wants her native cuisine to become less exotic to western tastes.

"Once you taste Korean food, you'll be hooked," Lee said.

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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