In Korean cuisine, namul is the name given to a broad collection of banchan, or side dishes, that are made from vegetables dressed in some type of seasoning or sauce. Namul can be closely compared to salad in that it contains mostly vegetables, though most versions include only one vegetable in their preparation. The choice of which vegetable is used is completely up to the cook but can include bean sprouts, spinach, squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots or beans. Fruits and root vegetables such as potatoes also can be turned into namul. The vegetables can be cooked in any number of ways or left raw, although almost all dishes have a simple salad dressing-like sauce poured over top just before being served.
Namul is frequently served as a side dish, so the vegetables are usually prepared in a way that makes them compact and easy to eat. They are generally cut down to be bite-size or smaller, sometimes even being shredded or julienned. Although there usually is only one vegetable in the dish, there are occasions when more than one can be used or where several types of namul are plated and served together.
The way the vegetables are prepared when making namul can vary depending on the recipe or the type of vegetable being used. Sometimes, they are left completely raw, and other times they are roasted slowly in an oven. Frying, deep frying and even fermenting are all ways that different recipes treat the vegetables. By far, however, most recipes call for the ingredients to be blanched.
Blanching involves taking the cut vegetables and dropping them into boiling water for anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Once the ingredients are just barely cooked, they are immediately removed from the boiling water and placed in ice water to stop the cooking. After they have cooled, they are squeezed to remove any excess water and then dried before being dressed.
The actual dressing used in namul varies widely, although there is one simple, common sauce that is more popular than most others. The dressing is a combination of soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Some rice vinegar also can be added, as well as some sugar. The sauce is mixed together, poured over the vegetables and tossed until everything is coated. It is important not to use too much of the sauce or to add too much of any one ingredient, because it is the sole flavoring in the dish and it can be easy to overpower the taste of the vegetables.