Giants of Millennia

The grand Sierra Nevada is home to a wide variety of natural wonders, including the country’s second oldest National Park, Sequoia National Park.  Driving southeast yet again along the broad California Central Valley for three hours, we reached a little town called Visalia.  Eastward from there, the windy CA 198 slowly but steadily elevated into the Sierra, unfolding extended lush vegetation.  Although expected, this was still a pleasant change of view after a long, dry summer in suburban California.  A rushing river leaped in and out of our view as we wound along the road, reminding us the source of such livelihood among these mountains.

Moro Rock is a bare dome extruding from the vegetation-ridden mountains within the park, and a popular hiking destination.  A stairway was built along Moro Rock’s natural ledges and crevices, allowing us to climb onto the top of the rock.  It gave us a perfect stretch after the long drive, as well as a chance to overlook the surrounding mountains from a high point.   Sunlight in early September was still bright and warm, and yet the breeze seemed to be carrying a cool sweet scent from the emerald-green hues around us.

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We spent the rest of the day exploring the deepest interior of the Giant Forest, where numerous giant sequoia trees (sequoiadendron giganteum) towered magnificently.  Their furrowed bark radiated a red-brown hue, setting them apart from the gray and moss-green pines and firs around them.  Their clustered dark green leaves were high above the ground, creating large areas of shade beneath them.  The sheer size of the giant sequoia trees were beyond imagination.  Human beings, or even cars, seemed so tiny and negligible next to these giants.  The General Sherman Tree, world’s largest living tree by volume, stood among its peers with an astonishing 275-ft height and 25-ft diameter, since about 2,500 years ago.  It had stopped growing vertically after 2 millennia, but continued to increase in width and volume year after year.

Giant sequoia trees among other types
Me at the bottom of three giant sequoia trees
Comparison between a car and a giant sequoia tree

They were undoubtedly the kings of this old land and survived the transformations caused by nature and human activity.  This dry land experienced frequent wildfires.  With their thick natural armor, the giant sequoias survived these tribulations, though charred marks of these events still remained on many of them, probably permanently.  While age shifts waters and crumbles mountains, life continues and thrives with amazing resilience.

On our way home from this wonderful 2-day trip to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon (will be recorded in a separate post) National Parks, we stopped in Fresno, one of the largest cities in Central California, to re-energize.  Our meal at Koja Kitchen, an Asian fusion chain restaurant, was a pleasant surprise.  The restaurant combined elements of several Asian cuisines into dishes of such bold flavors, that I could not resist trying them in our own kitchen.  My first attempt was there signature “Original Koja Burger”.

Original Koja burger and miso-coconut-braised pork bowl from Koja Kitchen

Having spent 5 years in Southern California, we could never forget the exquisite tastes of the dishes from the Korean restaurants and our Korean-American friends’ homes.   The Koja Burger blended the sweet-savory and tender beef ribs, which reminded us of the good times, with a creamy-sweet aioli that mimicked the dipping sauce for fried meats (katsu) in Japanese cooking.  It was an ingenious invention.  In my attempt, I marinated the meats with our friend Grace Kim’s family recipe for Korean-style barbecue beef (galbi).  It turned out quite similar to what Koja Kitchen had to offer.

Briased ribs burgers with white and brown rice patties
Braised ribs with katsu aioli, leafy vegetables, and sesame seeds

Recipe makes 8 burgers

2 lbs boneless beef short ribs
3 cups short-grain white-rice, preferably sushi rice
2-3 cups leafy vegetables of choice, lettuce, spinach, arugula, or spring mix, coarsely chopped
Toasted white sesame seeds for garnish
1 tsp corn starch

Marinade (Korean galbi) for 2 lbs meat:
1/2 cup regular soy sauce
1/2 cup dark soy sauce (may be substituted with 1/3 cup regular soy sauce)
3 TBSP rice wine
1 TBSP toasted sesame oil
Half a pear, peeled, cored, and chopped
Half a medium-sized onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 TBSP minced fresh ginger (or 1 tsp powder)
1/3 to 1/2 cup light brown sugar

Katsu aioli
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp mirin
1/2–1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp garlic powder

  1. Add all ingredients for the marinade in a blender, and blend until well mixed and smooth.  Trim the meat and cut into 3/4-inch pieces, mix well with marinade, and let sit in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Cook rice according to instructions and let cool. Sprinkle corn starch on top of cooked rice and mix with spatula. Whip all ingredients for the katsu aioli together until uniformly mixed.  Keep the aioli refrigerated.
  3. In a large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tsp vegetable oil on medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Drain liquid and wipe out excessive marinade from meat. Add about half of meat into skillet to form a single layer, cook for 2 minutes, flip the meat, and cook for another 2 minutes.  Turn fire to medium-low, stir occasionally to prevent burning, and cook with skillet covered, for another 3 minutes until the center of the meat registers 160 degrees F.  Transfer meat and any leftover juice onto a platter with a foil tent to keep warm.
  4. Use a mold, or a large cookie cutter, to compact rice into a firm patty. Sear each side on a lightly oiled skillet at medium heat for 2 minutes or until a crust forms.
  5. Spread one side of 2 patties with katsu aioli. Add leafy vegetables and cooked meat to assemble into a sandwich.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Serve warm.  WZ



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