Bibimbap is no ordinary bowl of rice – it’s an all-in-one meal alive with flavor and texture usually found in restaurants here in North America, but it can be made at home using whatever you happen to have on hand.
This popular Korean dish is easy to assemble: Spoon cooked rice into a bowl and arrange your garnishes on top of it. Cooked beef is a traditional choice but chicken, seafood and tofu work too. Add your vegetables, anything from shredded raw carrots to cooked spinach to crunchy pickles to dried strips of toasted seaweed. Crown it all with a soft-cooked or fried egg. Stir it all together and enjoy.
It’s that ability to use whatever is in the kitchen and your imagination that makes bibimbap so appealing.
“People love bibimbap,” says Maangchi, the YouTube cooking video star, who notes the dish is more popular in the United States than in her native Korea. The New York resident, who is also known as Emily Kim, offers a version in her first cookbook, “Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking.”
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So open is bibimbap to improvisation that Matt Rodbard and Chef Deuki Hong, co-authors of the upcoming “Koreatown: A Cookbook,” call their version “This Is Not a Bibimbap Recipe.” The only two constants are cooked rice and gochujang, a spicy chili bean paste used as a sauce, according to Rodbard, executive editor of Food Republic, the food-centric website. (But, really, even those are negotiable.)
There are more than 50 versions of bibimbap in South Korea, wrote Younghee Woo, a Korean cooking authority now living in Chicago, in an email. (And, in case you are wondering, Woo added that bibimbap is properly eaten with a soup spoon.)
Bibimbap can be served in a regular bowl or a heated stone vessel called a dolsot. Heated until very, very hot, the dolsot toasts the rice that comes into contact with it, adding a crunchy textural element to the bibimbap as a whole. Rodbard likes to wait at least 5 minutes before stirring the rice so it can form a good crust.
However you create your own bibimbap – or order it out – expect to find much enjoyment.
“Mixing warm rice with a bunch of pickled, seasoned and fresh vegetables, grilled meat and a fried egg simply blankets your soul,” write Rodbard and Hong in their cookbook.
The bibimbap recipe found in “Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking” pairs rice with a number of ingredients to make what author Maangchi describes as “a balanced one-dish meal that will make you feel great.” But she admits the recipe “may seem a little intimidating” to those new to Korean cooking because of all the ingredients called for, which range from marinated flank steak to bellflower root. So, the YouTube cooking video star offers the simpler version outlined here using soybean sprouts, spinach, red bell pepper, hot pepper paste, raw egg yolk and sesame oil. Those with health concerns may wish to use pasteurized egg yolks or go without.
2 cups soybean sprouts (kongnamul)
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
8 ounces spinach
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 small or 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut into thin strips (about 1 cup)
5 cups cooked short-grain white rice, see recipe
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang), plus more for serving
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Toasted sesame oil
Spicy soy seasoning sauce, optional, see recipe
For the soybean sprouts, rinse the sprouts under cold water; drain. Pick out any dead beans or brownish roots. Put the sprouts in a medium saucepan; add 1/4 cup water, cover and cook over high heat, 5 minutes. Drain and mix with the salt and sesame oil. Place in a pile on a large platter.
For the spinach, blanch the spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Drain well and squeeze out the excess water. Coarsely chop the spinach; mix with the salt and sesame oil. Transfer to the platter.
For the bell peppers, heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Add the peppers and cook until warmed through, 30 seconds; transfer to the platter.
To assemble, put the cooked rice in a large shallow bowl; arrange the vegetables on the rice. Top with egg yolks and pepper paste. Sprinkle the bibimbap with sesame seeds, drizzle with sesame oil to taste and serve hot with more hot pepper paste and/or soy seasoning sauce on the side. Give each diner a spoon for mixing and eating the bibimbap.
Nutrition information per serving: 467 calories, 9 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 184 mg cholesterol, 80 g carbohydrates, 13 g protein, 946 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Spicy soy seasoning sauce: In a bowl, combine 1/4 cup soy sauce; 2 or 3 green onions, chopped; 1 clove garlic, minced; 1 teaspoon sugar; 2 teaspoons Korean hot pepper flakes (gochu-garu, optional); 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds; and 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
FLUFFY WHITE RICE
About 5 cups, 4 servings
2 cups short-grain white rice
2 cups water
Put the rice in a medium heavy saucepan, cover it with cold water, and stir it with your hand, then drain by tilting the pan as far as you can over the sink without pouring out any rice. Stir the rice with your hand to release excess starch. Continue to rinse and drain the rice until the water runs clear. Drain. Add the 2 cups water to the pan, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes.
Set the covered pan of rice over medium-high heat, 7-8 minutes. You will know it is time to turn the rice over when the surface is covered with abundant bubbles that are spluttering noisily and look like they are about to overflow the pan.
Take off the lid, turn the rice over with a spoon, and re-cover the pan. Turn the heat to very low and continue to cook until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes longer. Fluff the rice with a wooden spoon or rice scoop to release excess steam and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 261 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 58 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 0 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Adapted from “Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking.”