I started writing this right before all of the upheaval began, but I loved the way this meal turned out, so I wanted to go ahead and post.
To say that Korean cuisine and I got off to a rough start might be employing the use of descriptive restraint – this was not love at first bite. Despite my lifelong adventurous palate, I wasn’t quite ready for the “guppies” in the panchan to be staring forlornly up at me while I ate them, and it’s possible that I may have used the word “compost” when describing my first impression of garlicky, spicy, fermented cabbage kimchee. The combination of flavors, the pungent and spicy fermented twang of the cabbage – it took me a few determined tries to get through my initial impression and to fall hard for the unique personality of the cuisine.
Korean flavors are among my favorites now. They make my taste buds sing in a unique way, like the intriguing contrasts found in curries, while being specifically Korean. A more gentle introduction through a friendly and adaptable dish like bibimbap may have eroded my resistance a little faster.
Bibimbap is a great casual dinner party meal for the same reasons that it makes a good intro to Korean food. It’s adaptability, use of easy-to-find ingredients and touch of exotic alongside the familiar make it a crowd pleaser and vegetarian friends can just leave out the meat and have the same experience as everyone else. I’ve included a (not necessarily comprehensive) list of ingredients, but use what you like or can easily find.
I’ve written the recipe in a cook-as-you-go style since it can mostly be made ahead and either re-warmed or served at room temperature, so don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredient list since there are a lot of repeats.
1 1/2 cups cooked short grain rice (like sushi rice)
12-14 ounces ground beef or thinly sliced rib eye cut into thin strips and marinated in
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 garlic clove, finely minced or grated on a microplane grater
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
scant teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
then drained, dried, and sauteed over high heat in a splash of vegetable oil until just seared
10 dried shitake mushrooms (or fresh if they are available), soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained well and sliced into strips and saute´in
2 teaspoons soy sauce
scant teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
spinach, wilted and drained well to make about 1 cup (frozen spinach leaves would work) and tossed with
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 minced or grated clove of garlic
splash of sesame oil
handful of mung bean sprouts (or buy the prepared sprouts in a Korean market- they are usually included in the banchan at a meal), blanched in boiling water for a minute or two and drained.
small zucchini, cut into matchsticks, sauteed over high heat with a touch of sesame oil until just barely softened
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks, sauteed same as the zucchini
fern brakes, called kosari (I’d also buy these prepared from a Korean market)
sesame seeds- toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 or 3 tablespoons Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) mixed with
about a teaspoon of rice wine vinegar to about ketchup consistency
2 eggs fried over easy in a touch of vegetable oil
As each element is cooked, pile it on a large platter (think of it as the “salad bar”). When everything but the egg is cooked, scoop a pile of warm rice into your largest soup bowls and arrange all of the bits of mushroom, spinach, bean sprouts, meat, on top. Put a dollop of the gochujang in the middle and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Top with the fried egg and then step back and take a look at it; it should look like a very prettily composed salad. Now take your chopsticks (or fork) and mix it all up into a big mess, getting the egg and pepper paste thoroughly mixed into the rice and vegetables.