Saturday, 13 April 2013

Discovering Korean Bibimbap and savouring it in Ottawa

April 2013

SmartCooks here.  

I took a savoury trip safely to Korea thanks to the Internet, Bon Appetit, and a small Korean supermarket I found in Ottawa not far from my house.  My mission:  to cook Bibimbap, literally 'bibim' (mixed) and 'bap' (rice).   

I researched, I shopped, I prepped (a lot!), I cooked, I hummed "put 'em together and what have you got... bibimbap-ity, bibimbap-ity, bibimbap-ity-doo")  And then I ate .... a feast of noodles (not rice), beef bulgogi, and a variety of vegetable 'mix-ins'.  The dish has endless variations, and can easily be made vegetarian-friendly. 

Origins of Bibimbap

As I researched, it was clear there was centuries of thought behind this dish, with careful attention to taste, harmony, balanced appearance and healthy, umami eating.  

The ingredients are chosen based on the 'ying' and 'yang' and the Five Elements Principle:
--- Rice (sweet) 
--- Chungjang (salt)
--- Sesame Oil (savoury)
--- Gochujang (spicy) 
--- Kongnamul (bitter) 

Vegetable mix-ins can be your choice but should be blanched, lightly sateed and seasoned.  Try to follow the colour wheel and umami principles:  dark green spinach, orange julienned carrot, white daikon radish, red bell pepper, mushrooms, cucumber, bean sprouts, dried seaweed etc.  

Legend has its that Bibimbap originated in Jeonju in South Korea, an important tourist centre for the best in Korean food.  In 2011, in a CNN Travel poll, Bibimbap was listed at number 40 on the World's 50 most delicious foods.  A version of Bibimbap, or a dish called Dolsot Bibimbap, is served in a very hot (hissing!) stone bowl in which the rice is cooked, then topped with vegetables, beef, egg and hot red pepper paste.  The rice crisps up in the hot bowl and is part of the fun of the dish.

Its popularity continues to rise today as Western cultures discover the umami nature of the dish.  At right is a photo of an event to showcase the dish.  The bowl measures 2.5 m in diameter, contains 200 kg of rice and 10 kinds of vegetables --  enough to serve up to 1,000 people.

Bibimbap Ingredients

For the recipe I chose to use as a base -- from Bon Appetit -- there were two ingredients I needed from the local Korean supermarket -- Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) and Gochugaru (coarse Korean red pepper powder).  I goggled 'Ottawa Korean supermarkets' and found it only several blocks away from my house.  It is a small, run down, jumbled kindof place on Bank Street, not at a glance the type of store I'd explore on a whim.  But it was quick and easy.  I simply pointed to the photos of the ingredients I needed and I was out in five minutes.  

Gochujang or Korean hot pepper paste is pictured at left. 

The store carried medium strength, which was  was perfect for my dish.  It's obviously the Korean version of Sriracha but not nearly as hot.  I've read it's rivalling Sriracha in popularity.  It has my vote.  

The other ingredient was Gochugaru (coarse Korean red pepper powder).  The colour of deep red sprinkled lightly on vegetables gives a nice, pleasing appearance. Used lightly, it has only a very slight bite to it.  

I added beef bulgogi to the dish for husband in particular.  I've featured recipes for this in previous blog postings.  The seasoning of soy and ginger on very lean beef adds a distinctive flavour to the dish.  In this posting, I'm using the Bon Appetit version of beef bulgogi. 

The final topping for the dish is an egg.  Tradition is that it is a raw or very runny egg.  I don't do raw so made a fried but still runny egg.  Then assemble the rice or noodles in a bowl, top with vegetables and sauce, then the egg, admire how it looks, stir it all together and Bibimbap it is.  

Bottom line:

Plan ahead for this one, organize all ingredients beforehand, conscript the chopping helpers and enjoy!  A savoury and safe trip to Korea. 'Bibim-bap-ity doo...'  

Bibimbap recipe
(with recipes for some of my favourite vegey mix-ins) 

Beef Bulgogi and Rice OR Noodles 
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/3 cup finely grated Asian pear with juices

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 T brown sugar

2 tsp grated peeled ginger

1 lb thinly sliced (1/8-inch) boneless beef rib-eye steak or short ribs

Rice or noodles of choice.  
1 fried, runny or raw egg 

Whisk first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add beef, toss, cover and chill for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.  

Prepare rice or noodles and set aside.  There are recipes on line for crispy rice which I did not do. Add egg as last ingredient.  

Vegetable Mix-in Recipes:  Sesame-Pepper Bean Sprouts, Sesame Carrots, Garlicky Spinach (not baby spinach), Soy-Glazed Shitake Mushrooms, Sauteed Zucchini, Scallion Slaw, Gochujang Date Sauce. Other ingredients can be wakame (seaweed), snow peas..

Ingredients for vegey mix-ins:
- 6 cups mung bean sprouts
- 4 medium carrots
- 2 10-ounce bags fresh spinach
- 3 cups dried shitake mushrooms (3 ounces) 
- 1 medium zucchini 
- 2 bunches scallions
- 5 pitted Medjool dates (for the sauce)

Other ingredients you will need:  Toasted sesame seeds, reduced sodium soy sauce, white vinegar, brown sugar, Gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder), kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper 

Directions for Vegetable Mix-ins (Bon Appetit style):

Sesame-Pepper Bean Sprouts:  

Mix 2 T toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper in a bowl. Set aside.  Cook 6 cups mung bean sprouts in boiling salter water for 3-4 minutes.  Drain.  Transfer to a medium bowl.  Add 2 tsp toasted sesame oil, toss to coat.  Add in sesame mixture. Season with gochugaru (Korean red pepper). 

Sesame Carrots:  

Cut 4 medium carrots into long matchstick-size pieces.  Heat 1 T toasted sesame oil in a large skillet, on medium heat.  Add carrots, sauté 3-4 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  
Garlicky Spinach

Cook spinach in a large pot of boiling, salted water 1-2 minutes.  Drain, transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool.  Drain, squeeze out excess water.  Heat 2 T toasted sesame oil in a large skillet on medium heat.  Add 2 garlic cloves.  Stir 1 minute.  Add spinach, 2 T reduced-sodium soy sauce and 1 tsp distilled white vinegar.  Stir and season with salt and pepper.  

Soy-Glazed Shiitake Mushrooms:  

Bring mushrooms, 1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce, 1 T brown sugar and 1 cup water to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer, 12-15 minutes.  Let mushrooms cool, then slice.  Transfer to a small bowl, add 1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds and pepper.

Sauteed Zucchini:  

Cut 1 medium zucchini into matchstick-sized pieces.  Heat 2 T toasted sesame oil in a large skillet, on medium heat. Add zucchini, cook, 3-4 minutes.  Season with kosher salt, pepper and gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder).

Scallion Slaw:  

Cut scallions into 3-inch lengths, then slice lengthwise thinly.  Place in bowl of ice water.  Just before serving, drain, pat dry, and transfer to another bowl.  Add 1 T white vinegar, 1 T toasted sesame oil and toss to coat.  Season with salt, pepper and gochugaru.  

Gochujang Date Sauce:  Put 5 pitted dates in a small bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit for about 10 minutes.  Drain, transfer dates to a food processor.  Add 1 cup gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) and 2 T toasted sesame oil.  Puree until smooth.

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