Batter Licker

September 2, 2011

bibimbap (korean mixed vegetable and brown rice salad with spicy-sweet chili pepper paste)

A three-day weekend is upon (most of) us, and this time around, that means Jay and I will be attending no less than 5 different get-togethers with family and friends. We certainly get our socializing on.

For once, I don’t think I will be cooking for any one of them. (If I am, no one has told me yet, although they could very well be operating under the general assumption that, where meal-time events are involved, I tend to come bearing the fruits of my kitchen labor. I should probably hit the market tomorrow just in case.) But if I find out that someone would like me to contribute a dish, I would be delighted to throw together this version of bibimbap, mostly because it can be thrown together quite quickly while still delivering an unexpectedly flavorful result. Especially for something that is essentially a mixed veggies and rice salad.

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In my favorite Korean restaurants, bibimbap is served in an extremely hot stone bowl, coated with just a bit of sesame oil that causes the cooked rice to develop a delicious toasted crispiness around the edges. But the beauty of this dish is that everything can be prepared in advanced, and it will still function equally well at room temperature or slightly chilled, making it well-suited for potlucks and barbecues but more interesting than the starchy side dishes typical of those types of events.

This time around, I cooked up some brown rice, then tossed grated zucchini and carrots in toasted sesame oil for a 2-minute saute. Arrange the zucchini, carrots, cucumber, and kimchi (and meat, if you choose to use some – and it would be a wonderful use for leftovers from one of the inevitable barbecues happening this weekend) in colorful patches over the brown rice for a presentation that’s much more beautiful than the haphazard mess I threw down for an impromptu dinner. Plop a few fried eggs on top – one for each person.

But please, for the love of visual appeal, let guests individually douse their bibimbap in the spicy-sweet gochujang (Korean chili paste) for less of a bloody roadkill appearance than what I did here while under extreme duress due to threats coming from my growling tummy.

Serves 2

I love the flexibility of this dish, as you can incorporate almost any veggies you have around and easily double or quintuple the volume by using more veggies or cooking up a bit more rice. Experiment with various chopped greens, bean sprouts, radish/daikon, mushrooms, and anything else you have on hand. However, I do encourage mixing up the texture by using some crunchier vegetables and some softer ones. Definitely add some kimchi to the mix too, even if it’s just fake kimchi.

As for meat and protein products, I’ve eaten this with grilled chicken, spicy pork, shortribs, fried tofu, and a random selection of chopped up leftover meats; they were all delicious, but if you’re vegetarian or trying to save cash or merely reducing your meat intake, I don’t think meat is entirely necessary in this hearty dish, especially if you top it with an egg.

On the other hand, gochujang (Korean sweet and spicy chili pepper paste) is absolutely essential to flavoring this dish. I found mine at Whole Foods, but for those who plan ahead better than I did, it’s cheaper at your local Asian market or even on Amazon.

1 c. brown rice
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 zucchini, julienned or coarsely grated
1 cucumber, julienned or coarsely grated
2 carrots, julienned or coarsely grated
1 c. kimchi (if you have excess sauerkraut, convert it to Fake Kimchi)
1 Tbsp. butter
2 eggs
black pepper
chicken, beef or pork, cooked and chopped (optional)
gochujang (Korean sweet and spicy chili pepper paste)

Cook brown rice per package instructions. For me, this meant boiling 2 c. water, then adding 1 c. brown rice, and bringing it back to a boil. Then I reduced the heat to low to bring it to a simmer, covered the pot of rice, and cooked it until water was absorbed, about 25 to 30 minutes. Finally, I removed the pot from the heat, and let stand (covered) 10 minutes to allow it to steam.

Meanwhile, prep zucchini and carrots, and toss with 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil. (Often, I saute the veggies for just a couple minutes over medium heat; other times I leave them raw.) If needed, prep Fake Kimchi. If using meat, cook it however you prefer or chop up leftovers. Set veggies and meat aside.

Just a few minutes before serving, heat up a pan over low heat, and melt the butter. Once butter has melted, crack eggs into the pan, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Fry them sunny side up until white part around yolk has set but yolk is still a bit runny (unless you prefer a firm yolk – then by all means cook it to desired consistency), about 3 to 5 minutes.

While your pan is heating up for the eggs, prep the serving bowls by scooping rice into the bottom and layering veggies, kimchi and meat on top. Top each bowl with a fried egg, and drizzle very generously with gochujang.

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