Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Bibimbap (Korean Rice and Veggies)

This is a Korean classic and one that we consumed in great quantities when we were posted to Seoul eighteen years ago when veggie daughter was but 4 months old. (Eighteen years ago? how can it have been so long?) It's a cheap, healthy and delicious meal. You could phone the restaurant and get them to deliver it to your door; not a difficult task if you had a Korean speaker among you. We could just about make ourselves understood with our few words of broken Korean, even to the extent of ordering it meat-free. A few minutes later a man on a moped would appear, steering one handed with the other hand gripping a massive metal box full of our dishes of bibimbap and various side dishes too. I wish I'd thought to take a photo. My friend didn't realise you were meant to just leave the empty dishes on your front step for them to pick up later - she put them in the dishwasher and a very funny sign language conversation ensued when the delivery driver returned for the dishes and thought she'd pinched them. Fortunately he saw the funny side and came back when the dishwasher had finished.

Anyway, bibimbap translates as mixed rice. It consists of steamed rice and a selection of vegetables, normally topped with a fried egg. The mix of veggies varies according to season, and there are some very unusual roots and stems  in many versions that would be difficult to get hold of outside Korea. I checked out a few recipes online. I ended up combining bits from the Our Korean Kitchen cookbook printed here in the Guardian and another on this great website Korean Bapsang that I shall definitely be exploring again. We used a mixture of courgette, carrot, mushroom, spinach and beansprouts, which was great. You could use other veggies according to the season and your own tastes. Although it was a bit of a faff, the method for cooking the rice detailed in Our Korean Kitchen yielded a perfectly cooked result; I used Morrisons short grain pudding rice, topped up with a few grams of arborio because I didn't have quite enough. It was excellent with a very authentic texture.

You do need to get hold of Korean hot chili paste, or kochujang. This was unknown in the UK when we came back from Korea in 2003, but to my delight I found some today in the local Sainsburys! They also had kimchi, but it was a big disappointment.

The best type of bibimbap is the tolsot bibimbap, which is cooked in a hot stone dish, allowing the rice to catch and brown on the red-hot base, so you get a crispy, crunchy base layer of rice underneath; so delicious! The veggies are all set beautifully on top of the rice, then when you are ready to eat, you stir in some kochujang (Korean chili paste) and give it all a good mix with a spoon. You eat it with a spoon, not chopsticks. You really need some crisp, cool kimchi, or fermented cabbage, with it too.

For two generous portions:

200g short grain rice 
1 medium courgette
2 large carrots
200g fresh spinach
100g mushroom
200g beansprouts
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted for 5 minutes or so in a hot oven or in a dry frying pan - don't let them burn
sesame oil
soy sauce
2 eggs
For the kochujang sauce (you may need more, depending on how much people like):
1 tbsp kochujang
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp maple syrup

  1. Prepare all the veggies - cut the courgette lengthways in quarters, then into thin slices. Put in a colander and sprinkle with coarse salt, then set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Peel and cut the carrots into matchsticks.
  3. Wash, dry and thinly slice the mushrooms.
  4. Wash the spinach and beansprouts.
  5. Prepare and cook the rice: rinse it several times in cold water, then leave to soak in cold water for about 30 minutes. Drain and put in a heavy based saucepan with a tight-fitting lid  (preferably non-stick to help when cleaning up). Pour in 250ml cold water, then bring to the boil with the lid on. Reduce the heat and cook for 7 minutes, then quickly stir it; it will be starting to stick to the base of the pan - just scrape it off the base as quickly as you can and get the lid back on to keep the heat and steam in. After that, leave it on the lowest heat for another 2 minutes without removing the lid, then take it off  the heat and leave it for another 10 minutes, again without removing the lid. Alternatively use a rice cooker - I wish I had one.
  6. Rinse and drain the courgettes. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, then blanch the courgettes for 1 minute. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, drain them in a colander, then toss them with a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce.
  7. Bring the pan of water back to the boil, drop in the beansprouts and cook them for about 3 minutes. Drain and toss them in a little sesame and soy sauce.
  8. Cook the carrots for about 1 and half minutes in the microwave with a tablespoon of water. Drain them and toss them in the same sesame soy sauce mix.
  9. Fry the mushrooms a little sunflower oil, adding some crushed garlic if you like.
  10. Tip the mushrooms into a dish, then put the spinach in the frying pan and let it wilt over a low heat until it looks cooked - press it in a sieve to get the excess liquid out, then toss in sesame and soy sauce.
  11. It doesn't matter if the veggies are at room temperature - the rice should be hot though.
  12. Fry the eggs.
  13. Assemble the bibimbap - put the rice into warmed bowls, top with the fried egg, then arrange the veggies around the edge. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Veggie daughter's is the one at the top - she took a bit more care than me with the arranging.
  14. Stir together the ingredients for the kochujang sauce - allow each person to put as much of it as they like into their bowl, depending on how spicy they like it. Give it all a good stir and devour.