When in Spain for the New Year celebrations we rarely venture out before 1am. Last time we had to run for cover for fear of falling shrapnel from guns fired into a firework-lit sky, conscious also of a custom of flinging old items out of the window after a glass or three of bubbly.
We enjoy this brief period of voluntary house-arrest with something festive for supper: something full of colour, bursting with flavour and screaming CELEBRATION.
This year’s choice dish was that veritable painting-on-a-plate from our Korean friends down east.
Korea’s Most Popular Dish
Bibimbap is probably the most popular Korean dish oustide of Korea. Endlessly adaptable and full of possibilities for creative expression, it is nonetheless simplicity itself: vegatables (bibim) and rice (bap). Elegant. And delicious.
Hot bowls of rice are adorned with an assortment of individually crafted vegetable dishes laid out in the spokes of a wheel around a central protein pivot. Great care is given to create a harmony of colour, texture, flavour and nutritional balance.
Egg on top (not if you’re vegan), a scarlet blush of fiery, savoury-sweet-sour gochujang sauce rounds-off the dish.
Now, stab the centre, stir without mercy – and down the hatch.
Anatomy Of Bibimbap
There are too many regional and seasonal variations of bibimbap for us to talk about an authentic version. Although some vegetables are often used in Korea . . .
” . . . there’s really nothing to stop you using any vegetable you like”
Koreans arrange the colours according to their traditions, each having a specific meaning and placed in a very definite order. There is little need for a westerner to follow these rules as we’re more concerned with the taste. However, there’s nothing to stop you researching this and sticking with tradition.
Sticky ( glutinous ) white rice is the most commonly used. I always prefer brown and use brown sushi rice which has a degree of stickiness. Otherwise any short-grain brown or white rice will do the trick.
Our recipe combines brown with black rice and aduki beans, a classic Korean combo in its own right, for complete protein and enhanced nutrition.
You can use virtually any vegetable. Often used ones include
- corgettes (zucchini)
- bell peppers
- shitake and other mushrooms
- spring onions or scallions
- soy-bean sprouts
- spinach or other greens
More specialist Korean items include
- fernbrake (edible bracken), known as the beef of the mountain for it’s high protein content
- bellflower root
Preparing & Cooking
Depending on the vegetable these can be julienned into matchsticks, sliced or simply wilted as in the case of spinach.
Vegetables are pre-cooked lightly and simply iindividually. Some, such as greens and beansrpouts are lightly poached or wilted. Onions and harder vegetables such as carrots can be briefly stir fried and seasoned with condiments such as sesame, soy sauce and sugar or mirin for sweetness.
These can include
- black pepper
- sugar, honey, nectars or Japanese sweet mirin
- soy sauce
- sesame oil
- rice or other vinegar
- sesame seeds
- chilli – dried or fresh
- chopped green onions or chives
Guide To Cooking The Vegetables
- Cook root vegetables, courgettes and bell peppers lightly to maintian some bite and brightness of colour.
- Mushrooms can be cooked briefly or, for a meatier texture, cooked thoroughly until any liquid they’ve given off has fully evaporated and they are lightly browned.
- Sprouts can be lightly stir fied or poached in water. They should be soft but still crisp.
- Leafy vegetables are simply wilted
- Fernbrake is usually available dried. If time allows soak the bracken in warm water for 3h to overnight, then boil in it’s liquid for 10-15 minutes. Cooking dried fernbrake will take longer but gives an edible result.
- Cook until no longer chewy and stringy but still firm. Gently squeeze out some of the water then stir fry with your favourite condiments
|carrots - julienne||sesame oil|
sugar / mirin
soy sauce or salt
|courgettes - julienne or slice||sesame oil|
soy sauce or salt
|mushrooms - slice||garlic|
soy sauce or salt
|spinach - rouchly chop||soy sauce||wilt|
|green onions - slice lengthwise||ginger|
|soybean sprouts||soy sauce|
sugar / mirin
|poach 3-5 minutes|
boil 15 mins
- Mix aduki beans with the rice for complete protein
- Include aduki or other pulses or nuts as one of your toppings
- or seitan
with onions and season with soy sauce and a splash of sesame oil
An egg is traditionally placed on top in the centre of the dish. This can be
- fried, sunny side up
- raw – yolk only
This is crucial and needs one essential element: Korean gochujang.
Gochujang is a bright red paste made from fermented Korean chilli, rice and soya beans. Spicy-hot, sweet and savoury gochujang is an essential in numerous Korean dishes, including bibimbap.
There is no substitue for gochujang. Fortunately it’s readily available nowdays from Asian supermarkets as well as on-line.
Bibimbap sauce combines gochujang with sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, honey or mirin and rice or other light vinegar.
You can use any run-of-the-mill ceramic or metal bowl.
Get your bowls really hot in the oven or fill them with boiling water, just as you’d warm a teapot for a good brew.
Stone bowls (dolsot) used in restaurants provide a lot of drama. They’re heavy, retain heat well and produce much sizzling to enhance your eating experience. Korean homes use stoneware or metal bibimbap bowls. You can get these from Korean shops and online from Amazon and specialist Korean suppliers.
We use locally-made flame-resistant clay bowls. These can go straight on the cooker top to create sizzle and a lovely crust to the rice. Lids help get the vegetable toppings hot.
Let’s get cooking!
Dolsot Bibimbap – Vegetarian Korean Rice & Vegetables
- 2 cups short-grain brown rice
- 1 handful black rice (optional)
- 1 handful aduki (red) beans (optional)
- 4 freshest organic free-range eggs
- vegetable oil for sutéeing & frying
- 2 carrots peeled and julienned
- 2 courgettes julienned or sliced
- 2 bell peppers de-seeded and finely sliced
- 2-3 large handfuls of shitake or other mushrooms thickly sliced
- 4 large green onions sliced
- 2 bunches of fernbrake bracken (Kosari (고사리) – optional soaked for 3h and preferably overnight
- or enough soy-bean sprouts for 4 people
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 inch piece ginger root very finely julienned
- spring onions chopped
- sesame oil
- sugar, honey, fruit nectar or stevia or try Japanese sweet rice or mirakawa mirin
- whole sesame seeds raw or toasted
- rice or other light vinegar
- 4 tbsp Korean gochujang
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1-2 tbsp sugar or other sweetener or stevia to taste
- 2 tbsp sesame oil preferably Korean
- 2-3 tsp rice or other light vinegar
- 2 tsp water
Prepare The Vegetables
- wash, peel, julienne, slice and mince the vegetables
Cook the rice, beans & fernbrake
- cook the rice and beans in plenty of water for 40 minutes or until the beans are soft
- strain off the water. This helps remove much of the arsenic naturally found in rice
- return to the pan and leave, covered, over a very low flame for the excess water to be absorbed and the rice to be sticky
- Simmer the pre-soaked fernbrake in water for 15 minutes or until no longer stringy but still firm. Drain, squeezing out any excess water and cut in half
Make The Gochujang Sauce
- mix gochujang with sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar or other sweetener (Japanese mirin is fantastic!), plus a little water to loosen the sauce
Cook The Individual Vegetables
- saute the carrots in a little vegetable – sesame oil mix until soft but firm. Add soy sauce to taste, a scant splash of vinegar and 1.2 tsp of sugar, honey, etc. Swish it round and sprinkle on a tsp of sesame seeds
- sautée the courgettes in vegetable oil with a minced garlic clove and a large pinch of ginger matchsticks until translucent. Add black pepper and a splash of soy sauce
- sautée the peppers over a fairly high flame to scorch them. Add salt and a a dash of vinegar. Allow the vinegar to fully evaporate then sprinkle on sesame seeds
- sautée the mushrooms with green onions and a clove of garlic. Cook at high heat untill any liquid given off has evaporated. Add a dash of say sauce and black pepper
- sautée the green onions with ginger and garlic. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper
- sautée the fernbrake (if using) with a little sesame oil, finishing off with soy sauce to taste
- OR cook the sprouts in water for for 3-5 minutes until tender but still crunchy. Drain and add a dash of vinegar, some soy sauce and raw finely chopped green onions
Assemble The Bibimbap
- heat the bowls in a hot oven, or fill with boiling water, emptying the bowls when they’re warm and repeating a second time
- alternatively place stone, metal or flame-resistant clay bowls directly on the cooker-top
- brush the inside of the bowls with sesame oil
- divide the rice / bean mixture between the four bowls
- arrange the vegetables radially like the spokes of a wheel over the rice
- if using ceramic bowls: first warm the vegetables briefly in a very hot oven or arrange them on a large griddle and heat them briefly over a high flame
- Otherwise place the flame-resistant rice filled bowls on the gas or electric hob at medium heat, add the cold vegetables and cover until the dish is sizzlling hot
- fry four eggs and place one in the centre of each bowl over the vegetables
- top with a dollop of gochujang sauce
- serve sizzling hot with extra gochujang sauce on the side