Friday, April 28, 2017

Vegetarian bibimbap - the best recipe ever?


I regularly slave over meals for whole afternoons. It's not at all uncommon for me to ferment vegetables, nuts, or condiments for weeks in preparation of a particular dinner. My Thanksgiving menu planning starts in mid-June in a typical year. In addition to being a kitchen slut, I'm an over-analytical type-A scientist with OCD and too much spare time.... What I'm trying to say is that I tend to overdo things in the kitchen. So it came as a bit of a pleasant shock today when the love of my life told me no less than 7 times that the dinner I made last night was the best meal I've ever made. And it was a breeze to whip up. So gone are my days of sleuthing through a dozen spice stores to find the freshest ajowan seeds in order to make some obscure Pakistani dish. In the future, I'll just whip up a quick bibimbap and spend the rest of my newfound free time soaking up lavish praise and compliments.

So what the fuck is bibimbap? In addition to a wildly popular 1997 hit song by teenage heartthrob brother band Hansen, it's a wonderfully vibrant, flavorful, and satisfying Korean medley of rice, vegetables, eggs, and hot sauce. Optional are beef, if you're of the carnivorous persuasion or tofu, if you're a fellow Chaco-wearing, leg-shaving vegetarian such as myself. Either way, you simply not go wrong with this meal. Just ask the love of my life!

Prep time: 2 cocktails

Rice:
1 cup forbidden black rice
1 TBSP rice vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Sauce:
3 TBSP gochujang (a Korean chili paste available at Asian grocers or in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp agave nectar
1 TBSP rice vinegar
1 tsp ginger, minced or very finely grated (optional)

Vegetables:
1/2 cucumber, sliced into the thinnest wheels you can possibly make (a mandolin is helpful if you have one)
2 TBSP rice vinegar
Several TBSP neutral oil with high smoke point (canola or avocado oil are great options), divided
1 large carrot, julienned 
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced into 1/2-inch strips
4 cloves garlic
12 ounces (about one bunch) spinach, stems removed and chopped up a bit
1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP mirin cooking wine (available in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets)
4 scallions
4 eggs
4 ounces bean sprouts
1 sheet nori (sushi wrapper) or similar Korean seaweed, chopped up coarsely with a knife or scissors
Several generous pinches sesame seeds

First, get the rice started. Combine all the rice ingredients, along with 1 3/4 cup water in a rice cooker or saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Keep warm.

After the rice gets going, toss the cucumbers with several generous pinches of salt and place them in a colander or strainer to let excess water drip out. After 20-30 minutes, transfer cucumbers to a bowl and toss with the 2 TBSP of rice vinegar.

As the cucumbers are sitting in the colander, prepare the sauce by whisking together all the sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Now, heat a TBSP or so of your neutral cooking oil on medium heat in a frying pan or wok. Toss in the carrots and saute until they've turned golden are are a bit blistered, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Return your pan or wok to the heat and heat up a couple more TBSP of the neutral cooking oil. Add mushrooms and cook about 8 minutes, until they turn a bit golden. Add garlic and stir for  about 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until it's well-wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, and scallions and remove from heat and transfer to a covered bowl to keep warm. 

Now use a large frying pan (you can use the same one from the vegetables if it's big enough) and add 1-2 more TBSP of your neutral cooking oil. When pan and oil are totally hot, add eggs and cook sunny-side-up. 

As eggs are finishing, build your bibimbap bowls. Start with a big mound of rice in the bottom. Add a small heap of cucumbers, carrots, mushroom/spinach combo, and bean sprouts. Top with eggs and garnish with pieces of seaweed and sesame seeds. Serve with generous drizzles of the hot sauce. Then drink massive amounts of soju and bask in the compliments of your dinner companions!

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