One of my favourite “get to know you better” questions to ask people is what dish they would choose to eat every day for the rest of their life if they had to pick just one (usually followed by what they would eat for the ultimate last supper). Currently, mine is a classic bibimbap. This humble Korean dish which simply means “mix rice”, has a little bit of everything you need. At its core, a bibimbap “recipe” is comprised of warm white rice topped with a variety of seasoned vegetables (called namul), some protein (beef is classic), either a crispy fried or raw egg (depending on your preference), and a healthy squeeze of gochujang (a Korean red pepper paste). When made in a dolsot (stone bowl) with a crispy bottom and a healthy sizzle, it’s just incredible.
Historically, it appears that the bibimbap descended from a dish called Goldongban, a bowl of rice with vegetables, meat and sauce, emerging sometime during the Joseon Period (14th-16th Centuries). This dish was traditionally and ritualistically eaten on the eve of the Lunar New Year, allowing people to clear our their pantries and start fresh. Welcome to every Sunday night chez moi.
The key to a successful bibimbap is to think about the components as parts of a little orchestra. It can be overwhelming to prepare everything at once, but it’s much easier to focus on one ingredient at a time, and add or remove a component if it isn’t to your liking (or you forgot to pick it up from the grocery store). You can even make a big batch of vegetables the night before, and bring them together for your final performance on the night of.
For most East Asian families, the rice component is basically a non-step, as there is likely a full rice cooker going at all times. For those of you who do not have a rice cooker, I have found that my Instant Pot has been very useful (cooks white rice in about 15 minutes) for this purpose. It’s not too hard to make rice on the stove either, if you do it often enough.
I will also confess to something: the real secret weapon to mastering the “Bibimbap Flow” if you live in Korea or somewhere like Toronto where you have access to Korean grocery stores is to buy half of your vegetables pre-made. I often go to HMart and pick up a package of pre-cooked mung bean sprouts and spinach for the same price it would cost for you to buy them fresh. Yes, it is cheating, but it is definitely living an authentic Korean experience in its own way.
And thus concludes my argument for why this is the perfect everyday dish: it’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s versatile, and it’s also beautiful to look at. Once you nail the basic flow, there is no limit to how many different variations of the bibimbap recipe you can try!
P.S. If you’re feeling more pork than beef tonight, try these Korean Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps instead.
A classic Korean recipe for a go-to weeknight meal
- 2 cups medium grain rice think sushi rice
- 2 large eggs the fresher the better
- 1 lb sirloin steak most tender cuts of steak are great or ground beef is acceptable in a pinch
- 2 cups mung bean sprouts can use soybean sprouts if no mung beans available
- 2 cups spinach avoid using baby spinach
- 1 carrot julienned
- 1 cucumber julienned or cut in half moon shapes
- 1 handful mushrooms cut thinly, shitake is best but a blend of shiitake and cremini button is my favourite mix
- gochujang to taste
- 1 cup cabbage kimchi
- white sesame seeds toasted if you have the time!
- sesame oil
- soy sauce dark or light is fine, but not a soy sauce paste
- minced garlic
- neutral vegetable oil for frying
- salt any kind will do
- 1 tsp honey sugar will be fine as well
Wash and cook your rice in a rice cooker, Instant Pot or over the stove.
Thinly slice your beef and place in glass bowl or container. Add 2 tbsp each of soy sauce, minced garlic, and sesame oil, and 1 tsp honey and mix to distribute evenly. Cover and let marinate in the fridge.
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the mung beans for about 5 minutes. Remove from water with colander, and use the same water to blanch the spinach. Place the fully-drained vegetables in their own bowls and season with salt and sesame oil to taste. You may add a bit of minced garlic to the spinach if you prefer.
At the same time, put prepared carrots, mushrooms and cucumber into their own bowls, and salt generously. Once you have finished with the mung beans and the spinach, drain the carrots and mushrooms (they will have sweated a little from the salt) and sauté each over medium heat (about 7 minutes for carrots, 4 minutes for mushrooms). As for the cucumbers, it is your choice whether you wish to sauté them or not. I usually keep them raw and find that the little bit of salt is enough (you will probably want to drain these as well).
After wiping down your sauté pan with a slightly damp towel, fry the beef with a tiny bit of oil, keeping it medium rare if you can. Set beef aside.
At this point, your rice should be done. Fluff slightly and spread evenly in a large bowl. See note below about using a stone bowl. Assemble all of your seasoned vegetables evenly around the bowl, including the kimchi. Try to put the same colour of vegetable opposite the other (for example, spinach across from cucumber, carrot across from kimchi) to maximize harmony and enjoyment.
Wipe down pan once more and fry a sunny side egg to place on top of the rice and vegetables.
Top with sesame seeds and a dollop of gochujang on the side (best to adjust as your go for heat!)
Advance prep: I would strongly recommend that you prepare all of the vegetables the night before either partially (just sliced and portioned) or fully (blanched, sautéed, and chilled) to make cooking a breeze the next night. You can also marinate the beef the night before.
Prepping for the week: If you really want to win at life, you can double up the recipe and make enough to meal prep for a whole week. In this case, it’s best to store the vegetables separate from the rice to keep things fresh and vibrant, and cook the beef and egg à la minute if you can.
Stone bowl: If you can get your hands on a dolsot, or stone bowl, you can really heighten the experience by adding a layer of sesame oil to the bottom of the bowl before adding your rice and ingredients, then heating the stone bowl over the stove for a crispy bottom. In this scenario, the raw egg would work great, and you can basically add raw seasoned beef to be “cooked” in the stone bowl.