I feel like a high school student writing a term paper. Since I know Lynn is going to read this, and she is from Korea. And cooks Korean food. Taught to her by family.
*ahem* Korean food (according to the official Korea Tourism Site) is referred to as hansik. As with Japanese and Chinese cuisine, all these types of food are often lumped into a single “Asian food” category. Anything with a splash of soy, the addition of some fresh ginger, maybe a few drops of fish sauce, and it all becomes “asian food”.
While these foods come from the same continent, it does not mean they all eat the same things. That continent alone encompasses Iran, China, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Nepal, India, and the list goes on. Now that you have a better picture of the vastness, you can relate that to the array of resources available depending on which area. Even within Korea, the exact way a dish is made varies from one region to the next.
There are a few overarching concepts to consider:
1.) The concept of balance, of “yin and yang”
2.) Expanding upon 1, meals are meant to reflect balance amongst the 5 elements (earth, water, air, fire, and metal) through food
Bibimbap is a lovely representation of these traditions, because each bowl contains all the elements. Furthermore, they are arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner to be served, and only mixed right before you begin eating. I will not profess to understanding the finer points of elemental arrangement in Korean food, but I will say the whole process is fascinating. For my own experience, I attempted to recreate the Maagchi‘s recipe from her website. I love that there is a recipe with ingredients and little sub-recipes on each page along with a detailed video about serving and finishing each dish.
The only ingredient I was unable to track down was the dried bracken fern. Both refrigerated areas and the dehydrated plant section at the asian market near my house were devoid of the plant. Either that, or I missed it since I can’t read a lick of korean. I did however have everything else by the end of the shopping trip.
Once home, everything was cut and placed into its own bowl until ready to be cooked. Each of the bowls’ contents are relatively self-explanatory. The upper right corner bowl has blanched spinach.
I left everything to the side as I cooked my rice. We purchased a bag of new crop short grain rice on this last trip to Ranch Market. I was a little high on my water to rice ratio this time, but the flavor was good.
Typically, I can memorize almost all the steps in a standard recipe after reading through a few times. However, sauteing each ingredient in the right combination of canola oil, minced garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and/or sugar was complex enough that I actually made notes for cooking.
The super food geek in me appreciates the respect offered to each ingredient, as it is cooked individually with the combination of things that bring out its elements. Besides, once you get the pan hot from the first veggie or two, everything else goes quickly. Once the veggies were finished, I seared some beef. Most of the recipes recommended ground beef, but I kind of have a thing against ground meat. Particularly because it is often comprised of mostly fat and scrap bits. Instead, I opted for super thinly shaved chuck. It tasted great with the garlic/soy/sesame/sugar mix, though I’d probably go for some eye of round next time if I remember to stop by Uwajimaya.
It was at this moment, I realized I do not own a “bibimbap” bowl, or “bowl of larger than average size”. Never to fear, my round tupperware came to the rescue. I laid out the ingredients similarly to Maangchi’s photos on her website, but am unsure whether I managed the right balance of color. It sure looked pretty to me. Everything was topped off with a fried egg.
I went a hair less-cooked than I typically prefer on my egg, as the egg is really meant to comprise a key component of the “sauce” once mixed. Some people choose to use raw proteins (beef and egg). Were I to buy those ingredients from somewhere like a farmers market or raise the animals myself, I’d be all over that practice. Since that isn’t the case, I’ll be taking them mostly cooked.
The first finishing touch is a drizzle of sesame oil. I had a revelation about the liberal use of sesame oil in Korean food, it was like nothing I had ever known. I have always, always loved sesame oil. The warmth in its flavor, the homey aroma when it heats in a pan, the way it helps ground the flavors of anything it touches.
The final touch is my favorite part of most asian cuisine – the spicy bit. Gochujang is a brilliantly red past made from red chili powder, soybeans, glutinous rice paste, and a few other flavoring all fermented into a bottle of tasty goodness. While it falls under the “fire” element because of its spice, it contains hints of all the taste elements (sweet, salty, bitter, earthy, umami). That is, if you can get past the spiciness. We’re spice-lovers in this house. Alexir’s prep almost always involves toasting whole dried peppers to be ground into malaysian sauces, and we’ve eaten every family meal imaginable doused in sriracha.
Don’t forget the (unpictured) plate of kimchi with sesame seeds as a palate cleanser between bites on the side.
This experience makes me want to buy a korean food cookbook. But then I look at how far my cookbook collection has spilled out into the floor. Maybe I’ll start with a few more trips to the local hot pot place first.