Every now and then I make bibimbap with the kids on Sunday afternoon. It's labor-intensive, but a good family activity. At this point I can con my kids into doing most of the hard work.
Bibimbap, often called Korean comfort food, is simple in concept: a bowl of rice with some meat and vegetables on top, which one vigorously mixes together into a satisfying mash. But as with American comfort staples like mac and cheese, the variations are endless. Even though it's time-consuming, it's simple, and most kids who can be trusted with sharp implements can make it.
Here's how I did it this time. Purists will find it Westernized. I prefer to think of it as fusion.
Rice (duh). More rice than you think you'll need.
Bulgogi (you could spend a long time making the marinade yourself and marinating thinly-sliced beef, but I'm lazy and I get it pre- marinated from the terrific Korean grocery down the street.)
Cabbage, chopped into strips, quickly stir-fried until wilted in a bit of oil, garlic, and ginger.
Carrots, cut into matchsticks (hard, boring) or just peeled into a pile of peels and then chopped (easy, lazy), stir-fried. (I like to do the carrots with mostly ginger and a little vinegar for tang).
Mini-cucumbers, sliced thin (not peeled), tossed in some sea salt, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, sugar, sesame seeds, sesame oil, a little red pepper, and diced scallions. You could make a proper Korean cucumber salad, which takes much longer, but I like the cucumbers to have a bit of crispness left in them to give more texture variation.
Shiitake mushrooms, stir-fried. In something. Surprise me.
Spinach, cooked and tossed in maybe soy sauce and sesame seeds and a little garlic.
Kimchee. Buy it. Make it? Are you kidding me?
Bean sprouts, tossed in boiling water for a minute or two, drained, then tossed with some diced scallions and ginger or garlic or whatever.
Diced zucchini. This time I stir-fried it briefly, until still slightly crisp, in a bottled ginger-soy dressing because I wanted an ingredient on the sweeter side for contrast.
Fermented bean paste. No, really. You can use the brownish stuff (savory and salty) or the red stuff (spicy and incredibly flavorful), or have both as options. You can also reach a happy medium by combining them to taste. Whichever I use, I take a big dollop of the paste, stir-fry with garlic and sesame oil and some sugar and vinegar, which results in a more sauce-like consistency and a little more moderate flavor. A little goes a long way. If you get to the end of cooking and realize that you are out of red bean paste, you could use Sriracha, like I did. Because it's all fusiony.
There are plenty of other vegetables you could use, and there are lots of ways to cook them. Some people season the vegetables very lightly, and others use more of the staples: salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, ginger, diced scallions, sesame oil, sesame seeds, vinegar, soy sauce. I like to experiment with these to see which vegetable works best with which combination, and to try to arrange it so the vegetables have contrasting flavors.
All of this takes up a lot of space.
Using a large bowl, create a bed of rice. Then array the ingredients of your choice around on the rice, including sauce, topped with the egg.
Then you chop and stir and mix and mash the hell out of it. This is the kids' favorite part.
It's marvelous, and comforting, and filling. Experimentation with taste or texture of individual ingredients is fun and easy.
When possible, get someone else to do the bajillion dirty dishes that result.
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