The Beauty of Bibimbap

One fine Wednesday, a little more than a year ago, I was 'leafing' through the Dining and Wine section of the online New York Times, when I came across a recipe for a vegetarian dish called Bibimbap.  As I am always in search of good (and beautiful) vegetarian main courses, I copied and pasted the recipe into a Word document and saved it to my digital file of over 1600 recipes, many of which I have never made - and may never make! But it feels good to know they are there - like having 1600 friends on Facebook (I don't) without the pressure to write on their "wall" or accept their excess fuel from Farmville.

My computer recipe file is divided much like any cookbook, into sub-files for appetizers, soups, side dishes, main courses, desserts, etc.  And then most categories are divided within; for example, main courses breaks into four groups: meats, poultry, fish/seafood or vegetarian.

The other day, I was planning menus for weekend visitors: our niece, her husband and their 7-month old son.  I wanted to make sure I had some interesting options to serve them while they are here, and make some dishes that were new to me.  Ah, the fun of experimenting on unsuspecting guests!

So, in the vegetarian section of my file was Bibimbap - a Korean dish with which I was unfamiliar.  I was intrigued.  My first line of attack was to go online and seek other versions of the recipe to check for authenticity.  Like so many traditional dishes, it seems each chef - each mother - has his/her own recipe.  I found countless versions!  So I looked through about 20 and opted for a hybrid.  I did notice that, while my recipe and a few others were vegetarian, most recipes included beef and a sunny-side up egg.  I figured that we could do vegetarian another evening and decided to get some beef!

When reading the recipe, I was confused when I was instructed to arrange all the vegetables on the rice in wedges like pizza slices.  Like pizza slices?  Seriously? And then you just stir it all together to make a big ol' mess?  What was that about?  So, I wondered, why not just toss them all in and stir? Really, it would be so much easier...

Then I clicked on Google Images and typed in b-i-b-i-m-b-a-p!  WOW!  The moment I saw the first photo I knew exactly why I was to arrange the vegetables just so.  This dish has to be one of the most beautiful I have ever seen!  I think rather than describe it using the pizza-wedge analogy, I would say, "Arrange them like the rose window from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris!" because, to me, that it was it looked like.

So, off I went to gather the ingredients from my local grocery store.  When I walked into the store, I saw a friend and mentioned making this dish.  He quickly corrected my poor Korean pronunciation of bibimbap and said, "You do know that I have a Korean aunt, don't you?"  Well, wasn't that convenient!  I asked him if she ever made this for him.  Of course.  Did his aunt used meat in hers?  Absolutely!  Ground beef or sliced steak?  Steak cut into french-fry-sized batons.  Cooked egg or raw egg?  Sunny side up.  Does she us gosari?  If she has it.

Gosari - or kosari - is a Korean fern.  While available locally in several of the Asian grocery stores, I had neither the time to shop for it nor the 24 hours to soak it.  So I did without.  And, with the added beef, my "vegetarian" meal became a carnivore's delight.  But just leave out the meat and add some tofu and you will have a great vegetarian dish!

많이 드세요 (transliterated: manh-i deuseyo!)  Or, in French, Bon appétit!

- David


1 cup short-grain rice, rinsed well and drained
1 medium zucchini, julienned, in 2-inch lengths
3 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
½ teaspoon sugar, plus a pinch
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1 cup thinly sliced shiitake caps – about 6 large
1 teaspoon soy sauce, divided
½ pound sirloin steak, cut into ¼-inch thick batons
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 cup bean sprouts
2 cups packed spinach leaves
1 cup peeled and julienned daikon radish, in 2-inch lengths
1 teaspoon dried hot chili flakes
2½ teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup peeled and julienned carrot, in 2-inch lengths
1 egg
2 teaspoons Korean red chili-garlic paste (gochujang)

Cook rice in 2 cups salted water and set aside.

While rice is cooking, bring a medium pot of water to a boil.

Place julienned zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt; set aside to drain for 10 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.  Place a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon sesame oil, zucchini and ½ teaspoon sesame seeds. Sauté 2 minutes, then transfer to a plate; set aside.

Wipe out pan and return to medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Add shiitakes, pinch of salt and ½ teaspoon soy sauce. Sauté 2 minutes, then transfer to a plate; set aside.

Wipe out pan again and return to medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and stir fry the beef batons and garlic until beef is medium rare – about 3 minutes.  Add ½ teaspoon soy sauce and a pinch each of salt and sugar and set aside.

Place bean sprouts in the boiling water until wilted, about 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the colander to drain. Place sprouts in a bowl and set aside.

Add spinach to the pot of boiling water and blanch until it wilts and turns bright green, about 30 seconds. Drain into the colander, rinse well with cold water until chilled, then drain, squeezing out excess water. Transfer to a bowl and add ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon sesame oil and ½ teaspoon sesame seeds. Mix well and set aside.

Place julienned daikon in a bowl, and add hot chili flakes, ½ teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon sesame oil and a pinch of salt. Mix well and set aside.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.  Cook rice for a few minutes and remove from heat. Arrange the zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, beef, bean sprouts, spinach, daikon and carrots leaving an opening in the middle. Cover and cook until all vegetables are heated through.

Meanwhile, heat ½ teaspoon vegetable oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, and cook egg sunny side.  Carefully place egg in the center of the vegetables without breaking the yolk.

Bring skillet to table, add chili sauce and toss mixture gently, but thoroughly, to combine ingredients. Serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings.


  1. I love Korean food. There is a Korean restaurant in the Hague where S and I go all the time. I've never had this colorful salad though. Great recipe David, I will definitely try this!

    Oh, and I love the color of your plates!

  2. Thanks, Magda! Korean food is fairly new to me - my next project is mundu! David


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