The first time I had bibimbap was on a trip to Pittsburgh to celebrate our first anniversary. Although it was May, the weather was on the cold side and a bit rainy. We’d planned to spend the afternoon wandering the campus of the University of Pittsburgh but cut the visit down to a ride up the elevator at the Cathedral of Learning and then ducking in and out of shops near campus. When we finally arrived at our lunch destination, we were more or less soaked and I was a ready for a warm bowl of something.
The Korean/Japanese place we went to is really more of a takeout place so they don’t serve dolsot bibambap, the kind that comes in a piping hot stone bowl. Instead, the meal is served in a recyclable container, but it was no less delicious for that. I remember being warmed and revived by the combination of steamed rice and vegetables, spicy kimchi, crunchy carrots and cucumber, runny egg and sweet sauce.
In recreating this dish at home, I tried to narrow in on each of the five tastes to keep the recipe as simple as possible. The pickled vegetables provide sourness; the broccoli and greens bring a bitter note; mushrooms cooked with soy sauce offer salt and plenty of umami; while the sauce rounds everything out with a complex flavor overlayed by sweetness. The egg is almost just icing on the bibimbap cake, but also contributes a good hit of umami itself.
Texture and temperature are also important here. I like this particular combination of cooked soft ingredients and the raw, still-crunchy quick pickles. Keeping the bowls in the oven allows you to prepare all the individual sides while keeping your food hot, though you still won’t get the crunchy rice layer at the bottom. Spice is another factor to consider. Here, I rely on the sauce and the red pepper in the greens for a spicy kick.
The great thing about bibimbap, though? You can use what you like and have on hand. If you don’t like broccoli or bell peppers, leave them out. If you have leftover chicken or beef hanging out in your fridge, toss it in. Got quinoa instead of rice? Go for it. To me the important thing is that the dish has a balance of flavors; how you get there is up to you.
- 2 servings cooked rice
- 1 batch Quick-Pickled Vegetables
- 2 cups broccoli
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 2 cups baby spinach or torn kale
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1/2 tsp minced ginger (optional)
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 eggs
- Gochujang* (adjusted to your liking, if necessary)
- Preheat the oven to 180F. Cook the rice and pickle the vegetables, if necessary. Dish the rice into two oven-proof bowls and place in the oven to keep warm while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Heat a wok or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli and 1/4 cup of water. Cover the pan and steam until the broccoli turns bright green. Divide cooked broccoli between the two bowls in the oven.
- Return the pan to medium heat and add 1 tsp of the sesame oil. When hot, add the garlic and stir fry 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the spinach or kale. If using spinach, cook and stir for a few minutes until wilted, then season with red pepper flakes. If using kale, add 1/4 cup water to the pan and cover. When the kale turns bright green, remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring until the water evaporates and the kale crisps up. Divide the greens between the two bowls in the oven and place them back inside to keep warm.
- Heat 1 tsp of sesame oil in the now-empty pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and ginger, if using. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the mushrooms begin to release their liquid, then season with soy sauce. Cook until the soy sauce is absorbed. Divide the mushrooms between the two bowls in the oven.
- Heat the final 1 tsp of sesame oil in a cast iron or nonstick frying pan over medium heat and add the eggs. Cook, following these instructions until they are as done as you like.
- Remove the bowls from the oven (with potholders!!) and place onto two plates. Drain the pickled vegetables and divide them between the two bowls. Top each bowl with an egg, and drizzle gochujang over everything.
*Nutrition facts calculated with 1 tbsp Bibigo gochujang used on each serving