Until this weekend, my only experience with Korean food has been driving by Korean BBQ restaurant signs and wondering how vegetarianism and Korean culture could ever be compatible. When I lived in Malaysia, my roommate and friend Anna made several visits to Seoul and often spoke of a magical mixed rice one-bowl meal called bibimbap. I was intrigued, but the thought of making (or taking the risk to buy pre-made) kimchi and then locating gochujang (a spicy Korean hot sauce) moved this dish lower on the recipe experiment priority list.
A few months ago, I added Sarah Copeland’s Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for any Eater and Every Appetite to my cookbook collection. One of the recipes she includes in the book is for her version of bibimbap. So far every recipe I’ve tried in Feast has been delicious, and I can’t recommend this book enough for vegetarians who find themselves stuck in a rut with their cooking.
What sold me on her recipe for bibimbap is her inclusion of a recipe for gochujang. Purchasing prepared condiments and sauces is always a crap shoot for me. I’ve been burned one too many times with promises of flavorful jarred Asian sauces only to take one taste of a sauce and curse the heavens for allowing me to waste money on something that makes me want to hurl. Copeland’s gochujang recipe includes ingredients I know and love and took only a few minutes to concoct. I’ll share that recipe with you on Wednesday.
In the meantime, feast your eyes on my first attempt at creating vegetarian Korean cuisine. The recipe yields a big pot of rice, which equals leftovers in my house. In order to prevent the finished rice from getting hard, only add as much cooked rice to the final fry pan step that you plan to eat. Once the fried rice cools, it will become too crunchy to enjoy.
Finally, if you’re on the hunt for other vegetarian Korean recipes, check out this website for inspiration.
Vegetarian Korean Bibimbap
(a Feast recipe)
-6 cups short-grain white rice, such as sushi rice
– 3 large carrots, peeled
– 1 medium zucchini
– 3 cups water
– 1 TBS toasted sesame oil
– 2 to 2 TBS peanut oil
– 3 to 4 handfuls spinach leaves
– Sea salt
– 4 eggs, fried sunny-side up
– Kimchi (We found a jar of Wildbrine kimchi on sale at Whole Foods and highly recommend it.)
– Sesame seeds for sprinkling
1. Rinse and soak the rice in enough water to cover while you prepare the vegetables. Cut the carrots and zucchini into matchsticks and set aside. Drain the rice and combine with the 3 cups water in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Heat your largest large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame oil and 1 TBS peanut oil and heat until simmering. Cook the carrots, zucchini, and spinach, one at a time, until wilted and toothsome but tender enough to pierce with a fork, 3 to 5 minutes per vegetable. Transfer the vegetables to a platter as you cook them and cover loosely to keep warm. Season with 1/2 tsp salt.
3. Drizzle the remaining 1 or 2 TSP peanut oil over the bottom of the cast-iron skillet or a clay pot, if you have one, and add the cooked rice. Heat the skillet over medium heat until the prized crispy layer of rice along the bottom forms, 6 to 8 minutes.
4. Lay the fried egg on top of the rice, followed by the cooked vegetables and the kimchi. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the top and dollop with gochujang paste. Serve warm with more gochujang paste.