“What if, today, we were grateful for everything?” ~ Charlie Brown
For Mother's Day, the best gift I ever could have asked for. A trip to visit my son and his family and an afternoon spent cooking together in their kitchen. They taught me how to make two of their favorites: Miso soup and Bibimbap
The thing that strikes me most? What incredible parents they are.
It's hard to believe Sam is eighteen months old (already). He's toddling around, babbles all of the time, and is their favorite person in all of the world.
“Totally predictable, but I really never thought I'd love someone so much. Even though he spends most his day begging to go to the park, making a million toy messes, and we're exhausted a lot of the time.”
Sometimes he looks at them tenderly, places a dimpled hand on his mom's face and then lunges forward giggling. He suits them well. Really, he's perfect for them. They have a rhythm.
But really, since the fateful day they met in the sixth grade, the two of them have always had a rhythm. No matter what life throws their way, they've always made it work
J: “One afternoon, several years ago, I was down on my luck and on my way to the local food pantry. I passed a local Korean restaurant tucked between a comic shop and a Bohemian coffee shop. The sign in the window read: “Hiring – Chef's Assistant.”
Once I got to the pantry, I was mopey and complained about not having an ID, money, and pretty much every excuse there was for not being able to get a job. One of the guys pulled me aside, told me nobody wanted to hear my pity party and to come with him. He got me cleaned up, fresh clothes, a hair cut, a hot meal, and a swift kick in the shorts about being so negative.
The next day I went back and was hired on the spot.”
M: “It just so happens, they were also looking for a waitress. So I quit my job, asked a friend to drive me to Ames, all the while thinking he'd have money for an apartment. Not so much. Instead, we ended up living in the basement of the restaurant. The good news was we could eat as much rice and hot sauce as we wanted”
J: “So, for the next few months, I did all of the prep cooking. Every day, dozens of people would come in and order seafood pancakes, banana popsicles, tofu stew, and steaming bowls of Bibimbap. It was my first time being exposed to food from a different culture, everything from the tastes to colors on the plate.
I'm a highly spiritual person and had just discovered Buddhism. I knew God had put me in this place to learn a skill, and it forced me to have confidence. The owner had helped me; the man at the food pantry had helped me; the universe cared about me. I felt like I had a purpose
To me, Bibimbap represents a universal struggle, with the themes of charity/generosity/ Buddhism.”
If you've ever had Korean food, you'll know how hard it is to resist Bibimbap
A large serving of pearly white rice in the center of a bowl that's surrounded by a small amount of meat (usually beef), a rainbow of colorful veggies, and a bright yellow egg as the shining star. It's typically served in special stone bowls coated in sesame oil and heated until they're piping hot. When the rice is added, a crust will form along the bottom
(No stone bowl? A skillet will work wonders for giving the rice its irresistible crunch)
An egg is part of the mix as well, although there are a couple of ways it can go. It can be fried and placed on top, or the more traditional way, with the chef cracking it over the dish. As the egg is mixed into the rice, it will cook in the steaming hot bowl, with the runny yolk saucing the rice.
Like many Korean meals, individual ingredients are plated so beautifully, allowing you to fully appreciate each one. Until, with reckless abandon, everything is mixed together. The possibilities are endless, so use your favorite ingredients.
A few things to keep in mind when making your own bowl
You can cook everything together in one pot, or make the components individually (it makes for a prettier presentation)
While we made ours with carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, scallions, and kimchi; the technique for one-pot, egg-topped crispy rice works for any cuisine's flavor combination. An Italian version? Rice + pancetta + basil + tomatoes. Asian? Peppercorns + snow peas + sesame seeds + tamari. Middle Eastern? Za'atar + eggplant + chickpeas + lamb
Any variety of rice will be great, although white sushi rice crisps up nicely
Cook the veggies any way you'd like. Some ideas: lightly sauté, blanch, steam, or roast. It's also nice to leave a few raw; a little crunch adds a nice texture. A few ideas? Cucumber or carrot matchsticks, zucchini ribbons, thinly sliced bell peppers, sesame carrots, grilled mushrooms, soy sauce-glazed snap peas
Protein – Anything will work great. Maybe thinly sliced steak, pulled pork, shredded rotisserie chicken, or ground lamb? If you're going vegetarian, crispy chickpeas, fried eggplant, or even marinated tofu
Toppings – Bibimbap is all about texture. Soft cooked rice and the crispy rice crust, crunchy and soft veggies, chewy meat, and a runny egg. Layer on even more texture with the toppings. Try ingredients like bean sprouts, sesame seeds, or shredded dried seaweed if you are going with Asian flavors. A drizzle of sesame oil or hot sauce over the top before serving
When it comes to cooking serving your Bibimbap, there are a couple of ways you can go.
Serving it in individual bowls is prettier (and nicer for entertaining). When making it this way, it's best to crisp the rice and cook the eggs separately, then add everything to the bowls. Once the rice is cooked, heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet, add the cooked rice for a few minutes, allowing it to crisp up
Spoon the cooked rice into each bowl. Top with your cooked vegetables and meat, then add toppings.
Fry some eggs (one per bowl). Cook them until the whites are just set and the yolks are still runny. Top each bowl with an egg, a drizzle of sesame oil and hot sauce, and serve
The other way is to cook everything in one big pot
Choose a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid and heat some oil until it's very hot. Add the cooked rice and cover, allowing it to cook for just a few minutes. Next, add the veggies and meat. Crack an egg (or multiple eggs depending on how many people you are feeding) over the top
Cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Keep the pot covered for a few minutes to allow the egg to start to cook. Remove the cover, and stir it all together before serving
And so, while I certainly love recipes, it's best to defer to him when it comes to Bibimbap
“I rarely use a recipe. Because once you realize you don't always need one; you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.”
So grab some rice .. bowls .. and a few of your favorite toppings. But most of all?
ps: I wish for you a wonderful (and long) Memorial Day weekend!