Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Sometimes a good restaurant meal can send you off in a new culinary direction. It's one thing to sort through cookbooks in search of interesting things to try, but quite another to be confronted with the dish in question.
Saturday night I had dinner with The Deacon at one of our favorite hangouts, Soonja's in Princeton. Soonja's features cuisine from various Asian countries. The Deacon had one of the "create your own noodle dish" entrees, while I decided to visit new territory. I've been eyeing the "Bi Bim Bob" in the Korean section of the menu for a while now. The beef and rice sounded interesting, but the mixed vegetables summoned up images of a plate full of broccoli (a frequent component of "mixed vegetables," in my experience). I don't like broccoli and avoid it as much as possible, but I decided to take a gamble.
When the plate arrived (after the steamed pork dumpling appetizer and accompanying miso soup), I was pleasantly surprised: no broccoli. Mounds of different ingredients ringed the plate; in the center sat the mound of minced beef while the rice, hidden, supported everything else. The plate was a colorful assortment: yellow egg slivers, dark green spinach, variegated green lettuce, coffee-colored shiitake mushrooms, pale bean sprouts and slivered daikon, and orange threads of carrot. It was almost too pretty to eat. The veggies were fresh and just barely cooked; the sprouts and daikon were dressed with a tinge of vinegar. The bibimbap (every place I encounter the name of this dish seems to spell it differently) was served with koch'ujang (Korean hot chile paste); I added a few dollops of chile paste to the dish, mixed everything up and dug in.
All in all, it reminded me of a very substantial salad. The veggies were the real heart of the dish, in the vein of many Asian dishes which use meat as favoring rather than the core of the dish. The mix of textures and tastes had plenty of variety and was welcome on a hot day. As I ate, I knew I had to make this a part of my cooking repertoire.
When I got home, I pulled out Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall's Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen. There was indeed a recipe for "Pibimbap," but I quickly realized why I hadn't bookmarked the recipe: all those ingredients! All that chopping! Well, I didn't care now. I'd seen what bibimbap was like and that gave me more incentive. So did this recipe for bibimbap from evil jungle prince, who made the point that bibimbap is a great use for leftovers. Homemade bibimbap is sure to appear in my kitchen soon.