Bibimbap or not?

A story of rice bowls

The time was late – far past my bedtime, yet I was huddled under the covers watching food video after food video. A caption caught my eye — bibimbap. I clicked. I found myself watching a video of a man making bibimbap. Maybe it was the potatoes that set me off, maybe it was the lack of respect for a culture’s food, but I found myself reeling as fried potatoes were substituted for rice, cheese was mixed in and the typical egg was traded for a handful of salad greens, producing what he deemed, “an authentically delicious bibimbap”. This wasn’t the bibimbap I was familiar with — in fact, did it even count? I wasn’t sure.

Over the next few days, the question of authenticity teased me. Having grown up in an American town where the only Chinese restaurant was run by a White couple, I struggled with this idea of authenticity and fusion. Mostly:

  • What makes a food authentic, and is authentic food necessary for an authentic experience?
  • Does authentic food need to be cooked by a person of that specific culture?
  • And if not, who qualifies to cook the food of a culture that isn’t American?
  • What is fusion food?

No, I don’t have the answers (I do have thoughts, which I’ll explore in later posts) — and I really don’t think anyone has the “right answer”. These questions are meant to create a conversation around an action that we all have to do to survive (eat) and what we’re choosing to put in our mouths.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I can’t help admitting that the sudden rise in popularity of Asian food leaves me disgruntled and with a sour taste in my mouth. Not because I don’t love not having to bring only a PB&J sandwich to lunch or that there are finally more Asian restaurants in my area than I have fingers and toes, but because it all feels like a fad. A fad of chasing “Instagrammable” bubble teas, or Snapchatting the making of hand-pulled noodles. And on the chef’s end, jumping on to the train of Gochujang this, or ube that, because those ingredients are the ones that are hip, even when the ingredients don’t necessarily belong. Am I afraid that one day America will wake up and we’ll be obsolete? Maybe a little bit, but I’m more afraid that this increased interest with Asian cuisine isn’t accompanied by the same increased interest in the people and culture of that cuisine.

It seems as if America has snatched up Asian food and left the people behind, left their stories, their hardships and their culture. And that breaks my heart. I really do believe that understanding the stories and history of a culture is key in accepting and understanding communities different than our own. So, let’s learn about the history of mooncakes and the legend and lore surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival. Let’s understand why many Asian dishes are braised and stewed instead of fried (or why the fried dishes are so prized). Let’s take a moment to talk to our friends about the history or story behind a dish. I promise you what you learn, will only make your meal richer.

And speaking of meal, let’s get to the star of the show – bibimbap. We’re making it today because it was the meal that sparked this conversation. And while I may not be Korean, it has come to be one of my favorite foods. Bibimbap wasn’t always called bibimbap, but it’s been around for thousands of years. The Royal family would often dine on bibimbap for lunch or dinner, and it wasn’t until much later that it transitioned to more of a humble everyday dish. I find that bibimbap, literally meaning “to mix” + “rice” reminds me of home, in a way that only a bowl of rice can do.

*What you choose to mix into your bibimbap can vary. I’ve followed a more traditional list of vegetables and proteins to mix in, but if you’re more familiar with Korean cuisine or have allergies, by all means, substitute away!

BIBIMBAP | Makes 2 bowls

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups rice (white, brown or purple is all fine)
  • 1 cup julienne carrots
  • 1 cup julienne zucchini
  • 2 cups spinach or Asian leafy greens
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 cup julienne burdock root
  • 1 block of firm/medium firm tofu – cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • White sesame seeds (for sprinkling)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Soy sauce (to taste)
  • Sesame oil (to taste)
  • Gochujang (to taste)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Over medium heat, saute carrots until soft to bite. Season with salt and sesame oil to taste.
  2. Over high heat, repeat process sauteing zucchini, spinach and mushrooms individually until tender. Season each vegetable with salt and sesame oil to taste.
  3. Heat frying pan until very hot. Once pan is hot, saute burdock root for 1-2 minutes, then pour in 1/4 cup of water and place lid of saucepan on to steam burdock roots. Once water has evaporated, test burdock root for tenderness. If it is not soft enough, repeat the steaming process. If it is tender enough for your liking, season with soy sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  4. In a frying pan, heat up 2 tbsp of oil until the pan is very hot. Add tofu and pan-fry until sides are golden. Season with salt and sesame oil to taste.
  5. In a fry pan, cook 2 eggs sunny-side up (I prefer my eggs fully cooked, in which case I was just cook eggs over-hard).
  6. Divide rice evenly into two bowls. Arrange vegetables and tofu on top of rice. Place one egg on each bibimbap bowl.
  7. At this point, you may add as much or as little gochujang as you prefer. I often top my bibimbap with an additional drizzle of sesame oil or soy sauce.

Enjoy!

Ramen Congee

 Ramen congee might sound like the weirdest thing, but actually is delicious and oddly addictive.  It is one childhood food that I still frequently eat, and the moment that hot broth enters my stomach I’m always hit with simultaneous waves of nostalgia and warm fuzzies. Ramen congee was always saved for when my dad was out of town, and when he was, that meant staying up late, watching movies, and eating ramen congee with my mom and two sisters.


I think I partly loved it so much because it mean that we got to go out for ramen either the day before, or earlier that week. Growing up in the suburbs there wasn’t always the largest choice of ethnic foods to choose from, and if there were, they probably weren’t the most authentic.  When I made ramen congee for the first time after eating at Totto Ramen (my absolute FAV ramen joint in NYC, check it out!), I was blown away by the intricate flavors that the broth held.


I don’t doctor up the broth much, just salt and white pepper to taste.  I really prefer using white pepper as opposed to black pepper, since it’s a milder flavor that complements Asian ingredients much better than black pepper. This recipe isn’t meant to be difficult, and it’s certainly not meant to be restricting. You’ll see that I’ve only included daikon (an Asian version of radish), eggs, and scallion. It’s completely up to you if you want to add in extra, or leave out something! The only thing this recipe is meant to do is to bring comfort on a day when you really need it.  That being said, in order to make this recipe fast and easy, I’m using cooked rice to bring down the cooking time.  You can absolutely use uncooked rice, I would just add in an extra 1/2 cup of broth, 1/2 cup of water and increase the cooking time by 30 minutes.  The only thing that you need to make sure of when you’re making congee, is that your rice is either sushi or jasmine rice.  Any sort of rice that is low in starch (think Indian Basmati rice) will not form into a porridge.  Rather, it will just stay as individual grains of rice, which is not what we want! 


Congee is a staple to Taiwanese cooking, and actually was once a sign as poverty.  It was used to stretch out meals, since so much water could be added to the rice to make it seem like there was a lot more food than actually available. Unfortunately, while poverty is still a rampant problem in many areas of Asia, congee is also wonderful to make when you’re feeling sick, or if you really need a soft meal (a.k.a. me, after my wisdom teeth removal).


So, the next time that you’re at a ramen shop, no matter how frequent it is, or if it’s your first time, don’t have the waiter throw away your leftover broth, bring it home! Not only does it prevent food waste, but it’s also a quick meal to throw together on a week day when you’re super tired and just want some hot food in your belly. From my stomach to yours, I hope you enjoy this ramen congee recipe!

RAMEN CONGEE | Makes 1 big pot (3-4 people)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups leftover ramen broth
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup cooked sushi or jasmine rice (leftover or fresh)
  • 1 stalk of green onion
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups daikon, sliced thinly
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large cooking pot, mix ramen broth and water.  Add in rice and bring to a boil. 
  2. One rice is brought to a boil, reduce heat and simmer.
  3. At this point, add in sliced daikon and eggs, stir a couple times to mix eggs around. 
  4. Let congee simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning. 
  5. Once daikon slices become translucent and rice is cooked into a thin porridge (around 25 minutes), add salt and pepper to taste. 
  6. Just before serving, sprinkle congee with green onion slices. 

Enjoy! 

Summer-y Shrimp Wontons

I say “summer-y” because the addition of fresh corn makes these shrimp wontons absolutely pop with flavor and adds just a hint of sweetness to balance out the spice of the white pepper.  Being from Minnesota (a.k.a. the breadbasket of America), I’m pretty proud of the corn we grow. During the summer, there’s nothing better than roasting some fresh corn out on the grill and then my family will brush each piece with a soy dressing. SO incredibly good!


Since I’m currently in a 12×12 foot teeny, tiny, grill-less apartment, roasting summer corn is pretty much out of the question. Luckily, there are about a bajillion other ways to enjoy fresh corn. One of my favorite ways is in dumplings or wontons.  If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between dumplings and wontons are, your search ends here! Wontons are generally wrapped in the shape that is shown in the pictures above, the wrapper is square (unlike dumpling wrappers which are round) and thinner, for a faster cooking time than dumplings.  Wontons are also usually filled less, since they are often accompanied by noodles or some sort of soup and aren’t supposed to be a main dish (although I often eat them for an entire meal haha).


Though it may seem daunting, making wontons is actually the simplest process ever. I was able to make about 50 wontons in less than 1 hour, which is pretty great considering you can easily freeze wontons and reheat them later for a delicious snack or meal. I know that some people like to make their own wonton wrappers, but to be honest, store-bought ones are actually just as delicious and way more convenient. Growing up in a Taiwanese-American household, frozen wonton wrappers were a common sight in my fridge. You can easily get wonton wrappers at any sort of Asian grocery store that might be around you, or visit a store similar to Whole Foods that carries an ethnic food section.


This recipe does call for some ingredients that might be out of the ordinary if you aren’t a hoarder of Asian spices like me. You’ll need soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, shallots, white pepper, and green onion (a.k.a. scallions). The first two you might also need to visit a specialty store to find, but the rest should be carried by whatever local grocery store you like to go to. If you’ve got a food processor, amazing! You can go pour yourself a glass of celebratory wine or juice because your work just got cut in half. If you don’t, well, you can join the club. Luckily, there isn’t too much to chop 🙂
Let’s get started!

SUMMER-Y SHRIMP WONTONS | Makes 48 medium sized wontons

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb of raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 1 stalk of scallion, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp of minced ginger
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup corn kernels 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1 pack of 48 wonton wrappers (usually one package of those will do!)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine scallion, ginger, corn and shallots together into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Sprinkle in salt and mix thoroughly with the aromatics.
  3. Finely chop raw shrimp until pieces are small and begin to stick with each other (this is necessary so the filling will hold together and not break apart in the wontons).
  4. Add chopped shrimp in with the aromatics and mix well.
  5. Pour in soy sauce, sesame oil and sprinkle in white pepper, mix again.
  6. Fill a small bowl with cold water to use as “glue” to help the wonton wrappers stay closed
  7. Hold the wonton wrapper so that it looks like a diamond, and not a square in your hand.
  8. Add about 1/2-1 tsp of filling to the center of the wonton wrapper.
  9. Dip your finger into the cold water and dab water along the edges of the wrapper.
  10. Then, fold wrapper in half and press down on edges to seal. You should now have a shape that resembles some sort of triangle.
  11. Take the two corners that make up the base of the triangle and fold them towards you until they are able to meet in the middle, seal with more water.
  12. At this point, you can freeze all the wontons by placing them on a baking tray and freezing until solid before transferring them to a pyrex or gallon freezer bag.
  13. Alternately, you can bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook wontons for eating immediately. Since they are lightly filled, they should take only 8-10 minutes to cook, but every stove is different, so make sure to check if wontons are cooked fully before eating.

Enjoy!

Avocado Chickpea and Roasted Vegetable Sandwich

 Let’s talk sandwiches.  I’ll get straight to the point, I love them. There’s just something so satisfying about biting through two pieces of bread stuffed full of yummy deliciousness. During kindergarten, I would bring an fried-egg sandwich every day, doused in soy-sauce and nestled between two pieces of white bread.  Probably the first fusion cuisine I encountered, to be honest.  Obviously there was the classic peanut butter and jelly combo, which then quickly turned into peanut butter and Nutella (my mom put an end to that one after I came back from the dentist with too many cavities..oops). Pannini’s were the jam in college, so quick, so fast, and I could literally throw anything I had in the fridge on them (and I did). 


I’ll admit, I’m a little bit more health conscious now then I was a few years back, but I guess that happens when you become lactose intolerant.  Anyways, since I don’t eat meat anymore due to sustainability reasons, one of the things that I’ve really missed and sometimes do secretly crave is a meaty, satisfying sandwich. All the sandwiches that I’ve encountered without some sort of deli meat have been sad, limpy lettuce, wilty spinach, and dry bread.  And even if they are delicious (shout out dairy-free pesto!), they never really satisfy me.


This sandwich is my dream sandwich.  If I could eat it everyday, I probably would. It’s creamy, it’s meaty, it’s flavorful and the pretzel bun pretty much makes the cake. I found a majority of my ingredients at whole foods, but I’m pretty sure you could go to any specialty store and pick up the required items. My favorite mock deli meat is made from chickpeas, but I know from experience that there are many different varieties, so chose a flavor that calls out to you.  If you’re not sure where to start, Tofurkey and Lightlife are two brands that I usually purchase and love. So, if you’ve been hesitant to try out the meatless-Monday idea, this would be a great recipe to start off with! It comes together in under 30 minutes and will definitely keep you full for the night.


Let’s get to it!

AVOCADO CHICKPEA & ROASTED VEGGIE SANDWICH | Makes 2 full sandwiches

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ripe avocado sliced thinly
  • 2 Pretzel buns (mine were vegan and about 6″)
  • 2 tbsp of olive tapenade
  • 6 slices of “deli meat”
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into thick wedges (think potato wedges)
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400 (F)
  2. Toss sliced zucchini and red bell pepper with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (I do 1/4 tsp of each, but it’s really personal preference!)
  3. Roast vegetables for 20-25 minutes until golden
  4. Slice open your pretzel buns length-wise and place it on a baking tray so the inside of the bun is in direct contact with the pan.
  5. Toast buns for 5 minutes (I usually just stick it into the oven with the veggies)
  6. Once buns are toasted, spread each bun with 1 tbsp olive tapenade
  7. Place 3 slices of “deli meat” onto each bun and top with avocado slices (I usually just give each person half an avocado)
  8. Once your veggies are done roasting, top each sandwich off with roasted veggies
  9. Devour and wish you had more!

Enjoy!