I’ve been on a Korean comfort food kick of late, and comfort food doesn’t get much more Cadillac-like than a big steaming bowl of bibimbap.
The translation is “mixed rice”—it’s basically rice covered with dollops of prepared dishes, or namul, which are then mixed together at table. The rice is heaped into a large bowl (all the better if it’s a heated stone bowl, or dolsot, unlike the cheap plastic bowl pictured), and then a variety of meats and vegetables are arranged in a colorful and artfully balanced manner over the rice. The piece de resistance is a fried egg on top. A vinegared gochujang sauce ties it all together.
Here’s the thing: bibimbap is traditionally served with at least one wild ingredient, gosari, also known as bracken fern (and sometimes called fernbrake on imported packages of dried bracken). This time of year the young fern shoots can be eaten fresh. Click here for instructions on foraging and preparing bracken (plus a health advisory). For bibimbap I like to cut the parboiled bracken into 3-inch sections and stir-fry with a little sesame oil, garlic, soy, and Chinese cooking wine.
I added two other wild ingredients to my bibimbap: stinging nettles and oyster mushrooms. The nettles are a substitute for the traditional spinach, the oysters for shiitake. To prepare the nettles, I harvested several cups of tender young nettle tops and boiled them for a minute to neutralize the sting, then wrung out the water with my hands before giving the nettles a quick rough chop. Next, I stir-fried them in a little peanut oil with minced garlic, a pinch of salt, and soy sauce. The oyster mushrooms got cut into strips and stir-fried the same way until slightly browned on the edges.
Bibimbap is simple fare, but it requires alacrity in the kitchen—and with so many different ingredients, my advice is to make this dish for four or more people. Do all the prep work first (i.e., the chopping), then stir-fry each of the namul toppings in quick succession. Mound onto a large serving plate and keep covered. Other common toppings include: julienned and stir-fried zucchini; julienned carrots, which can be served raw or quickly stir-fried; bean sprouts, which should be boiled for a couple minutes until tender and then drained and tossed with a splash of sesame oil; and thinly sliced steak, bulgogi, marinated beforehand with a little sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, and sugar before stir-frying.
Once all this busy work is complete, use your innate artistic skills to make an eye-catching presentation, kick back in a cozy place with friends and some cold beers, and dig in.