Whenever I think of healthy and wholesome food, Korean cuisine always seems to top the list. The use of lean proteins alongside a boatload of healthy fermented vegetables or side dishes just does a body good. It’s almost astonishing the sheer amount of pungent flavors Korean food is able to achieve using such simple and healthy ingredients.One of the most quintessential Korean dishes that includes all of these distinct flavor profiles is bibimbap.
For those that are new to Korean food, bibimbap is a mixed beef and vegetable bowl that pretty much hits all of your nutritional values in one dish. However, not much is known about bibimbap or how easy it is to make for yourself right in your home! Today, we’re going to go over what makes this dish super healthy and some of the essential ingredients to make the best bibimbap recipe ever!
What is Bibimbap?
In Korean, the word “bibim” (pronounced bee-beem) means to mix and the word “bap” (pronounced bop) simply means rice. Now, if you put one and two together, bibimbap just means “mixed rice”. Yay, for free Korean language lessons!
There are variations on how bibimbap can be served. One of my favorites is called “dolsot bibimbap”, which is bibimbap served in sizzling hot stone pots. Some of the ingredients and rice actually crisp up on the inside of the hot stone bowl, which provides another added depth of flavor and texture to your meal. You can also get a more basic bibimbap served in a regular ceramic or metal bowl called “yangpun bibimbap”. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
Just as a quick tidbit, Korean restaurants will NEVER serve your bibimbap pre-mixed. That means it’s really up to you to gauge how much gochujang (sweet fermented chili paste) and sesame oil you want to put into your bibimbap. This is a matter of personal preference. What Korean restaurants WILL do is have their own spin on what vegetables or meats should go into the bowl, but don’t let this fool you. Some restaurants might be trying to cut corners with ingredients, owners might not prefer a specific ingredient, or they’ve simply run out of supplies.
This is why we want to provide you a list of the 12 essential and must have ingredients for a classic bibimbap recipe that you can make at home. Let’s get to it!
How to Build the Best Bibimbap Recipe Ever
Take a long look at the feature image of this post. This is what I would consider to be a classic bibimbap presentation. But I can say with confidence that there are a few items in that bowl that you’ve never seen before or just ate since it tasted good (for you bibimbap veterans out there). Let’s take a deeper dive into what these vegetables are and why they’re needed for bibimbap.
1. Korean Short Grain Rice
This is just a given, but rice is the pure backbone of any bibimbap dish. It’s even part of the name! Most traditional bibimbap recipes will call for sticky short to medium grain white rice, which provides that perfect consistency to hold vegetables and sauces together. There is a distinct difference between short and long grain rice, however. Be sure to read up on the key differences of each grain in order to make a good DIY bibimbap that tastes authentic.
One good pro tip here is to also mix grains, beans, or even brown rice into your white rice mixture. This increases the health profile of your carbohydrates, contribute to heart health, and add even more dietary fiber to your meal. Plus, most of the flavor from the finished product will mask the taste of whole grains or beans. Talk about a win-win!
For some great short grain rice recommendations, I’d check out Nishiki sushi rice or Kokuho rice, which are the two brands that I’ve been using my entire life. Also, be sure to check out our previous post about the 10 must have kitchen tools for dieting to help you with your bibimbap preparation. Hint: zero in on a strong rice cooker to form that perfect rice consistency every time.
Adding bulgogi is not a must, especially for the vegetarians out there (since bibimbap is a great vegetarian friendly meal). However, every Korean knows that bibimbap isn’t really complete unless you have bulgogi.
For those that are unfamiliar with bulgogi, this is beef (usually ribeye) marinated in soy sauce and vegetables and BBQ’d to perfection. The end result is a tender, juicy, and slightly sweet meat that goes well with just about anything. You can usually pick up pre-marinated packs of bulgogi at your local Korean supermarket or you can make your own bulgogi by following a few recipes online. Check out this bulgogi recipe from AllRecipes.
3. Radish Salad
This ingredient will be a little difficult to whip up on the go since it is time consuming to make, but radish is incorporated into bibimbap in the form of a Korean radish salad called “mu saeng chae” (pronounced moo-seng-cheh). It’s a sweet and sour salad that kind of takes on a mild kimchi like role within the dish to give it some punch.
I would advise either buying this pre-made from your local Korean grocery store or skip the salad altogether. You can easily substitute with kimchi here instead, which also has incredible health benefits of its own. I usually switch back and forth between the two, depending on my preference for that day.
If you do decide to stick with the radish salad, there are some awesome health benefits to this as well. Radishes are an excellent source of fiber, treats respiratory issues, controls diabetes, and lowers blood pressure. It’s especially recommended to eat radish during the winter months when weather can cause issues with lungs and your respiratory system as a whole.
Fernbrake or Bracken is a pretty unique vegetable and one that I’ve never seen used in American or European dishes. This vegetable is more brown and root-like in its nature and takes on a very tender and soft texture when boiled.
In Korea, Fernbrake is more commonly known as “gosari“. Back during the Korean War, “gosari” was known as the “beef of the mountains” due to its high protein content. Due to meat shortages during wartime, this vegetable has since become an absolute staple in the Korean diet. It also features an extremely high fiber content, which helps people maintain a healthy weight.
5. Bean Sprouts
Next time you head to your local Asian grocery store, make sure to pick up a bag of soy bean sprouts. These are always found in large plastic bags and usually sold by the pound. Bean sprouts are very crunchy and inedible when raw, so you need to make sure you blanch/boil them in hot salt water prior to adding to your bibimbap.
Sprout vegetables in any form are always a great source of essential vitamins and minerals and bean sprouts certainly aren’t an exception. Unlike other green vegetables that lose nutritional value over time, bean sprouts hold their nutrient contents extremely well. These vegetables are chock full of Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. Pretty much the entire alphabet right in one go!
Just like the bean sprouts, wild spinach will need go be blanched in hot boiling water. The best way will be to prepare the spinach in the popular Korean side dish style known as “sigeumgi namul”. You essentially blanch the spinach, add salt to drain excess liquid, and dress with garlic and soy sauce. You can find a good step by step instruction on Maangchi’s recipe site.
If you do make a large portion, you can simply store in a container and it can be used as a side dish for up to a week or week and a half. Spinach is a super green vegetable that’s always found in bibimbap recipes. In fact, spinach is excellent for keeping your cholesterol levels in check, strengthening muscles (think Popeye), improving eyesight and is full of minerals, such as iron, zinc, and calcium. Plus, spinach just tastes delicious!
Zucchini is one of the few vegetables in this dish that you will need to lightly fry in order to put into the bibimbap. It is recommended that you slice the zucchini into small thin circular slices and saute in a frying pan with sesame oil, garlic, and salt.
This is one vegetable that is super versatile and can be enjoyed any time of the year. One thing that you’ll notice with zucchini is that is takes up sauces and flavors very well, so it’s easy to mask and kids will love it. Also, it’s full of antioxidants and is a high source of potassium, Vitamin C, and boosts heart health. Not bad for a vegetable with a mild flavor.
Carrots are another vegetable that you will need to lightly fry in order to break down its crunchy texture. You can actually slice or julienne carrots into super thin long strips (matchsticks) and fry alongside your squash to kill two birds with one stone.
Adding carrots to the bibimbap mix will provide some extremely good health benefits mainly due to the beta-carotene found in carrots. Eating more carrots can help improve your vision, skin health, and even slow down the aging process!
The third vegetable you will need to lightly fry are mushrooms. For those that want to boost the meaty taste or feel to their bibimbap, mushrooms are a perfect way to add another depth of flavor to the dish. Mushrooms are known to be full of umami, which is the feeling or taste of eating meat. This is why many vegetarians and vegans loved to substitute mushrooms as the core meat portion of their dish since it can really emulate the same texture.
For bibimbap, I’d recommend going with some great shiitake mushrooms and thinly slice them just like you did with the zucchini above. Shiitake mushrooms are also excellent for weight management, boosts immune function, and helps provide anti-cancer properties to your food.
10. Fried Egg
The very last ingredient that you will need to cook for this dish will be a fried or sunny side up egg. This kind of goes on top of your bibimbap as the final cherry on top.
Once you are able to pop the yolk and mix it with all of your vegetables and meat, it adds a wonderful rich and smooth creaminess to the dish. Make sure to prepare all of the ingredients and mixture ready to go prior to cooking the egg since you don’t want the egg to settle or the yolk to overcook on its own.
The next and last two ingredients are more for seasoning your bibimbap recipe. Gochujang (pronounced go-choo-jahng) is a fermented sweet chili paste that is a base for many Korean stews and sauces. It’s also versatile enough to be used on its own in bibimbap dishes.
You can usually find jars of gochujang directly from your Korean supermarket. This is one of those ingredients that you just can’t prepare at home (it’d be ridiculously time consuming and difficult). If you’d prefer to purchase online, you should go with the classic Chung Jung brand gochujang. I would say most Koreans use this as their go-to gochujang.
12. Sesame Oil
Last, but not least, we need sesame oil to round out the bibimbap. If you’ve never tried sesame oil before, it adds an addictive light and nutty aroma to Asian food. It kind of acts as the finishing glue to the dish that just helps marry all of the ingredients listed above. Bibimbap would be completely lost without this and gochujang.
Again, you’d be hard pressed to ever make sesame oil at home, so it’s recommended to buy at your local mart. Otherwise, you can buy online as well. The absolute best tasting and most consistent sesame oil is a Korean brand called Ottogi. This is the oil you’ll find in most supermarkets in Seoul. 100% recommend.
As you can see, making bibimbap at home is extremely easy and most of these ingredients can already be found at any local supermarket. If you’re ever in the mood for a lean, healthy, and satisfying dish, be sure to follow this list for the best bibimbap recipe ever!