While I am not new to Korean cooking, I initially found preparing bibimbap to be quite intimidating and even a little stressful. As I was learning to make this dish, I discovered that there are dozens of tasty components to choose from for bibimbap, and what you put in it really depends on what you have, what you like, or what you feel like eating on a particular day.
Any single bibimbap bowl cannot, and should not for that matter, include all of the possible ingredients, so different recipes showcase different components. In this recipe, however, I’ve listed all possible components that I had encountered and tried, and liked, from traditional to not so traditional but still very tasty and appropriate. All with detailed instructions on how to make them. The goal here is to create a comprehensive guide to making bibimbap that will suite any taste.
But don’t fret, while the list is long you can choose to pick only 4-5 components for a quick, 30 minutes tops, and delicious bowl of bibimbap. Or add more components for a fulsome meal that doesn’t require any appetizers or sides. It wall take up to an hour or longer but many components can be prepared in advance or even purchased pre-made (e.g. kimchi, pickled radishes, seaweed, marinated bulgogi beef, etc.).
What is bibimbap?
Bibimbap literally means ‘mixed rice’ in Korean, where bibim translates as ‘mixed,’ and bap means ‘cooked rice.’ Essentially, it’s rice mixed with any number of tasty components such as sunny-side-up eggs, sesame oil, hot pepper paste, soybean sprouts, zucchini, cucumbers and other colorful vegetables. Meat is also often included on the plate. Bibimbap that is heated in earthenware pots for serving is called dolsot bibimbap.
Is making bibimbap difficult?
It really depends. When you are just starting out with Korean cooking bibimbap may seem quite intimidating due to the sheer number of ingredients that (may) go in it. The good news is that you can fully control how many components go there. You can make a really quick bibimbap that will literally take 20 minutes from start to finish. It may not necessarily be fully satisfying and you may need to serve it with a soup but it will be very quick. You can also make it very elaborate with a large number of components, and serve it as a one-bowl meal, which will be fully balanced and satisfying. Making such bibimbap may take well over an hour but is totally worth it. Also remember that many components may be prepared well in advance.
What are the components of bibimbap?
Bibimbap dish traditionally consists of:
- a bed of rice, mixed with
- vegetables, roots, mushrooms,
- pieces of beef,
- sunny side up egg, and
- a spicy Korean chili paste (gochujang) or a less spicy serving sauce made with gochujang.
Most of the vegetables found in bibimbap are quite common in North American cuisine:
- Bean sprouts
- Bell pepper
- Baby spinach
- Shiitake (or other) mushrooms
- Asian eggplant
A few ingredients such as gosari (dried fernbrake) and doraji (bellflower root) are less well known here, but can be found in many Asian supermarkets or online. Note that doraji and gosari require soaking in water for up to 24 hours. If you have a pressure cooker, the soaking can be substituted for a 30-minute pressure cook.
I really like the slight bitterness of the doraji and the crunchy texture it brings. The earthy flavor of gosari is quite interesting and is a great addition to bibimbap. Both are totally worth the extra effort required to prepare them. Gaji namul (seasoned eggplant) is a must try too, at least once, if you have the time to make it, it’s delicious.
The meat for bibimbap bowl
Flank steak or filet mignon, seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil and seeds, garlic and sugar is the traditional addition to bibimbap if meat is desired. Bulgogi is an excellent option as well.
Personally, I find that just about any meat works very well in bibimbap – roasted or baked chicken breasts, roasted chicken, re-heated leftover meat and even quick pan-seared pork chops as shown on the picture below.
Other quick meat options for your bibimbap:
Bibimbap serving sauce
If you like spicy food, you may use straight Korean chili paste (gochujang) on your bibimbap. How much? It really depends on your personal taste. Start with a tablespoon, mix it in with the rice and other components in the bowl and taste. Add more if needed. I like spicy food but like to put a tablespoon of gochujang on the side of the bowl and use it, little by little, as I eat.
If you are not a big fan of spicy foods, you can season your bibimbap with the serving sauce made with a little bit of hot pepper paste following the recipe below.
Alternatively, you may use my favorite basic South Asian dipping sauce that I find goes exceptionally well with bibimbap. It’s bright, tangy, slightly sweet, a little spicy and delicious. My kids love it and always choose it for bibimbap over the traditional sauce.
Bibimbap with Homemade Bibimbap Sauce
For a quick and simple bibimbap (pick any 4-5 vegetable components, or all if you desire):
- 5 cups cooked rice
- 4 eggs (fried sunny-side up, see note 1)
- 1 large cucumber (thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks)
- 1 medium zucchini (thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks)
- 1 medium carrot (cut into matchsticks)
- 1 large red bell pepper (cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips (about 1 cup), or 2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks)
- 4 shiitake mushrooms (thinly sliced; you may also use other mushrooms such as portobello)
- 1½ cups baby spinach (parboiled and excess liquid squeezed out)
- 1½ cups bean sprouts (parboiled and excess liquid squeezed out)
- 4 Tbsp plus ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil (divided)
- 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil (for serving)
- 4 tsp thinly sliced scallions (for garnish)
- Sea or kosher salt (to taste)
For the serving sauce (see note 2):
- 3 Tbsp gochujang (if you like spicy food, you can use gochujang paste on its own in you bibimbap bowl)
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
For the beef, (optional):
- 8 oz flank steak or filet mignon (cut into matchsticks)
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp honey or sugar
- 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
For the doraji (bellflower root), (optional):
- 1 ounce dried doraji (soaked in water for 18 to 24 hours)
- Kosher salt
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
For the gosari (fernbrake), (optional):
- ½ ounce dried gosari (soaked (typically 24 hours) and boiled as described on the packaging (typically boiled for 20 minutes then placed in cold water for 1-2 hours, then cut into pieces)
- ½ tsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
For the gaji namul (seasoned eggplant), (optional):
- 2 medium Asian eggplant
- 2 scallions (finely chopped)
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- ¼ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp gochugaru
- 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- A pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Additional prepared tasty components to use in bibimbap (optional):
- 2 Tbsp chopped Korean kimchi (per bowl)
- 3 Tbsp cooked bulgogi (marinated beef) (per bowl)
- 1 Tbsp shredded Korean roasted laver seaweed (gim) (per bowl)
- 2 Tbsp sliced daigu (pickled Daikon radish) (per bowl)
- 2 Tbsp seaweed salad (per bowl)
Preparing a simple bibimbap (choose 4-5 of the vegetables listed in this section)
- Cucumber: In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt with 2 cups of ice water. Drop the cucumber slices/matchsticks in the salted water for 20 minutes and then drain and squeeze excess water out.
- Spinach: In a small bowl, season the parboiled spinach with 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a ¼ teaspoon of the sesame seeds. Set aside.
- Bean sprouts: In a small bowl, season the parboiled bean sprouts with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
- Carrots: heat 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and a dash of salt, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until the carrots are crisp-tender. Remove the carrots and set aside.
- Zucchini: Add another teaspoon of the sesame oil to the skillet. Add the zucchini and a dash of salt, and sauté the zucchini for 1 to 2 minutes, until the slices are crisp-tender. Remove the zucchini and set aside.
- Bell pepper: heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Add the peppers and cook until warmed through, 30 seconds, or the carrots for 1 minute, then transfer to the platter.
- Mushrooms: Add another teaspoon of the sesame oil to the skillet. Add the mushrooms and a dash of salt, and sauté the mushrooms for 1 to 2 minutes until tender. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
- To prepare the sauce, in a small bowl, combine the gochujang, mirin, sugar, sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Mix well and set aside.
Assembly and serving of bibimbap
- Divide the cooked rice in 4 large bowls and arrange the vegetables on top. Place an egg on top of the vegetables and rice. Garnish each egg with a pinch of sesame seeds and a teaspoon of sliced scallions.
- Serve with the sauce and the remaining sesame oil. The final step is to drizzle some bibimbap sauce and ½ tablespoon of sesame oil over the vegetables and egg, then mix everything together with a spoon before enjoying.
Optional components for bibimbap
- To prepare the beef, combine the beef, soy sauce, honey, garlic, sesame oil, and sesame seeds in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. When ready to use, cook in a skillet or a wok with one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat, until cooked through.
- Doraji: Drain the bellflower root. Toss with 1 tablespoon salt, then rub the bellflower for a minute to wilt it slightly and release some of its bitterness. Transfer to a sieve and rinse well to remove the salt, then drain thoroughly. Heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet over high heat. Turn down the heat to medium, add the bellflower root, stirring, and cook until wilted and softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the platter.
- Gosari: Cut the fernbrake into 2-inch lengths. Heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fernbrake and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and sesame oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer to the platter.
- Gaji namul: (Traditional preparation) Wash and cut the eggplant, cut in quarters lengthwise, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Put the eggplant in a steamer basket set over boiling water and steam until fork-tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add the scallions, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, gochugaru, sesame seeds, and salt, and season with pepper. Cool to room temperature before serving.For a non-traditional, alternative preparation method (my favorite), see note 3.
1 - The easiest way to make fried sunny side up eggsHere is a little trick to make gorgeous sunny side up eggs without any hassle. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a non-stick pan, until it just starts smoking, about 300F. Carefully add the eggs (it helps to have them broken into a small bowl in advance) and cook undisturbed for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let sit in a pan until the egg whites set but the egg yolks are still runny.
2 - Alternative bibimpap serving sauce (highly recommended)My favorite sauce to serve with bibimbap is this basic South Asian dipping sauce that is super easy to make with readily available ingredients and is delicious.
- 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp white sugar
- 3 Tbsp distilled vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 Thai chile (stemmed and minced, optional)
3 - alternative gaji namul (seasoned eggplant) preparation methodI discovered a slightly different method to prepare gaji namul, trying to expedite the preparation process. This is not a traditional method by any stretch of imagination, but the eggplant tastes so good that I included it in the recipe. After the eggplant is cut into pieces, place it into a microwave safe container, add enough water to cover the eggplant and zap it for 2 minutes on high. Remove from the microwave, drain, then saute with 2 teaspoons of sesame oil over medium-high heat for about a minute or two, until it starts to become golden brown. Add the scallions, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, gochugaru, sesame seeds, and salt, and season with pepper. Mix well, remove from heat and transfer onto a plate to cool down.