The Korean Wave (Hallyu) or Korean fever refers to the sudden increase in global popularity of South Korean culture around the world in the last ten years. This is largely because of the Korean entertainment industry, and the popularity of K-drama and K-pop. I have been a great fan of many Korean dramas and variety shows. The world of K-dramas often features mouthwatering food dishes. It’s hard to watch drama and get craving for ramyun. There is nothing better than trying out a new food or recipe, I can list a lot of number Korean foods I want to try and one of them is kimbap.
Kimbap vs Sushi
Kim or gim meas dried sheets of laver seaweed in Korean. Bap or bop means rice. Therefore, Kimbap or Gimbap (김밥) is a Korean dish made from cooked rice and other ingredients that are rolled in gim and served in bite-sized slices. Korean kimbap are rice rolls that look a lot like sushi. However kimbap‘s appearance usually more colorful and healthier because it uses many vegetables inside. It is also often sold and wraped in aluminium foil. It is usually eaten at picnics and outdoor events because of its convenience and portability. Traditional fillings include seasoned vegetables, egg, meat, but these days anything goes.
Varieties of Kimbap
Kimbap has a lot of variety, and below are the most common variation:
- Chamci Kimbap (참치김밥) is filled with tuna and other vegetables
- Kimchi Kimbap features kimchi as the main filling
- Chungmu Kimbap (충무김밥) is made with only rice as the filler ingredient
- Mayak Kimbap (마약김밥) is vegetarian style seaweed rice roll. People say it’s so yummy that you get badly addicted to it. Hence, it’s named “Drug Seaweed Rice Rolls”
- Samgak Kimbap (삼각김밥) is a triangle-shaped kimbap sold in many convenience stores in South Korea.
What Fillings Go For Kimbap?
The beauty of kimbap rolls is you can customize them with your preferred ingredients. As long as you can stuff and roll them up into beautiful cylinders.
Here are some common filling ingredients used for kimbap;
- Rice : short-medium rice grain, brown rice
- Protein : bulgogi/ground beef, chicken, egg, ham, tuna, fish cake, imitation crab, cheese
- Vegetables : kimchi, carrot, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, cucumber, burdock root, danmuji, daikon
Kimbap’s Key Ingredients
Danmuji is the essential ingredient in making good kimbap. It is basically a pickled yellow radish, and it tastes tangy, sweet, and refreshing. I have to say that danmuji gives off exploding flavor in kimbap and I cannot find another good alternative for it. I found danmuji at local Korean grocery store in transparent plastic packaging. Some is sold in whole yellow radish block or slices. For kimbap, we need the one in strips. I used the one in packaging like picture below, it is sold altogether with gosari. Gosari is young stem of Fernbrake or Bracken and it is commonly known as wild edible greens in Korea. I use gosari in my recipe, but it can be omitted.
Tips for Making Kimbap
Once you have all the ingredients prepped, the assembling goes by pretty quickly, and it’s worth it because it’s like having a well balanced meal in every bite. Here are some tips for making kimbap;
1. Use freshly cooked rice
Freshly cooked rice is the best for making kimbap. It tends to stick easier to the seaweed. Wet your fingers before spreading the rice onto the seaweed to prevent the rice from sticking to your hands. Put a small bowl of water next to your rolling station so taht you can wet your hand in between rolls.
2. Season everything
Traditionally, the rice and fillings in kimbap are individually seasoned to give interesting combination of textures and flavors. For the rice, it is traditionally seasoned with sesame oil and salt. You will notice a huge different flavor between the seasoned and unseasoned rice. The seasoned rice really takes plain rice to tasty heights.
For the meat, I marinate it with soy sauce and other seasonings for at least 30 minutes. The marinating process will deepen the flavor and tenderize the meat before the cooking process. Meanwhile, the vegetables usually are blanched or stir fried lightly to retain their original flavor. Then, they are seasoned with a small amount of sesame oil and salt just to give them nutty flavor and savory notes. You do not need to dip kimbap into any kind of sauce after everything is seasoned well.
3. Roll the seaweed tightly
It takes some practice to roll the kimbap perfectly. Use a bamboo sushi roller or a piece of tin foil to roll them easily. Lay the shiny side of seaweed down and spread the rice, leaving the top 1 inch bare. Lay the fillings about a third of the way up from the bottom of the seaweed.Then, roll from the bottom and press down to make the fillings stay in. As you continue to roll, put the whole thing down toward the end of the bamboo mat. Just remember to roll it tightly by putting firm, even pressure with your hands all over the roll. Spread a tiny dab of water along the top seam to hold the roll together.
4. Brush kimbap with sesame oil
Rub or brush the roll with a little bit of sesame oil for extra nutty flavor and shiny look. This process also makes it easier to cut. Use a sharp knife for cutting your rolls. You need to make a clean slicing motion without pressing on the roll or everything will fall apart.
There are limited Korean restaurants in my neighborhood that sell authentic kimbap. This recipe features the classic and original kimbap in Korea. Look at those colors. I just love how people in Korea always pay attention to the nutrition combination and food preparation on their everyday table. The most importantly, they are both pretty and healthy with lots of vegetables inside. I don’t feel guilty for eating too much kimbap after making this recipe.
Illustration by @the.amanita
- 5 sheets nori
- 4 cups freshly cooked rice
- 1/2 pound bulgogi or ground beef (225 gr)
- 1 medium carrot julienned matchsticks
- 5 strips danmuji
- 5 strips gosari (optional)
- 1 small bunch spinach blanched, rinsed in cold water, and strained
- 3 eggs
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 tsp sesame oil
- vegetable oil
- sesame oil for serving
Place freshly made rice in a large bowl. Gently mix in 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsp sesame oil over top with a rice scoop. Let it cool down enough so it's no longer steaming. Cover and set aside.
Combine the blanched spinach, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp sesame oil in a bowl.
Combine the carrot matchsticks with 1/4 tsp salt. Mix well and let it sweat for 5-10 minutes. Heat a pan and add a few drop of vegetable oil. Squeeze out excess water from the carrot, then saute for about 1 minutes. Put it on the platter next to the spinach.
Marinate the beef with 2 tsp soy sauce, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, 1 1/2 tbsp sugar, and 2 tsp sesame oil.
Beat eggs and 1/4 tsp salt in a bowl. Drizzle oil on a heated 10-12 inch non-stick pan. Wipe off the excess with paper towel. Pour the egg mixture into the pan with low heat. Spread it into a large circle so it fills the pan. When the bottom of the egg is cooked, flip it over with spatula. Remove from the heat and let it cook slowly on the hot pan for about 5 minutes. Cut it into 1/2 inch wide strips. Put it next to the spinach on the platter.
Heat up a pan over medium high heat and cook the marinated beef until well cooked. Set aside.
Place a sheet of nori on a bamboo mat with the shiny side down. Spread evenly about 3/4 cup cooked rice over top it, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on top of the nori. Place beef, carrot, danmuji, gosari, a few egg strips, and spinach in the center of the rice.
Use both hands to roll the mat over the fillings. Remove the roll from the mat. Repeat 4 more times with the remaining ingredients.
Put sesame oil on the finished rolls and sprinkle some sesame seeds over the top. Cut each roll into 1/4 inch bite size pieces with sharp knife, occasionally wiping it with a wet paper towel or cloth to clean the starch off and to ease cutting. Put it on a plate and serve immediately or pack it in a lunchbox.