Monday, March 7, 2011

Bee-bim Bop!

I've been starting to try and pay a little more attention to, well, blog-whoring to put it frankly. One thing I noticed from Google Analytics is that while most of the traffic I get is obviously on the most recent post, the trickle of hits I get on older posts is predominantly due to cooking- or food-related Google searches. Even before I noticed this, I had been meaning to knuckle down and do more cooking related posts. So the goal for a little while here will be one post per day (except weekends, when I may or may not post) and alternating one atheism-related post with one cooking-related post. Yesterday I blogged about the whole "Tom Johnson"/Wally Smith mess, which was obviously atheism-related -- so without further ado:

One of my older son's first favorite books was Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park. The title refers to a Korean dish, generally rendered as "bibimbap", which translates literally to "mixed-up rice" or "mixed-up meal". Each line of the book ends with "Hungry for some Bee-bim Bop!" or "Time for Bee-bim Bop!" or some such. When Quinn was just first learning to say a few words, my wife or I would read it to him, ending each page with an anticipatory "Beeeee.... Bimmmmmm....", and then wait for him to shout "BOP!", much to both his and our mutual amusement.

Recipes and interpretations vary wildly, with the only commonality being that the ingredients are served without being mixed together, and then the diner mixes them together at the table inside their bowl. Park's version focuses on ingredients that can take the form of strips or strings (e.g. thinly sliced beef, bean sprouts, julienned carrots, egg "pancakes" that have been rolled and then sliced in a sort of chiffonade style, etc.) which are served in separate bowls, along with rice, allowing the diner to choose which ingredients they want to use. You choose the ingredients you want, spoon them on top of your rice -- and then, as the penultimate page of the book instructs us to do, "MIX IT! MIX LIKE CRAZY!"

I won't post the recipe here, because a) I feel it would be a genuinely unethical violation of copyright, and b) the only part of the recipe I follow religiously anyway is the marinade for the beef, and to be honest it's a fairly straightforward sweet-savory Asian marinade with sesame oil anyway, so I'm sure you can find a comparable recipe online. I will, however, show a picture of the spread we had set up for it Saturday night:

The two bowls on the left are white rice and brown rice. The remaining ingredients are, starting at the back row and going left-to-right and then back-to-front: Asparagus, pan-fried sliced red peppers, julienned cucumbers, marinated sirloin beef strips, "chiffonaded" egg pancakes, pan-friend julienned carrots, steamed mung bean sprouts, sliced scallions, and pan-fried quartered baby corns.

The asparagus was a spur-of-the-moment experiment. I've been itching for asparagus season to start, but unwilling to buy some that's been shipped halfway around the world so my fat American ass can have it in winter. But it occurred to me that for bee-bim bop, I would want really very thin stalks (which are the opposite of what I usually buy since I usually roast or grill them, in which case a nice thick stalk is good for getting some browning without totally draining them of any crispness) so that they would bend easily and be more suitable for this "mixed-up" meal, and that with all those other ingredients the quality wouldn't matter as much. It was a success, and I will probably do it again.

(If you'll pardon a brief digression... I just recently found out, from the excellent magazine Cooks Illustrated, that the thickness of asparagus stalks is not at all determined by when they are harvested, but rather by the age of the plant itself, which will yield stalks annually for a good five or six years. Young plants produce thin stalks, older plants produce thicker stalks. Wild, eh?)

The baby corn had been another spur-of-the-moment experiment, from the previous time I made bee-bim bop. I had been in the grocery store buying the ingredients, and saw that they carried fresh baby corn, as opposed to the frozen or canned kind. I took a gamble that this might give it a nice bright flavor (in contrast to the mushy blandness of your typical stir-fry baby corn), and that if I cooked them by themselves in a hot pan with some oil I might be able to get a little caramelization of the sugars going to further enhance the taste. I turned out to be right on both counts -- they came out crisp and bright and with that nice inimitable roasted vegetable flavor. The only problem was that the whole baby corns didn't "mix up" very well, so this time I quartered them lengthwise, which was a win-win since it also increased the surface area for caramelization.

The one part of Park's recipe I will directly paraphrase -- since I think it's a common technique but one I hadn't encountered before and really liked -- is the "chiffonaded" egg strips. You just beat up some eggs, put a little bit in a pan with some oil so that it forms a thin "pancake", flip it once, remove it from the pan, roll it into a tight little roll, and then thinly slice. When it unrolls, you get these nice little egg confetti things that are a great addition to bee-bim bop, and would probably work with pretty much any stir-fry, maybe even on a salad or something.

So there you have it. Nothing too special here, but a really fun meal, both to prepare and to eat. It takes a little longer than is optimal for a weeknight meal, since every ingredient has to be prepared separately (though you really don't need to do nearly as many as I did here, half as many veggies would have been fine). But as a special little family tradition, it's just fantastic.


  1. You are amazing! Perhaps I could get a cooking lesson or two-something for beginners! -DM

  2. Heh, sure, anytime ;)

    Two of the best resources for learning, IMO, are Alton Brown's show on the Food Network, Good Eats (though I must say I'm no longer a fan of the guy personality-wise), which you can also get on YouTube; and the excellent magazine Cooks Illustrated.

    What both of them have in common is that they just don't give you a recipe, they tell you why the recipe is the way it is. In the Alton Brown book you bought for me a couple Christmases ago (thank you!) the metaphor he uses is that while most recipes are like giving someone directions to your house -- turn left at the stop sign, right at the second light, etc. -- what he is attempting to do is draw you a map, so that way if you make a wrong turn or want to stop somewhere else on the way, you have the flexibility to recover from that. (I'm not sure what the cooking analogy to GPS would be, hahaha)

  3. I think you were a chef in your previous life or a victim of famine.