Korean style

Delicious ideas for using exotic mushrooms including Korean rice with sauteed vegetables and sesame spinach.

leeks with mushrooms_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
leeks with mushrooms_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Wild mushrooms can turn familiar dishes into exceptional entrees suitable for serving on special occasions.
We got delicious ideas for using exotic mushrooms at a recent dinner in Los Angeles celebrating forest products of Korea. Forests cover about 64 percent of South Korea and provide a variety of foods, including pine and oak mushrooms, chestnuts, pine nuts, jujubes (Chinese dates) and ginkgo nuts.
Before the dinner, Chef Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, author of Quick and Easy Korean Cooking, demonstrated several ways to use shiitake mushrooms, which the Koreans call pyogo, or oak mushrooms, because they grow on oak trees.
First Chef Lee prepared east-west fusion dishes, including an appetizer of roasted shiitake mushrooms with a ricotta and olive filling and a salad of fried tofu and shiitake mushrooms sautéed with garlic, ginger and onion, served on salad greens with crisp apple cubes and a sesame oil dressing.
We also sampled traditional Korean dishes with wild mushrooms, including braised beef short ribs and jap chae, or clear “glass” noodles with sautéed vegetables, toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil.
For us, the highlight of the cooking demonstration and the dinner was the classic Korean rice dish bibimbap (also spelled “bibimbab” or “pibimbap”). The spicy rice was mixed with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and a variety of vegetables.
THE PRINCIPLE of bibimbap is simple: Take a bowl of hot rice and top it with a colorful assortment of vegetables cut in strips and sautéed. You can leave it vegan or garnish it with sautéed marinated beef strips, a fried egg or both.
It’s attractive, too, when served the customary way with the vegetables arranged in separate mounds of alternating colors on the rice.
The word bibimbap means mixed rice; the rice should be mixed thoroughly with the vegetables and with hot pepper sauce just before the dish is eaten.
“Pibimbap is probably the most popular luncheon dish in Korean homes and public eateries,” writes Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall in Growing up in a Korean Kitchen. “A casual street food or an attractive elegant dish, depending on the kitchen and how it is served, pibimbap is found in the lunch baskets of the farmers in the field, in the form of a hefty mound of rice with piles of mountain greens and garden salad, and in upper-class households,” where beef tenderloin or pan-fried fish fillet are served on dainty portions of vegetables and rice.
Just about any vegetables can be used. Spinach, mushrooms, soy bean sprouts, summer squash and cucumber are common, and sometimes exotic vegetables like bellflower root are included. In her book, Lee makes an easy version of bibimbap with sautéed spinach, carrots and mushrooms. At the demonstration, she added strips of sautéed red and green cabbage to the other vegetables, and fresh lettuce leaves as well.
Hepinstall notes that the dish is a well-balanced meal in one bowl and a great way to use leftovers. “In my childhood home, an ancestral ceremony or other big event always meant a bounty of leftovers, and we could expect pibimbap for days thereafter.”
What makes bibimbap special is the careful sautéing of the vegetables so they remain slightly crunchy, and the Korean flavorings, such as hot pepper sauce made with Korean red pepper paste (kochujang), which is added to taste at serving time. Also important is the amber-colored sesame oil, the kind that Koreans prefer because of its roasted sesame taste. And of course, there is garlic.
For Koreans, garlic is the key to tasty food. Says Lee: “If you’re Korean, you have to use garlic.”Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book, Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.BIBIMBAP – KOREAN RICE WITH SAUTEED VEGETABLES
This recipe is adapted from Quick and Easy Korean Cooking. Author Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee uses Korean chili paste (kochujang or gochujang) to make the hot pepper sauce that accompanies the rice and vegetables; you can use any hot pepper paste you have. You can prepare the vegetables one or two hours in advance and let them stand at room temperature.
If you would like to add zucchini or white squash (kishuim in Hebrew), cut two zucchini or squash in thin strips and sauté them in oil with garlic, following the directions for the mushrooms below. At serving time, you can top each portion with a fried egg.
Makes 5 servings
Sesame Spinach (see recipe below) 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 10 fresh shiitake or other mushrooms, trimmed and sliced (for dried shiitake mushrooms, see Note 1 below) 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tsp. salt, or to taste 2 medium carrots, grated 5 cups hot cooked rice 2 cucumbers, grated 5 tsp. Asian sesame oil Seasoned Chili Paste (see Note 2 below)
Prepare Sesame Spinach and reserve.
If the mushroom stems are tough, cut them off and discard them; or save them for flavoring vegetable stock.
Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are limp and just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Season with 1⁄2 tsp. salt, or to taste. Toss and set aside.
Add 1 Tbsp. oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add carrots and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the carrots just turn limp, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Season with 1⁄2 tsp. salt, or to taste. Toss and set aside.
To serve, spoon 1 cup rice into each of 5 serving bowls. Arrange the sesame spinach, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed carrots and grated cucumbers in separate mounds on top of the rice, dividing them evenly. Spoon 1 tsp. sesame oil over each serving. Pass the Seasoned Chili Paste for each person to add to his or her bowl.
Note 1: Dried shiitake mushrooms: Use 30 to 60 grams (1 or 2 ounces) or 10 dried mushrooms. Soak them in hot water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, discarding the liquid. Cut off and discard the stems, or save them for stock. Slice the caps and sauté as above.
Note 2: Seasoned Chili Paste: Combine 4 Tbsp. Korean chile paste, 2 Tbsp. Asian sesame oil, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds and 1 Tbsp. sugar in a small bowl. You can make this up to a week ahead; refrigerate it in a tightly sealed container.
This easy-to-prepare spinach dish can be used as one of the vegetables of bibimbap or can be served on its own as an appetizer.
Makes 4 or 5 appetizer or side dish servings
700 gr. (11⁄2 pounds) fresh spinach, stems removed 2 to 3 tsp. Asian sesame oil 1 garlic clove, minced 1 tsp. soy sauce or pinch of salt, or to taste freshly ground black pepper to taste 1 tsp. sugar, or to taste (optional) 1 or 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted (optional)
Rinse spinach thoroughly in several changes of water. Add spinach to a saucepan of boiling salted water to generously cover. Boil uncovered over high heat, pushing spinach down into water occasionally, for 1 minute or until just wilted. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain well. Squeeze dry by handfuls. Gently separate the squeezed “balls” of spinach.
In a very small bowl, mix sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, pepper and sugar. Pour over spinach and mix well. Shortly before serving, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve at room temperature.