Minneapolis-Saint Paul, MN (the Twin Cities), one of my favorite Midwestern cities, has always intrigued me for its ethnic diversity. I can understand why the Swedes and Norwegians settled there — lots of ice, snow and long winters. You can see why they would enjoy the popular Minnesota winter sports: cross-country skiing (which I love), ice-fishing (which I find bewildering), and curling (which I find fascinating and will be the subject of a later post).
But why do the frigid Twin Cities host the largest U.S. population of Somalis – people from a country that straddles the equator? Or the 2nd largest U.S. population of Hmongs — immigrants from a region north of, but near, the equator? And why is 5% of the Twin Cities population Asian – many also from warm locations? I do not know, but they are there. And, most important (to me), they have brought their fascinating cuisines with them.
On my recent visit, I had a chance to dig into some traditional Korean fare at an out-of-the-way Minneapolis restaurant, Sole Cafe. While the space won’t win any awards for ambiance, the service and food were exceptional. Intrigued by the Dolsat Bi Bim Bap, a Korean one-dish-meal of mixed rice (Bi Bim Bap) served in a scorching stone bowl (Dolsot), it did not disappoint. The vegetables were fresh, the rice crisp, the meat delicious and the Bi Bim Bap pepper sauce homemade. The only non-traditional element was the fried rather than raw egg on top (I can only assume that the owners had tired of complaints about raw eggs).
Notably, the Dolsot (stone bowl) kept the meal piping hot until the last bite – which was quite welcome considering the -10 F temperatures outside. At least now I understand how the Koreans survive in MN. Not only are they accustomed to harsh winters (unlike many Twin Cities immigrants), but they have their stone bowls to keep them warm!
Dolsot Bi Bim Bap
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 2
2 stone bowls, or a cast iron pan
Bulgogi, (recipe for 2 servings below)
1 sheet nori, cut into strips
3 cups rice, sticky, cooked
6 ounces mushrooms, shitake, fresh or dried
8 ounces spinach, or bok choy
1 small squash, yellow, julienned
1 small squash, zucchini, julienned
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons oil, canola
2 eggs, raw
Pepper paste (Gochujang)
1. Seasoned Korean stone bowls are best for this dish. If you do not have Korean Dolsot (stone bowls), you can substitute a cast iron pan.
- TO SEASON STONE BOWLS: If using stone bowls for the first time, they should be scrubbed with salt, rinsed and then placed on the stove top over medium heat. Fill bowls half full with water and let the water slowly evaporate. When nearly dry, carefully (bowls are very hot) drain remaining water, and dry the bowls.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. While bowls are still warm, brush the interior with sesame oil and place in oven. Bake bowls for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from oven and your bowls are ready to use!
2. Make Bulgogi (seasoned Korean beef). Set aside. I like to place the Bulgogi in a microwavable bowl so I can reheat before assembling the Bi Bim Bap. However, this is not essential as the stone bowl will reheat all ingredients at service time.
3. Cut nori into strips. Toast first if desired, but this is not essential. Set aside.
4. Cook your rice. I prefer a rice cooker, which will keep the rice warm when cooked, but stove-top cooking works as well. One cup of dry sticky rice = about 2 cups cooked rice.
5. Prepare vegetables shown in this recipe or substitute your own favorites.
You may cook vegetables or leave uncooked. I prefer to cook all my vegetables, but vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers can be julienned fine and used in Bi Bim Bap uncooked.
To prepare vegetables for cooking, cut into thin strips. If using dried shitakes, you must soak in water first and drain before removing stems and cutting into strips. For greens (spinach or bok choy), cut if pieces are large.
6. Before you begin cooking vegetables, brush the interior of each of your stone bowls lightly with a very small amount of sesame oil. Place stone bowls over medium heat on the stove top.
7. While bowls are heating, heat vegetable oil in a wok and stir-fry vegetables – doing each batch separately.
As vegetables are cooked, set aside in a bowl or platter. Cover to keep warm.
8. You are now ready to assemble your Dolsat Bi Bop Bap!
You should have ready:
- Very hot stone bowls (test these by pressing a bit of rice in the bowl to see if it sizzles). For flavor, I add a bit more sesame oil (about 1 T) before removing bowls from the heat. If you add too much sesame oil early on in the heating process, it will start to smoke when the bowls get very hot.
- Cooked rice
- Prepared vegetables (cooked or raw, depending on the vegetable)
- Prepared nori
- Raw eggs
- Korean pepper paste (Gochujang)
9. Press rice (about 1 1/2 cups) into each bowl. You should hear it sizzle.
Arrange Bulgogi, vegetables and nori in a circle around the edges of the rice.
Crack a raw egg into the center of the bowl.
Warn your guests that bowls are EXTREMELY HOT, and serve your Dolsot Bi Bim Bap. Place stone bowls on heat proof plates (can be purchased with bowls).
Serve with Korean pepper paste (Gochujang). (I like about a teaspoon in my bowl; if you use too much, you will overwhelm the other flavors).
Once served, it is time to mix everything together. Be sure to stir the raw egg in so it cooks. Scrape rice up from the bottom of bowl, replacing it with other ingredients, which will, in turn be warmed by the hot bowl. Take your time eating; the food will stay hot while you savor the flavors…
10. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS: Dolsot Bi Bim Bap is, of course, best if prepared fresh. However, if you are time constrained, the ingredients for Dolsot Bi Bim Bap can be prepared a few hours or a day ahead and refrigerated. Bring ingredients to room temperature (or warmer) before assembly. This dish is an excellent use for leftover cooked rice.
11. VEGETARIAN DIRECTIONS: Substitute tofu for Bulgogi or simply omit the Bulgogi.
12. GLUTEN-FREE DIRECTIONS: Substitute gluten-free soy sauce in the Bulgogi recipe as most traditional brands of soy sauce contain gluten. Omit the Gochujang, which is not gluten free.
FINDING BOWLS AND INGREDIENTS: The Korean stone bowls can be ordered via the internet if you do not have a local Asian market that carries them. Asian vegetables can be substituted with other vegetables (e.g. white mushrooms for shitakes). Gochujang Korean Red Pepper Sauce can be found in Asian markets or ordered via the internet.
Bulgogi (Seasoned Korean Beef)
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 2
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon oil, sesame
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, fresh, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon pepper, black
1 pound beef, flank, sirloin tip or tenderloin, trimmed and sliced into strips
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1. For the marinade, mix all ingredients except beef and toasted sesame seeds. Set aside.
Trim fat from beef and cut against the grain into strips no more than 1/4 inch thick and 2 inches long.
2. Add beef to marinade mixture. Let beef marinade at least an hour and up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.
3. Heat 1 T vegetable oil in a wok. Remove beef from marinade. Fry beef without crowding – until just cooked through.
4. Sprinkle sesame over beef. Serve bulgogi with rice or as part of Bee Bim Bap dish.
5. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS: Bulgogi is best served fresh. However, it can be made a few hours or a day ahead and reheated (stovetop or microwave).