Kimbap is often mistakenly introduced as ‘Korean sushi’. Even though the Korean dish resembles the Japanese one and is said to be derived from Japanese norimaki, it sure is not a sushi. Japanese and Korean cuisines, despite few similarities (like rice being one of the most common ingredients), are much different. Japanese cuisine’s main principle is to unravel the true flavour of ingredients used, without using much seasonings. That’s why Japanese cuisine is sometimes (unfairly) called ‘bland’ or ‘tasteless’. You won’t find spicy or overly oily food in healthy and minimalistic Japanese cookery.
Korean cuisine, on the other hand, loves spiciness. Many of the Korean dishes are spicy and full of easily distinguishable flavour. Take kimchi, Korean national dish. Not everyone will find themselves loving this Korean specialty, I can assure you.
The main differences between kimbap and sushi is seasoning. Rice to be used for kimbap is seasoned with sesame oil, whereas sushi rice – with rice vinegar. That does make a huge difference. Japanese most common sushi is not the well-known in the Western world California maki, filled with a bunch of fancy ingredients. Most common Japanese sushi is simple nigirizushi, small piece of rice topped with fish, seafood or omelette.
Korean kimbap is a seaweed and rice roll, where the dish takes its name from. As long as you use dried seaweed (kim) and cooked rice (bap) to make a roll filled with ingredients you like, you get a kimbap roll.
I first tried kimbap in Osaka, Japan, when I went to so-called Korean town, Tsuruhashi. Tsuruhashi is a district in Osaka where many Koreans live. The district had become famous for its many Korean bbq restaurants and Korean market, where one can buy anything from clothes, home appliances and accessories to food, sold off the small food stalls. I was absolutely mesmerised by the taste of kimbap. What a great idea for a healthy snack, I thought to myself, making a note in mind of how it’s supposed to taste and look like, to be able to recreate it at home.
And there I am, more than 3 years since I came back from Japan, making kimbap in my kitchen in England. Before you give up – it really is not as complicated as it seems. Give it a go, you won’t regret it for sure.
for 5 rolls
5 sheets of roasted seaweed
4 cups cooked rice (Korean or Japanese rice, sticky)
250g beef tenderloin
1 large carrot
1 bag of spinach leaves
1 bag of yellow pickled radish
3 garlic cloves
3tsp soy sauce
1tbsp brown sugar
2tbsp sesame oil
vegetable oil (for frying)
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Cook the rice. We want it sticky, same as we would cook Japanese rice. To do so, rinse the rice first until the water you are rinsing it in is clean. Add the rice to the saucepan, filling it with water, so the water is about 1,5cm above the rice. Cook on the medium heat until it boils, then reduce the heat and cover the saucepan with a lid. Cook until the water evaporates and the rice is cooked through. Don’t add too much water or your rice will be overcooked and mushy.
2. Move freshly cooked rice into a big bowl. Mix in 1/2tsp salt and 2tsp of sesame oil, mix well using a wooden spoon. Set aside so it cools down, it should be steaming hot when used for making kimbap rolls.
3. Blanche the spinach in hot water. When blanched, combine it with two finely chopped garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsp sesame oil. Mix well with your hand and set aside.
4. Cut yellow pickled radish into strips. Set aside.
5. Cut carrots into thin sticks. Mix the carrot sticks with a pinch of salt and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Heat up a frying pan with a drop of vegetable oil. Squeeze the water from the carrots and throw them into a pan, saute for about 1 minute. Remove from the pan, set aside.
6. Prepare the beef. Get rid of any fat on the steaks and cut them into thin strips. Place the beef strips into a bowl, mixing it with 2tbsp of soy sauce, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, pinch of black pepper, 1tbsp brown sugar and 2tsp sesame oil. Set aside and let it marinate for about 15-20 minutes.
7. Prepare the eggs. Crack 3 eggs into a bowl and beat it with fork, adding a pinch of salt. Same as you would prepare the eggs for an omelette. Heat up a non-stick pan, drizzled with a drop of oil. Don’t add too much oil, if you happened to do so, wipe it with a kitchen towel. Pour the eggs into the pan and cook your omelette on low heat. When the bottom of the omelette is cooked, flip it using a spatula. Take off the heat and let the eggs cook for another 5 minutes (the hot pan will do the job, if you leave the pan on the heat, the eggs will be brown, what we are trying to avoid).
8. When your omelette is done, cut it into thin strips and set aside.
9. Time to cook the beef strips. Heat up the pan, throw the beef in when the pan is hot and cook it, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Continue until the meat is cooked through.
10. Time to roll kimbap. Place one sheet of roasted seaweed on a bamboo mat, shiny side down. Spread about 3/4 cup of cooked rice on top, trying to do it evenly. Remember to leave about 3cm of the seaweed uncovered on one side.
11. Place beef, carrot, radish, eggs and spinach in the middle of the rice. Using both hands, roll the mat (together with seaweed and rice) over the fillings, the opposite sides of seaweed should meet. This way, the fillings will be in the centre of the roll, which will look good when you slice it ^^
12. Be careful not to wrap the bamboo mat in the kimbap. Grab the mat with both hands and press it delicately, continue to roll to get a nice shape of your kimbap rolls. They should be quite tight, otherwise everything will fall apart when you slice it.
13. Remove the roll from the mat and set aside. Continue until you’ve used all your rice.
14. You can additionally sprinkle your rolls with sesame oil and sesame seeds, but I prefer it neat to be honest. The rice is already seasoned with sesame oil, so it’s your call whether you want to add more. But be careful not to overdue it, it’ll kill the flavour (sesame oil has quite a strong taste and smell).
15. Slice your rolls with a sharp knife and enjoy! I’m sure you are now thinking to yourself: all that hard work paid off, indeed! ^^