I’ve been back to Malaysia for close to 9 months. Whenever I reminisce about those good ol’ college days in northern Minnesota, an overwhelming sensation pounces on me. Memories flash back. I skim through the photo album that’s been stored on my mental back burner. I know it’ll come in handy. Amidst the clutters and stress in life, I find warmth and happiness in this nostalgia. I feel consoled. Strong enough to keep moving on (with my insanely hectic life now).
In fact, one of the most memorable chapters of my life took place just over a year ago. After getting transplanted across the Pacific Ocean; after 4 years worth of assignments, papers, quizzes, exams and all-nighters, I donned the black gown and cap. I joined the Class of 2009! I finally graduated on May 08, 2009!
The Commencement took place just a few weeks before I plunged myself into the Great Food Blogosphere. So, it took me 372 days to share these exuberant moments with you. But really. It’s never too late, right?
Boy, could you believe we walked in 3°C/37°F on Commencement ... in early May!? Oh, well! It's northern Minnesota! Winter seems like forever there ...
Graduation is one of life’s milestones. Living in the 21st century, it’s no doubt that many of us have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience it. I’ve never regretted taking this path in pursuit of my college education. It was an investment worth the money and that will benefit me for life. It had brought utter changes in me and will never cease impacting me on the rocky days to come.
As I marched down this winding path over the last 4 years, I met great people who had remolded me into who I am today. I’ve learned to become culturally appreciative. I’ve learned to become independent. I never knew it’d train me into becoming a journalist and writer. What was the least expected: I never knew it’d train me into becoming a hobbyist cook and baker – and an avid food photographer who’d style her foods when time allows.
A photo taken with family friends, classmates and their parents. At the Commencement Brunch. The tallest guy in the middle is my professor, Prof. Carl Sewall. He influenced me A LOT in my writing and pinpointed to correct my English errors in my work. Hahaha! Thanks, Carl!
I vividly recall my pre-graduation talk with my dearest father over the Internet. (My parents didn't make it to the Commencement. But, it was fine with me.) Ever since I fell in love with the art and science of food crafting, I gathered all my courage and told him, “Papa, can I study at Le Cordon Bleu?” To my surprise, he replied, “If that’s what you’re truly interested in and passionate about.” Unlike typical Asian parents, this was where his East-meets-West mentality came in. “You need not worry about how others may perceive you. Go for it.”
Alas, my Le Cordon Bleu dream could never happen. Knowing that my father is the only breadwinner in the household, I took my words back and let my heart break, in silence. I discarded the thought, as of now. It’s sharing room with the photo album on my mental back burner. Safe and sound. (This has reminded me of my long-time friend You Fei, of Loving Baking, who shares the same sentiment. But hers is a different story for different reasons. We got to know each other first through Flickr then followed by our common interest in baking.)
“Oh, so you went for a culinary degree too,” my family and close friends often tease me. “Didn’t you?” I’d smile, shrug and reply, “Maybe I did. But that wasn’t my initial plan.” I went to America to live my American Dream: to earn a good degree and an invaluable experience, with a high-paying job in an ad agency eventually. Ugh! That was the ambitious Pei-Lin who dreamt about climbing the corporate ladder. A typical city girl, I’d say.
After all, I did get my degree. Not in advertising, but in journalism and psychology officially – and in culinary art unofficially. Never had I thought of becoming a Pei-Lin who now struggles to lead a balanced life between career and family; who daydreams about being a good daughter, wife and mother; and who strives to keep her passion for baking, cooking, writing and food photography alive despite her tight schedule.
This reflection has made me realize that life is truly colorful, especially when we seek living to its fullest. So, to celebrate this precious gift called “life,” I feel compelled to share this colorful Korean dish with you.
Bibimbap (비빔밥), a name that’s fun to say and fun to listen to. It literally means "mixed rice" in Korean. Once a stranger, I immediately became fascinated by the vibrancy inherent in its beauty. It was love at first sight when I caught Steve’s rendition of this Korean classic. (Steve is one of my favorite Flickr-ites. I’ve been inspired by his amazing skills in cooking, baking, food photography and styling since early 2008.) The dish had been on my to-do list since then.
Making bibimbap. From right to left, anticlockwise: soybean sprouts, julienned carrots, shiitake mushroom strips, julienned Japanese cucumber and marinated ground beef. In the center: julienned daikon (Ahem, pardon me for the overexposure here ... Oops!)
You’ll never tire of bibimbap. Though I don’t have stone bowl, I wasn’t discouraged. Glad I gave it a shot. It’s now my favorite Korean dish. The namul (나물) is a harmony of characters. These fresh veggies are mildly seasoned and tender-crisp. Juxtaposing the namul is the intensely flavorful beef, which has been marinated before cooking to give it that sweet kick. And buried underneath them all is the piping-hot steamed rice. It’s a little sticky as short-grain rice is used.
To top it all off are the sweet, piquant hot gochujang sauce and an egg – one that comes with a runny yolk. I left out zucchini, nori and toasted white sesame seeds on purpose. But as I plunged my chopsticks and spoon into that bowl of steamy goodness, there wasn’t the least bit of grouching. It was love at first bite. After my last heaped spoonful, I burped (oops!) and murmured with an utter sense of satisfaction, “Yumm!” (Oh, did I also tell you my lacrimal gland was triggered by the hot gochujang sauce?)
Bibimbap 비빔밥 (Serves 4)
Adapted from "The Food and Cooking of Korea," by Young Jin Song
* I used Chinese sesame oil (麻油) for my bibimbap because I don't want to stuff an additional item in my pantry. I just grabbed whatever I have. *
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce (I used Chinese dark soy sauce 老抽)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced scallions
1 tsp sesame oil *
1 tsp rice wine (I used Japanese one 料理米酒)
2 tsp cooking oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
200 g beef, sliced into shreds (I used ground beef)
Enough white sesame seeds, for garnish -- toasted and cooled (I skipped these)
400 g short-grain rice -- rinsed and drained well
A drop of sunflower oil (In fact, any neutral-flavored edible oil will do)
Enough cooking oil, for stir frying
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil *
1 tsp minced garlic
150 g daikon -- peeled, cut off the head and cut into thin strips
Daikon and Japanese cucumber (Sorry for the lousy shot)
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil *
1 tsp minced garlic
2 carrots -- peeled, cut off the heads and cut into thin strips
(D) -- I totally skipped zucchini because I forgot to buy it. *LOL*
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil *
1/2 tsp minced garlic
A little water
1 zucchini -- cut off the heads and cut into thin strips
150 g soybean sprouts, trimmed (NOT mung beansprouts, which are relatively smaller in size)
1 Tbsp sesame oil *
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Korean chili powder (I broke the rule this time -- I used Indian chili powder! Hahaha! So, I adjusted to taste.)
1/2 tsp white sesame seeds -- toasted and cooled
A pinch of caster sugar
Dried shiitake mushrooms (Sorry for the horrible shot)
6 dried shiitake mushrooms -- soaked in warm water till softened
Salt to taste
1/2 Japanese cucumber
4 quail's eggs (I used chicken eggs)
1 sheet of nori/dried seaweed (I skipped this)
3 Tbsp gochujang chili paste 고추장
1-1/2 tsp sugar/honey
2 tsp sesame oil *
Korean gochujang chili paste (고추장): an essential in Korean cooking
- To marinate the beef: mix (A) together, then add the beef to combine well. Set aside to marinate for 1 hour.
- Toast all the white sesame seeds over low heat in e.g. a wok or skillet, stirring at all times, till smelled nutty. Dish out and set aside to cool completely.
- Place the rice in a kettle and add enough water till the water level is 5 millimeters above the one of the rice. Add the sunflower oil, then cover and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 12~15 minutes -- don't remove the lid as the rice cooks. After 12~15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the rice steam for another 5 minutes, covered. Set aside till ready to use.
- Now, let's prepare the namul:
- Toss (B) together, then flash-fry over high heat, with a little bit of cooking oil, in e.g. a wok, till the radish is tender-crisp; dish out and set aside
- Toss (C) together, then flash-fry over high heat, with a little bit of cooking oil, in e.g. a wok, till the carrots are tender-crisp; dish out and set aside
- Toss (D) together, then flash-fry over high heat, with a little bit of cooking oil, in e.g. a wok, till the zucchini is just soft; dish out and set aside.
- Briefly blanch the soybean sprouts in pot of boiling water -- this doesn't take too long. The bean sprouts shouldn't be cooked till limp and waterlogged. Instead, they should still remain tender-crisp. Now, dish out with a slotted spoon and drain them real well in e.g. a colander. Meanwhile, blend (E) together. Coat the drained bean sprouts evenly with the mixture; set aside.
- Drain the shiitake mushrooms very well, then discard the stems and slice them lengthwise into 1 inch-thick strips. Flash-fry in some cooking oil, season with salt to taste lastly. Dish out and set aside.
- Seed the cucumber and cut into thin strips; transfer to a plate and set aside till use later.
- For the beef: heat 2 tsp cooking oil in e.g. a wok and stir-fry the meat till tender and golden brown. Dish out and set aside.
- Heat some cooking oil in a nonstick skillet, crack and fry the eggs like how you'd do for a sunny-side up -- don't overcook them and be sure that the yolks still look soft and runny. Dish them out one by one carefully and gently to a plate -- don't break the yolks! Set aside.
* Some people prefer to have raw egg in their bibimbap instead. But not for me. It's a matter of preference. *
- Roll up the nori sheets and slice into real thin strips; set aside.
- Blend (F) together; set aside.
- To assemble: divide the hot steamed rice among four bowls. Then, spoon to arrange the namul veggies and beef on top of the rice in whichever way that you like. (Well, for me, it's for the sake of presentation. *LOL*). Now, carefully lay a fried egg in the center of each bowl -- atop all the aforementioned elements, including the namul and beef. Garnish with the nori strips and sesame seeds as you like. Spoon desired amount of the specially prepared gochujang sauce over each (not on the yolks though) -- on top of everything else.
- To serve, this is where things get dirty and messy, toss everything in the bowl together till they look "mixed," literally speaking. Devour your bibimbap hot or warm ... though the mixed rice ain't that bad at room temperature.
ONCE AGAIN, CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CLASS OF 2010! Have a splendid weekend, everyone!