Hello, Lover

Some of us get lucky in life. Sure, we all have our ups and downs; I don’t mean to say that you are either fortunate or unfortunate on all accounts. I’m speaking strictly about love here. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that those people who find true love – those people are lucky.

I’m lucky enough to be one of them.

In acknowleging said good fortune, I also appreciate that most people fall in love at least once in life. And when you fall in love, that feeling of happiness, of satiety, is one that at that particular time feels so permanent. Going without, or being without that love seems somewhat otherwordly.

And so, when I celebrated 4 years of marriage last week, to me it’s just another year of a bazillion I’ll spend with him. A bazillion years of drinking bottles of wine (barrels, rather), watching hours (days) of reality tv, repeatedly checking the time during Rush concert after Rush concert (do those guys ever quit??!!), jetsetting to country after country, and waking up day after day with the person I feel in my heart was meant for me.

I know for many, “forever” is only 1 year, or 5, or maybe 20 before it’s all said and done. Some good things, unfortunately, must come to an end. [For some reason, I just started singing a Every Rose Has It’s Thorn, but I reckon it’s somewhat appropriate to the tone of the sentence, no?]

Anyway, these “endings”, abrupt or slowly unraveling, don’t just occur in love. Sometimes, our favorite mascara gets discontinued, sometimes the movie theatre behind the mall closes, and sometimes, our favorite restaurant where we used to order our favorite dish vanishes into thin air. I’ve fallen victim to all of them, at one time or another.

But the restaurant-closing is probably the one that’s most relevant here: the restaurant that introduced me to “bibimbap” was open one day in December before the Christmas holiday, and by the time I’d returned it was shuttered. And although I ate there less than (maybe equal to) 5 times during it’s existence, I may or may not have died a little on the inside when I realized that the bowl of rice, veggies, and beef topped with fried egg and doused in Korean pepper paste would never again pass my lips.

I’m not afraid of recreating restaurant dishes. But you must agree with me here – you can recreate, or attempt to recreate, all you want. Sometimes it’s just never the same. And over a year I’ve held out, though I’ve looked up recipe after recipe for bibimbap. And finally, I decided I’d give it a try. But rather than recreating the exact dish, I took inspiration from a variation I came across, and tweaked it until it sounded a little more accurate.

Is it the most authentic bibimbap I’ve ever seen? Well, no. But I’m not looking for authenticity here. I’m looking for something reminiscent of that long, lost love. Something that’s pretty good right out of the gate, but with a couple more iterations and a little nurturing, it’s bound to be a love that will last forever.

Korean Bibimbap with Steak & Asparagus
Adapted loosely from Bon Appetit, April 2010; serves 4

like i said, you could leave this be and it’s going to knock your socks off, if you’re wearing them. i’ve already tweaked the pepper paste sauce a little, added some ingredients, and made a few changes to the marinade for the bulgogi. i added mushrooms to the ingredient list, because i kept wishing they were there with every bite. another suggestion is to try a short grain brown rice, which i remember being far superior. oh, and some corn would be nice too.

if you’ve had bibimbap before, i’d love to know what you think of it. it truly is a favorite of mine.

printable version

ingredients
1 lb New York strip steak, trimmed
3 T toasted sesame seeds, divided
1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
3 T + 2 t Asian sesame oil, divided
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 T light brown sugar, divided
1 T Chinese black rice vinegar
1 T garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, minced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 t Maldon sea salt
1/2 t hot smoked paprika
4 T Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
1 lb slender asparagus spears, trimmed
1 c carrots, sliced thinly
1 c enoki mushrooms, or other variety
2 t evoo plus additional for brushing
4 large eggs
4 cups freshly cooked medium-grain white rice
Kimchi, optional, for serving

instructions
place steak in freezer for 1/2 hour to make slicing easier. meanwhile, make marinade, paste mixture, and sesame salt.

bulgogi marinade
combine 1 T toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 c soy, 2 T sesame oil, green onions, 2 T brown sugar, black rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl. once steak is somewhat firm, remove from freezer and slice crosswise into 1/8 thick slices. add to marinade and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. you can marinate overnight, if so remove from fridge at least 1/2 hour before cooking and let come to room temp.

paste mixture
combine 1 T sesame seeds, 2 t sesame oil, 1 T toasted sesame seeds, and 1 T brown sugar. set aside.

sesame salt
combine remaining 1 T sesame seeds, 3/4 t sea salt, and paprika in spice grinder or mortar and pestle. combine until somewhat smooth. set aside.

heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Toss asparagus with 2 teaspoons olive oil on large rimmed baking sheet. Sauté asparagus until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Return to rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle sesame salt over; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Tent with foil to keep warm, or place in warm oven. Repeat process with carrots or any other vegetables you use, adjusting cooking time as needed. Cook each vegetable separately.

Brush grill panor skillet with vegetable oil. Working in batches, grill steak until just browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to bowl; tent with foil to keep warm.

Crack eggs onto skillet. Cook until whites are set but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide warm rice among bowls. Divide asparagus, carrots, then beef among bowls, placing atop rice. Top with fried egg. Serve with Korean hot pepper paste mixture and kimchi.

Going Green

Over the course of 29.9 years, I’ve ever so slowly heeded my parents’ advice, or demands, rather. I’ve eaten my vegetables. And I take that back – I’ve heeded my mom’s advice; my dad despises any food that’s green. In fact, he just hates green altogether.

My mama though, she bonded with my dad’s family over collard greens like you wouldn’t believe. Even though my parents are divorced, she still comes to Aunt Faye’s house for Christmas dinner with us, and I’m sure those collard greens are in the top three on her agenda. She eats beans and carrots and broccoli, and she never understood why even eating one spoonful (my “no, thank you” serving) was almost as bad as having one’s mouth washed out with soap, perhaps worse.

I remember it all very clearly. I remember those canned green beans, the fresh-from-gramma’s peas, and those lumps o’ mustard greens at Christmas that were dumped into a bowl and eerily similar to creamed spinach, without the cream. They all scared me; they were soft and chewy, reminiscent of baby food (except the mashed bananas, which I continued to eat for quite some time) and when paired with barbecue chicken and french fries, it was hard to take even one bite, let alone an entire serving.

I like to think that, had my mom fed me a dish of sauteed chard with steak and edamame, that I wouldn’t have turned my nose up at it. But since she didn’t, I’ll never know whether introducing chard in adolescence would have been a pivotal moment in my opinion of and love for greens, or not.

And though I enjoy chard in a hearty ribollita, or stuffed into pork chops, I think this dish may be my favorite use of this beautiful green leafy veggie thus far.

Though you’d think the sirloin would play a major role in this dish since it’s the primary source of protein, it actually takes a back seat, and the green components are really what stand out here. The chard is perfectly, barely-wilted and the edamame add a wonderful crunch; herbs thrown in at the end add freshness and brightness. Toss it all around with caramelized onions, asian flavors, and a new favorite of mine, red rice, and you’ve got yourself one lovely, healthy, vegetable-lovin’ dish; the steak happily lurks in the background.

So sure, years 1-25 were not full of vitamins A, K, and beta-carotene, but they are now, and happily so. My mom can finally be proud of her little daughter’s food choices. I doubt she even eats chard or kale, but I know it makes her happy that I finally do.

Collard greens? Southern I may be, but still, “no, thank you”.

Stir-Fried Red Rice w/ Sirloin, Edamame, & Chard
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
1/2 c red rice
1 c water
3 T canola oil
8 oz thinly sliced sirloin steak
salt and pepper
1 lg vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 T minced fresh ginger
1 bunch red swiss chard, thinly sliced
1 c shelled edamame, fresh or thawed
3 T reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 c cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 T mint, coarsely chopped
lime wedges, for garnish

instructions
in a small saucepan, cover rice with water and bring to boil. cover saucepan and cook on low for about 25 minutes, until rice is tender. spread rice out on baking sheet to cool. can be made in advance and stored until needed.

in a large skillet, heat 1 T oil. add garlic and cook over mod-hi heat for 30 seconds. add sirloin, season with salt and pepper and cook, turning once, until browned – about 1 minute. transfer to plate.

heat remaining 2 t oil. add onion and ginger and cook over mod heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. stir in greens and stir fry over high heat until wilted, about 1 minute. stir in rice and edamame, then soy sauce and steak and stir well. season with salt and pepper. garnish with cilantro, mint, and lime wedges.