Disclosure: This post was created in partnership with Egg Nutrition Center. I was compensated for my time. As always, all opinions are my own.
Trendy, hot, and hearty, bibimbap can be a medley of surprisingly good-for-you comfort foods that come together in one nutritionally-balanced bowl of a meal. It brings me special joy to share a delicious recipe that is part of my culture and can help boost brain health. If you’re familiar with Korean food, you’ll recognize the palate personality (flavor profile) of gochujang (Korean chili paste), gochugaru (Korean chili pepper, coarse grounds), garlic, sesame oil, and radishes.
What you may not know is that bibimbap is a kitchen sink kind of meal. It’s the meal my grandmother made every once in awhile, to clear away lots of leftovers. That’s because it literally means “mixed rice,” with the subtext, “rice mixed with _____,” aka, whatever you have on hand. It’s the answer to those quietly pleading leftovers in the back of your refrigerator, trying to catch your attention – pick me, pick me. With bibimbap, it’s all possible. Look mom, no more food waste! Served with a freshly cooked egg, it feels like something new.
If I were more of a meal planner, bibimbap would be my Friday meal. The one where all the leftover bits of veg and shroom from earlier in the week would find new life under a gloriously gooey egg. Because you definitely have to #putaneggonit. Thinking about this Friday meal might even motivate me to cook more vegetables Monday to Thursday just so I’d have choice odds and ends for my Friday bowl.
Formula for Success
If you already have an amazing assortment of leftovers in your fridge, you are ahead of the game, and 80-percent of the way to a bowl of bibimbap. If one of your leftovers is rice, then make that 90-percent. This is because bibimbap is secretly like any other grain bowl at its core (don’t tell). Here’s the formula for success:
Bowl + rice + vegetables + freshly cooked sunny side up egg + jang (sauce)
Option 1: Add some fish or poultry from a prior meal
Option 2: Top with dried seaweed and/or sesame seeds
However, if you’re a first-timer and want to do this from go, I’ve got you. And so I have for you today a freshly made bibimbap recipe from start to finish. Mine uses the vegetables that show up in Korean food a lot, like mushrooms. Koreans love mushrooms. I once went to a town in South Korea with statues of mushrooms where I stopped to have a soup with more than 20 varieties of mushrooms. And that was just the starter. I also include zucchini, mung bean sprouts, and spinach. These veggies are based by whole grain brown rice, and topped with a sunny-side up egg.
MIND foods: Whole grains, leafy green vegetables, other vegetables, olive oil
Other brain-boosting bona fides: This meal includes ingredients like eggs and spices that have their own brain-health cred, though they are not (yet) specifically part of the MIND diet. Research suggests eating eggs promotes brain health in adults and children. Eggs are one of the few food sources that provide both lutein and choline, which are two nutrients important for brain development. Learn more in this educational video I worked on with the Egg Nutrition Center. Further, phytonutrients in spices like chili flakes show neuroprotectant potential in emerging research.
Pro tip: If you have more vegetables on hand than called for, feel free to cook it up and serve it on the side of this otherwise one-bowl meal. Having more veggies around is a good thing.
- 4 cups cooked brown rice (can sub any whole grain rice)
- 1 large bunch of spinach, 10 oz
- 1.5 tsp sesame oil, divided
- 1 tsp olive oil, more as needed
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 medium zucchini
- 8 oz mung bean sprouts
- 8 oz shiitake mushrooms
- 1 large carrot
- 2 cups mu saengchae (see separate recipe)
- 4 eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional garnishes: green onion, sesame seeds, dried seaweed strips
- ⅓ cup gochujang
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- 5 oz. Jeju radish (can sub daikon radish)
- 2 tsp brown rice vinegar (can sub any light vinegar)
- 1 tsp gochugaru (Korean red chile flakes; can sub crushed red pepper flakes)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Make rice according to package directions, on the stove top, or in a rice cooker.
- Fill a medium pot about half way full with water and heat until boiling.
- While the rice cooks and water boils, wash, dry, and prep all the produce. Note that mushrooms should be wiped clean with a damp paper towel or clean cloth towel, otherwise they absorb too much water.
- Peel the radish, and scrub or peel the carrots. For large produce like the radish, a Y-peeler is the ideal tool to use for the job.
- Julienne cut the zucchini, carrot, and radish. They don’t have to be textbook perfect julienne cuts. First cut your long veg into approximately 3” pieces. Then slice lengthwise into planks. Then slice each plank into thin matchsticks.
- Set zucchini in a paper-towel lined fine mesh strainer. Squeeze and drain excess liquid after 10 minutes.
- Cut mushrooms into ¼” slices
- Measure out all the other ingredients
- In a small bowl, mix together the Jang ingredients and set aside for at least 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- In a medium bowl, combine all Mu Saengchae ingredients, tossing gently to combine. You can adjust how much of the chili flakes to use, depending on how spicy you’d like it to be. Disposable thin plastic kitchen gloves make this really simple and mess-free, but clean hands also work great.
- Once water is boiling, prepare a large ice bath in a large bowl with ice and water. Blanch carrots in boiling water for 1-3 minutes or until just slightly wilted, then transfer to ice bath and agitate for 30 seconds or until cool. Set aside to dry. Squeeze and drain excess liquid before adding to a small bowl with ¼ teaspoon of sesame oil. Season with salt to taste.
- In the boiling water used for the carrots, blanch the bean sprouts for 3-5 minutes until wilted. Transfer to the ice bath and repeat remaining steps used for carrots.
- Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat with 1 tsp olive oil. Add spinach and 1 minced garlic clove. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for 60-90 seconds or until wilted. Squeeze and drain excess liquid, cut into 2-3” pieces, toss with ¼ teaspoon of sesame oil, set aside.
- In the same pan used for the spinach (add a little olive oil if pan is dry), sauté the zucchini for 60-90 seconds or until just wilted. Squeeze and drain excess liquid, toss with ¼ teaspoon of sesame oil, set aside.
- In the same pan used for the spinach and zucchini, heat ½ teaspoon sesame oil until hot but not smoking. Add mushrooms, season with salt to taste. Sauté until well-wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Drain excess liquid and set aside.
- Divide rice among 4 bowls. Arrange spinach, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, and sprouts so they are each visible and lay from the center of the bowl out, like spokes of a wheel.
- In a non-stick pan, heat a little olive oil until hot but not smoking, then cook sunny-side up eggs until the tops of the egg whites are set, about 2-3 minutes. Top each bowl with a freshly cooked egg. Add any optional garnishes, if using. Enjoy!
In Korean this dish is called “hobakjuk,” which can technically refer to zucchini or winter squash porridge. However, it most commonly refers to a porridge that celebrates the sweet winter squash called danhobak (it is also known as kabocha squash). The short-grain brown rice in this dish is a plant-based way to enhance its silky creamy texture.
MIND diet foods: Vegetables, Whole Grains, Nuts
- ½ cup sweet brown rice
- 1 medium kabocha squash, about 4 lbs measured whole
- 6 cups of water, ½ cup of water
- Salt to taste
- Recommended garnishes: jujube (red dates), sliced; pine nuts, roasted sesame seeds
- Optional: honey
- ½ cup sweet rice flour
- 5 tablespoons of water
- Rinse and drain brown rice in cool water 3 to 5 times. Soak rice in clean water for at least 1 hour (can be done a day ahead).
- Preheat oven to 400F, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, soften the squash. Wash squash well, then pierce several times with a fork or knife and place in a large microwave safe bowl with 3 inches of water. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip the squash over, and cook for another 4 minutes. Let squash rest until cool enough to handle, then cut into 2-4 pieces and toss with a neutral oil, then place cut side down on a lined baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Let rest until cool enough to handle, then remove skins. It's 6-8 cups.
- While squash is roasting, make the thickening liquid. Drain soaked rice and add to blender with ½ cup of water. Blend on high until liquified, and set aside until ready to use. Quickly rinse out the blender.
- Blend the squash in batches, gradually adding 6 cups of water, until smooth. Move blended squash to a large pot and heat on low.
- Slowly stir in brown rice-water mixture and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, make the rice cake dumplings. Start a medium pot of water to boil, and set up a large bowl of cold ice water.
- Heat 5 tablespoons of water, e.g. in microwave or tea kettle.
- Place rice flour in a medium bowl and stir in hot water gradually until cool enough to handle, then knead dough for a few minutes.
- Pinch off a ½ teaspoon at a time and roll dough between palms to form small balls (makes about 30 of them)
- Drop into boiling water for 1-2 minutes, until they float
- Remove rice cake dumplings with a slotted spoon and place in cold water bath until ready to use
- Pour soup into bowls, add a few rice cake dumplings to each, and garnish as desired. Drizzle with honey if using. Enjoy.