Monday, September 26, 2011

Kim Bap: Roll With Me

Kim Bap served with Sriracha, Pureed Ginger, and Ground Shiso

Many years before I worked at The Steeping Room, I worked at a lovely Asian bakery, restaurant, and teahouse called Eastern Accents.  Specializing in Chinese baked goods, Korean food, and tea, I discovered the small family owned business while attending the University of Michigan.  And while I only worked there for a little over a year, it still remains one of the best jobs I've ever had. 

In the beginning I mostly worked the opening shift as a barista and cashier.  Now anyone can tell you that I am definitely not a morning person, but in this situation, I actually looked forward to it.  Ben and Sifu, the chef and the pastry chef, would have already been there for hours, baking tray after tray of egg tarts, sheet cakes, and baked buns filled with barbecued pork, toasted coconut, custard, and sweet red bean paste to name a few.  The smell was heaven.  And as they bantered back and forth in a combination of percussive Chinese dialects, I would start brewing the coffee for the customers and a pot of genmaicha for myself, getting the front of house ready for the morning rush.

Beautiful buns

Sifu in his element

That was my routine for the first few months, but soon I was asked to also work in the kitchen as Ben's sous chef.   I had always enjoyed cooking, but cooking in a restaurant under pressure was a completely new ballgame.  But after a few obligatory meltdowns, several new white hairs, and mastering a small arsenal of Cantonese expletives, I was good to go.  The menu was small, which was a good thing given how quickly the orders would stack up during lunch.  Bi Bim Bap was the most popular menu item, which called for a lot of over-easy eggs.  I still remember the day when I finally got the hang of frying multiple eggs simultaneously in our gargantuan wok, swirling them like race cars in a clockwise circle.  It was truly a Jack Dawson moment.  And since nearly all the dishes also called for rice, we had two rice cookers, serving out of one while the other spouted steam as it cooked away.

You'd be smiling, too, if you tasted this good

Visiting with the owners, Carol and Ben, in 2009

Kim bap (pronounced kim-bop) was a personal favorite, roasted sheets of seaweed wrapped around rice and assorted vegetables.  Based on appearance, most would think it was sushi.  But unlike its Japanese counterpart, the Korean kim bap does not use vinegar to season the rice and when meat fillings are involved, they are always cooked (e.g., bulgogi, crabstick, spam).  The one at Eastern Accents had pickled daikon, shredded carrots, cucumber, and bean sprouts and spinach seasoned with sesame oil.  For the first month, I could only watch Ben or Sifu make them, because I would always rip the seaweed.  But eventually I became really good at it and would invite every opportunity to roll something in seaweed.

Which is a perfect segue to today's recipe.  I'm currently doing a pantry cleanse, and the other day I found a pack of seaweed sheets.  I had just cooked some short grain brown rice and bought some fresh vegetables, and putting two and two together, I went hunting for my bamboo rolling mat.

After ten years, I still haven't lost the touch.  Ben and Sifu would be so proud.

Vegan Kim Bap with Cucumber, Pear, Avocado, 
Red Bell Pepper, and Scallion (GF, DF, V, rSF, SF)

1 medium cucumber
1 medium pear
1/2 medium red bell pepper
1 medium avocado
4 scallion stalks
4 sheets roasted seaweed/laver
3-4 c cooked short grain rice

1.  Peel cucumber and slice into thirds lengthwise.  Seed and then julienne.
2.  Cut pear in half, core, and then julienne.  Firmer pears, like a Bartlett, will work best.
2.  Remove seeds and ribs from red bell pepper and slice into long strips.
4.  Cut white portion from scallion stalks.
5.  Cut avocado in half and remove pit.  Remove skin and slice thinly lengthwise.
6.  Place sheet of roasted seaweed on rolling mat.  Smooth, non-textured side should be facing down.
7.  Spread roughly 2/3 cup of rice over the seaweed with your fingers.  It's helpful to keep a little dish of water next to you to minimize how much rice sticks to your fingers.  Cover the middle 3/4 of the seaweed, leaving about 1/2 inch at both the top and bottom.  Avoid pressing the rice too firmly into the seaweed or letting it get too wet.
8.  Arrange ingredients in the middle of the rice.  It's alright if the scallion is longer than the sheet is wide - it makes for a nice presentation.
9.  Fold bottom half of the bamboo mat over the filling and apply gentle pressure along the length, almost making a square as you encircle the fillings.  Pull the rolled portion of the mat toward you as you hold the unrolled portion stationary.
10.  Repeat until you reach the top 1/2 inch not covered in rice.  Lightly moisten the seaweed with water (that's the "glue") and then complete the roll, applying gentle pressure along the length one more time.
11.  Makes four rolls or twenty-four pieces when cut.

Prep = meditation

Ready to roll

Gentle firmness

I love this part!

The part I like best is cutting the rolls.  Any sharp knife will do, but I recommend using a large chef knife.  Dip the tip into water and then invert the knife so the point is facing up.  Gently tap the handle on a flat surface and allow the water to travel the length of the edge of the blade.  To cut, use a soft, sawing motion, allowing the weight of the knife to do the work rather than added pressure.  After a few cuts, wipe the blade and rewet. Isn't that fun?

I love the sweet balanced with the salty, the soft with the crisp in this recipe.  Of course, if you don't happen to have all of these ingredients, feel free to use whatever you have on hand.  The beauty of kim bap is that it only really requires two ingredients: "kim" {seaweed} and "bap" {rice}.  Have fun and allow yourself to be creative.

Finally, please try not to judge yourself too harshly if the seaweed should split on you.  It definitely takes practice, from rolling to cutting.  Remember that regardless of how it looks, it will still taste delicious, so enjoy your mistakes, both literally and figuratively.

Food that is beautiful to look at is great, but beautiful tasting food that helps your body feel beautiful - that always wins in my book.


  1. Oh you and your origami birds in the photos... ;p You know how much I love seaweed and Kim Bap. I think I say I love everything, don't I? For my Jesscafé lunch club; this is on my more popular items. I call it 'Sushi' because there are a lot of people who don't recognize the term 'Kim Bap/Kim Bop.' It's funny how people get wrapped up in names for things. I use Korean short grain brown rice, toasted seaweed for the wrapper and the filling is usually, pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber, marinated spinach, marinated soysprouts, kimchi'd shredded daikon or tofu and marinated osmund (avocado too, but only when in season). Sometimes I will brush the wrapper with a tiny bit of sesame oil before I lay the rice out. I actually also do a sort of hybrid variation of the Japanese Futo Maki and a Kim Bap sometimes. I mix some of the rice with a vinegar solution and on occassion I might make some Tamago (Japanese egg omelet) to go inside. Generally, though my rolls are vegan. I sometimes serve them with an Edamame salad or a kombu,hijiki, cucumber salad. I usually don't use any extra sauce when I eat my Kim Bap rolls, but the same Gojuchang (hot red pepper paste) based sauce they use for the Kim Bap bolls goes great with it. I remember at Easter Accents; how they would never give away the recipe for the sauce. Hehe. Mmmm spicy, salty, sweet and tangy goodness. Now, I want a Kim Bap tshirt.... I'm sure they exist =) Nice posting Joe. Beautiful photos as usual.

  2. I'm so glad to hear that your Jesscafe is doing so well - your coworkers are so lucky! You should do a pop-up or open up a trailer. I've often entertained the idea myself - perhaps we could do it together. :) "JoeJess'Cafe"?

    Thank you, as always, for the love and support, Jess.


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