Given my growing interest and experience in Korean cooking, the gimbap – making adventure was inevitable. Especially since last year, when I saw beautiful colourful rice rolls in Tokyo’s Korean district. Unfortunately, I was no longer hungry (easy to understand after a BBQ dinner…) and didn’t have time to go back there before my return to Europe. Finally, after long months, I made my first attempt, which was much more satisfactory in terms of taste than in its aesthetic results. I hope you will believe me that clumsy-looking rice rolls can also make a fully enjoyable meal.
For those who have never had much more famous Japanese rice rolls (maki sushi), their basic ingredients are seaweed sheets (nori) and vinegared rice. The filling varies, but it usually includes one or more of such ingredients as fish, seafood, cucumber, pickled radish or avocado. For me the main difference between maki sushi and Korean gimbap/kimbap is the rice seasoning : here vinegar is also added to the rice (at least in my both cookery books), but a tiny amount only and the sesame oil’s presence dominates the final taste. The gimbap filling is usually richer and very colourful. It often contains beef, pickled radish, sliced omelette, cooked spinach and, for example, carrot.The sesame-scented rice is so delicious, you want to finish it on its own while mixing… so beware! (I kept on “tasting” it throughout the whole rolls preparation process.)
If I had to choose between Japanese and Korean rolls, I must say I prefer the vinegared maki sushi ,but mainly because I associate rice rolls with a very light, refreshing meal and vinegared rice gives more easily this impression. Gimbap is heartier and maybe less sophisticated… but there is something more casual, joyful and playful about Korean rolls… so I’m sure I will be making them from time to time. (And the taste of rice mixed with sesame oil was a revelation). Up to you to choose which ones you prefer!
I have combined here two slightly different recipes from The Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song and Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, both fantastic, though completely different cookbooks, the former being rather for beginners and the latter one of the biggest jewels in my kitchen library. Apart from using two sources, I have modified the filling substantially, namely adding raw cucumber and leek and skipping some ingredients (I did leave however the “flagship” beef and omelette), so can only I hope I still have the right to call these rolls “gimbap” in spite of all the changes… As in the case of maki sushi, I have used here a lower rice vs filling ratio than in the original recipe (see the TIPS below).
TIPS: Since I am able to devour lots of rice rolls (maki sushi or gimbap), I reduce the rice amount in order to make them lighter and low-calorie. As you see on the photo above, the filling takes here more space than the rice. If you prefer a standard, not lightened version, increase the rice amount (500 g or about 17,5 oz instead of 300 g or about 10,5 oz).
When you buy seaweed (nori) sheets, pay attention to their transparency and colour. I was told in Japan that darker and less transparent nori means better quality (of course there are more sophisticated criteria to judge the quality once the nori is dark and opaque enough to be considered good quality, but I found the above tip a good way to discard low-quality products).
Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, the author of Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, advises serving gimbap with vinegared soy sauce (check her book for the recipe) and hot yellow mustard. I have served them with soy sauce mixed with sesame oil and vinegar only.
rice cooker (unless you know how to cook the rice in a “normal” pan)
maki rolling mat
Preparation: 20 minutes (+ 1 hour for rice rinsing, cooking, seasoning and cooling)
Ingredients (serves 4 as the main course):
5 nori seaweed sheets
300g (about 10,5 oz) short grain (Japanese or Korean) rice (or 500g/about 17,5 oz if you prefer “standard” rolls)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 flat teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine (I have used sake)
1 long cucumber, cut into strips
(1 long thin leek)
1 big carrot, cut into strips (in the recipe it’s stir-fried, but I preferred to use it raw)
oil (for the omelette frying)
100 g ground beef ; the recipe calls either for finely chopped beef or for thin beef strips (at Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s), so you can chop it or cut into thin strips too
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 crushed or grated garlic cloves
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
a small bowl of water
Steam the rice.
In the meantime mix the marinade with the beef and put aside for ten minutes.
Beat the eggs in a bowl, season with salt and fry a flat omelette.
Cut the omelette into thin strips and put them aside.
Put the hot rice into a bowl and add the rice mixture ingredients. Stir well and leave to cool down.
When the rice has cooled down to the room temperature (it can’t be completely cold, otherwise it won’t be sticky enough), put a nori sheet vertically on the rolling mat, shiny side down.
Fry the beef and let it cool down.
With fingers dipped in a bowl of water spread 1/5th of the rice evenly, leaving a 1 cm gap on the top, far edge.
Arrange the filling ingredients on the rice, in a horizontal line, close to the bottom edge.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and with sesame oil.
Roll the gimbap starting from the bottom edge, gently pressing after each turn.
Brush with water the upper edge before doing the last turn (it will help to seal the roll).
Press gently the roll and put it aside.
In order to obtain more or less similarly sized pieces, cut the roll first in two parts, then put them in a row and cut them in two parts, etc.
(It is easier to cut the rolls with a moist knife blade.)
Arrange them on a plate and serve.