Gentle readers, while some of you are currently home-bound due to a winter snow blizzard, some of you on the other side of the globe are fanning yourselves due to the excessive heat of summer; and meanwhile yours truly is here in Tehran, Iran, where the season is still winter but the weather is mild(ish), although the mountains surrounding the city are beautifully and lushly capped with snow.
Instead of a post of my own, what I have for you is a treat: an impeccable guest post (recipe and photographs) by Caramelflahn (Helen!) who is my culinary inspiration and obsession.
You may recall Helen’s foodgasmic interview (Lord have mercy! If you’re not averse to drooling over food, you shouldsprint over to that link and drool away!) and her stunningly exquisite (and am not throwing that adjective lightly) Saffron layer cake with white chocolate mousse & pistachio butter cream. (Just typing the title of the post sends shivers tingling down my spine! May the Lord be merciful again!) If you care even a tiny bit for food, you must follow Helen’s Instagram for pinch-me revelation and inspiration! And you can always wipe away the pool of drool easily enough with a kitchen towelette! 😉
This, Helen’s latest guest post for Fig & Quince, Persianized dolsot bibimbap, is the fusion of a classic Korean fare with Persian inspirations. As if that’s not intriguing enough, there’s a cameo star turn by nooroongji or Korean ta’dig! What marvel of nature is that! Helen reports that Koreans LOVE noorongji! Helen’s favorite part of dinner growing up was the noorongji at the bottom of the rice cooker, and she and her older sister would fight over the big pieces of Korean ta’dig. This story makes me chuckle because the fight over tadig is such a typical occurrence at any Persian dinner table as well! Helen says her mom used to actually take leftover rice and press it on a hot frying pan with some toasted sesame oil to make giant sheets of noorongji for Helen and her older sister to snack on. What a fabulous idea! I shall make a note of doing the same going forward!
As for going forward, enough of my narrative in italics. This awesome Korean dish looks delectable and the recipe is detailed and involved, so let’s proceed posthaste to our guest’s wonderful post. Here’s Helen in her own words:
Helen’s Persianized Dolsot Bibimbap
Dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥) is a popular traditional Korean dish, and one of my favorite meals to eat and make. It’s a hot stone bowl filled with rice mixed with various vegetables, beef, fried egg (or just a raw yolk), and a specially seasoned sweet and tangy red pepper hot sauce. Dolsot [돌솥] means “stone bowl,” bibim [비빔] means “mixed,” and bap [밥] means “rice”. It’s super tasty, (reasonably) healthy, well-balanced, and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan.
The hot dolsot accomplishes two things: (1) It keeps the contents piping hot until the very last bite. Perfect for these chilly fall days and upcoming winter! (2) Arguably the best and most important reason, it makes the bottom layer of rice toasty, nutty, and crunchy. This crunchy rice, or nooroongji (누룽지) tastes amazing and is the prized product and sign of any good dolsot bibimbap.
Just regular ol’ bibimbap has the exact same ingredients but is served in a standard non-heated bowl, so it doesn’t have that delicious nooroongji crunchy rice. It’s still good, but not as good as dolsot bibimbap in the opinion of most people; the hot stone bowl really makes a huge difference. Oh, what’s that you say? You don’t own a 5lb granite bowl and have no idea where to get one? Well, lucky for you, a well-seasoned cast iron skillet works (nearly) just as well! That tasty toasty nooroongji you’ll get from the dolsot (or cast iron skillet) is the Korean equivalent of Persian ta’dig. Which is why I thought creating a Persian-inspired dolsot bibimbap made delicious sense.
Yes, Persian and Korean cuisines have considerably disparate flavor profiles, but they have many key similarities. Both are heavily based on rice. Both like some of that rice to be crunchy. Both use lots of fresh herbs and vegetables. Both embrace bold spices and complex flavors that pack a big punch. Dolsot bibimbap has all of those things, and I think this Persian-inspired version does, too.
The flavors and ingredients are Persian-influenced, but based on the original Korean dish. Instead of steamed plain medium-grain white rice, there’s buttery fragrant saffron basmati rice. Instead of garlic-sesame-soy beef bulgogi, there’s garlic-cumin-mint lamb “bulgogi”. Instead of sweet vinegary pickled oijangaji cucumbers, there are shirazi salad-inspired pickled cucumbers. Instead of sauteed garlic-soy spinach and toasted seaweed, there’s a sabzi-inspired quick sauteed spinach with herbs. I found most of the components were naturally analogous, but one distinctively Korean ingredient I had to keep was the gochujang (fermented red pepper paste). It’s the umami-packed key ingredient of the tangy sweet spicy sauce that’s mixed in the bibimbap, and I think it complemented the Persian influences surprisingly well. The end result is a hearty, satisfying complete meal in one sizzling, steaming bowl loaded with deliciously intricate flavors.
One thing I especially like about this recipe and dolsot bibimbap in general is that you can make everything the day before, and leftovers reheat beautifully. This recipe can be eaten over the course of several days, and it’s like you’re making and enjoying a fresh bowl each time; all you have to make each time is the fried egg.
This was a lot of fun to do, and I really enjoyed exploring Persian cuisine! The bibimbap is seriously delicious! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!
Let’s make Helen’s recipe and let’s dig in!
Note 1: Please do not be put off by the long list of ingredients in this recipe. It comes together easily, and every component can be made the day before, although you may prefer to make the rice fresh the day of for best results. The ingredients will reheat in the dolsot or skillet as the crunchy rice is forming.
Note 2: You can find dolsots (cast iron skillets) for about $20 each in large Korean grocery stores like H-Mart, and some small Korean and Asian markets carry them as well. Or, you can buy them online in granite or stoneware. Opt for the large size. Either material works well; if you choose granite, however, treat it like cast iron and be sure to season it first by scrubbing it clean with hot water and a stiff brush. Don’t use soap. Place it on a burner over high heat for a couple minutes, then carefully wipe vegetable or sesame oil with a paper towel all over the inside surface of the bowl. Repeat this easy seasoning process after every use.
Note 3: Alternatively, you can use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet instead of a dolsot. Anything 8” or larger will be a serving size for 2 or more people.
- 3”x4” piece of block tamarind pulp (found refrigerated in Asian and Middle Eastern markets)
- 1.5 to 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, excess hard fat and silverskin trimmed
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, divided
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
- ¼ teaspoon + pinch nutmeg, preferably freshly ground, divided
- 4 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 4 teaspoons honey, divided
- 10 cloves garlic, divided
- 11 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided
- 1 cup canola oil, divided
- 3T olive or canola oil
- 2.5 cups basmati rice
- large pinch saffron, crumbled and dissolved in 3 tablespoons of hot water
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee, plus more for melting inside the dolsot, divided
- ½ cup gochujang (Korean fermented red pepper paste, 고추장, available in Asian markets or here)
- 6 tablespoon fresh lime juice, divided
- 1.5 pounds eggplant, preferably baby eggplant
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced, divided
- 1 pound Persian cucumbers (preferable) or 1 English cucumber
- ½ red onion, finely diced
- ½ teaspoon ground angelica/golpar (optional)
- 1 rounded tablespoon dried fenugreek (Crucial! Don’t leave this out!)
- 11 ounces baby spinach
- 1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
- 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
- 10 ounces matchstick carrots (I buy these pre-cut. Big time saver.)
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
- 6 eggs or just the yolks, divided
Break the block of tamarind pulp into smaller chunks and place in a small bowl. Cover with boiling hot water and let sit for 15-20 minutes. After the time has elapsed, discard the water. Strain the softened pulp through a mesh strainer and work it through with a spatula or spoon (a rice paddle works great for this). Approximately half of the soaked pulp will yield strained paste. The paste will be thick and smooth, similar to baby food. Place 2.5 tablespoons of the paste in a medium bowl and set aside the remainder of the paste for the tamarind-gochujang sauce. You can discard the stringy pulp left over or snack on it while you continue to cook.
Please don’t use the jarred tamarind concentrate that’s already strained. It tastes muddied and dusty and doesn’t have the same fresh bright tartness that the block form does. Plus, it usually has a bunch of additives.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add ½ teaspoon cumin seed and 1 teaspoon coriander seed. Stir occasionally and heat for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant and lightly toasted but not burned. Grind toasted spices in a spice mill or mortar & pestle.
Transfer ground spices to the bowl with the tamarind paste. Add ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, pinch of nutmeg, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 scant teaspoon of honey, 4 cloves of crushed and coarsely chopped garlic, 4 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint, and ½ cup of canola oil (I find extra virgin olive oil is too strongly flavored with these spices). Mix well. Yes, the amount of honey in the photo is no where near how much I actually used. . .
Slice the lamb against the grain in thin pieces, approximately ¼” in thickness. Add to the tamarind-mint marinade and coat thoroughly. Cover, refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. The acid in the tamarind will help tenderize the meat.
Grill or cook in an uncrowded single layer in a skillet (you will have to cook in batches) over medium-high heat until desired doneness. Since the meat is sliced so thinly, it will take only 1-2 minutes per side. Set aside.
While the lamb is marinating, prepare the rice. I don’t pretend to be an expert in making Persian rice. If you would like to make it the traditional/real way, please feel free to follow these excellent, highly detailed Persian rice making instructions by Azita!
I am, however, an expert in making Korean rice, i.e. in a rice cooker. Here’s how to do it with saffron basmati rice: Rinse rice under cool running water to remove excess starch, vigorously agitating the water with your hand to release even more starch. Drain and repeat a few more times until the water is no longer cloudy. Place the rice in the bowl of the rice cooker and cover with around 3” of cold water. Stir in 2-3 teaspoons of kosher salt and let soak at room temperature for 2 hours.
After the rice has soaked, check the amount of water left by placing a clean hand straight down onto the surface of the rice, palm flattened and fingers outstretched. Your wrist should be bent at 90 degrees. If the water extends above the middle knuckles of your fingers, pour off the excess water until the water reaches just up to the middle knuckles. If the water is below the middle knuckles, add more until it reaches them.
If you use a rice cooker and pre-soak your rice before cooking, this method will give you the perfect amount of water for cooking rice every single time. I actually never measure my rice because if I use this method of measuring water, the proportions are always correct. This works for any amount of rice that’s at least an inch deep; brown rice; men or women’s hands; and rice cookers of any size or brand. Easy!
Add 3 tablespoons butter or ghee and the saffron-water. Cook the rice per your rice cooker’s standard white rice setting. Keep warm and set aside.
While the rice is soaking and the lamb is marinating, prepare the remaining ingredients. For the sauce, mix together in a small bowl the gochujang, 4 teaspoons of the strained tamarind paste, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon honey, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, and 3 cloves of minced garlic. Set aside.
Gochujang is sold in red plastic tubs in Asian markets. Be sure not to get a pre-seasoned “bibimbap sauce” which is usually in a red bottle. If “gochujang” isn’t written in English, the work you want to look for is “고추장” which will be on the front, often in the corner. It usually also says “red pepper paste” in English on a sticker on the side with the nutrition facts. It will last well over a year in the refrigerator after you open it.
Gochujang also comes in 5 different spice levels, which is printed either on the front or back as a little thermometer. “1” is the most mild and “5” is very spicy. I personally like spice level 3, which has a pleasant amount of heat but isn’t obnoxiously spicy.
Cut the eggplants into pieces approximately 1”x1”x3”. Sprinkle generously with about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and let sit for 20 minutes. This reduces the bitterness of the eggplant, and you will wash most of the salt off. After the 20 minutes have passed, rinse the eggplant and pat dry.
Heat ½ cup of canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Carefully fry the eggplant in a single uncrowded layer until golden brown on all sides, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. You will work in batches. Transfer fried eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the oil in the pan. Add ½ of a large diced yellow onion, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg and cook until softened and translucent. Add 1-2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice and return the eggplant to the pan. Cook for a few minutes more until the eggplant and onion and well-mixed, taking care not to mash or crush the eggplant. Set aside.
Cut cucumbers in ½” dice and red onion in ¼” dice. Place in a medium bowl. Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and let sit 20 minutes. This gives a pickled quality to the cucumber and also keeps it crunchy. Rinse, drain.
Add 4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice, and the angelica/golpar, if using. Toss to coat. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of canola or olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ½ of a diced yellow onion and 3 cloves of minced garlic. Sautee till softened and translucent.
Add fenugreek, spinach, parsley, and cilantro, stirring often until wilted. You will likely not be able to fit all of the greens in the skillet at once; add as much as will fit in the pan and continue to add the rest of the greens as they cook down. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice and salt to taste. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of canola or olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrots, ½ teaspoon ground cumin seed, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of honey, and salt to taste. Saute until evenly coated and slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Time to make Persian-inspired dolsot bibimbap! Place your dolsots (one per person) or cast iron skillet (one per 2+ people, depending on the size) over high heat. Rub a small pat of unsalted butter or ghee (about one teaspoon up to a tablespoon, depending on personal preference) along the entire inside surface. Allow the remainder of the butter to melt in the center of the dolsot or skillet.
Alternatively, you can use olive oil instead of butter (traditional Korean dolsot bibimbap uses toasted sesame oil).
Once the butter has melted or olive oil has warmed, reduce the heat to medium-high and put a few spoonfuls of the cooked rice into each dolsot (or more if using a cast iron skillet). Firmly pack a layer of rice about ½” – 1” thick down along the bottom and part-way up the sides of the dolsot/skillet, making good contact with the hot surface. This contact is a key factor to crunchy rice/ta’dig/nooroongji formation. Do not stir the rice with the butter/oil. You want to just pack the rice on top of it. Once you’ve established a layer of rice with good contact with the dolsot, lightly mound some more rice on top, for a total of about 1 – 1.5 cups of rice, more or less based on personal preference. At this point, you should hear the sizzle of the rice with the butter or oil, and you might see steam (not smoke) rising from the dolsot as well.
Imagine your dolsot or skillet is the face of a clock and divide it into 5 equal-ish wedges. In 9 o’clock to 11:30, place a wedge-shaped portion of the eggplant. From 11:30 to 2 o’clock, place a bit of greens. From 2 o’clock to 4:30, lamb. From 4:30 to 7 o’clock carrots. And from 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock, leave this wedge empty for the cucumbers to be added at the end so they stay crisp and crunchy.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as the portions are roughly the same size. And the order you place them doesn’t matter, either, but for style points you ideally shouldn’t put foods of the same color next to each other (that’s why I put the lamb and eggplant across-ish from each other as well as the greens from the cucumbers).
After your toppings are in place (minus the cucumbers at this point), turn the heat down to medium and place a lid on your dolsot or skillet. The lid traps in heat and steam and re-warms your toppings if they’ve been sitting out for a while or if they’ve been in the fridge and you’re making more bibimbap over the next few days. Any lid that sits flush against the dolsot/skillet and completely covers it is fine. A baking sheet works, too. You should still hear brisk sizzling but shouldn’t smell any burning.
Once your dolsot or skillet is sizzling away covered, fry one egg sunny-side-up per dolsot (or maybe two eggs if you’re using the cast iron skillet). Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat, give it a little spritz with cooking spray or a tiny drizzle of oil, and crack an egg into the center. The edges should immediately start to set. Once the edges have set and the center white still looks a bit raw, cover the skillet and allow the steam to cook the remainder of the whites. The yolk will still be runny.
Alternatively, you can just place a raw yolk in the center of each dolsot, though I personally like the bits of fried egg white in my bibimbap.
Remove the lid from the dolsot or cast iron skillet and add some cucumber to the empty wedge. Carefully slide the sunny-side-up egg onto the center of the toppings. Sprinkle the egg with toasted sesame seeds for garnish, if desired. Serve with the tamarind-gochujang sauce on the side.
Place a dollop of the tamarind-gochujang sauce on top of the bibimbap, break the yolk with a spoon, and mix mix mix, breaking up the egg and incorporating all of the toppings evenly throughout the rice. The yolk should blend with the sauce and maintain a rich, creamy texture throughout the rice as you eat. Add more sauce to taste, though with this Persian-inspired bibimbap, I personally don’t like to add too much because I want the spices to be nice and balanced. It’s all up to you and your personal taste, though. Enjoy!
Please be very careful in handling the dolsot. The stone retains heat for a very long time and will continue to sizzle well into your meal. Always use potholders and a trivet when moving it. Also be careful not to bump your hand or arm into the dolsot while eating this. I’ve been burned (literally) before doing this.
There are several ways to eat dolsot bibimbap. Some people like to dig right into the crunchy rice and mix it with everything else. Others (myself included) like to leave the bottom layer of crunchy rice alone until the very end, saving it as a big toasty sheet of crunchy rice to enjoy on its own. It’s up to you, though if you leave the crunchy rice till the end, it gets even toastier and crunchier since it stays in contact with the hot dolsot longer.
To store leftovers, place each component/topping, the sauce, and rice in a separate airtight container and refrigerate. To reheat, follow the assembly instructions as written, except reheat the rice separately before placing it in the heated dolsot; I do this in the microwave for a minute and a half with a little water sprinkled on top and covered with plastic wrap. The whole reheating process takes only about 5 minutes to recreate a bowl of dolsot bibimbap that tastes as good as when it was first made.
Thank you dear Helen for a truly wonderful recipe. I admire and applaud your clear, thorough and thoughtful instructions, as well as your innovative experimentation and fusion of two cuisines. A real treat and a boon for Fig & Quince.
Gentle readers, what can I say, you must try this! Make it, eat it, and may it be noosh’e jaan!
ps Do send me pix of your culinary creations! I’d love to see it!