Monday, 3 February 2014

Asian Puzzles

Gyeran Mari Kongbap
Korean Mixed Beans & Grains with Rice & Simple Egg Roll

Do you ever buy things that you are not familiar with at the Asian supermarket? Usually things are labeled... often clearly, occasionally confusingly and sometimes hilariously. But some things do not have an English translation, and although we might be able to see them and guess at whether we might enjoy them or not... we still can not always be sure of what they are or how to cook them!

Well, I for one do it on occasion ;-)

A while ago, I saw these little bags of rice, with assorted beans and grains and... THINGS in them and thought to myself "yummy!" I wasn't sure what it was, but envisioned a kind of Asian risotto, with the flavors similar to those of a mixed legume minestrone... the kind of thing I grew up with and love. Except that there were peanuts and berries in this... which made me like the sound of it even more!

Of course, I did ask the owner what it was and how to prepare it and was saddened  to find that he couldn't tell me- this was something Korean and he was from Thailand. I asked if he would recommend it and he said "I don't think you will like it." Of course, plainly, I did buy it and yes, actually I DID enjoy it! Ha!

After doing some research and asking some friends online, I discovered that the mix of rice and various legumes was something known as Kongbap in Korea- Kong being the word for beans and Bap the word for rice. I discovered that this dish, obviously a poor-peoples food, was in fact the gruel that would be served up in prison many moons ago- how yummy! I also discovered that is has since become a popular everyday dish, well loved because of its healthy nature as well of its rich flavor. So after that, of course I HAD to try making the stuff this evening! But the full story began in the early hours of this morning...

In its dry state, this is how it looks, in the picture above- a mixture in this case of, sticky rice, plain beans, ground corn, kidney beans, black rice, buckwheat, peanuts, mung beans, dates and lotus seeds... what a fun mix! Although I couldn't tell what all of the ingredients were- as pretty as this mix looked- how could I resist?!?

After reading up on the preparation of Kongbap, I became aware of some common-sense facts- the first and most important being, obviously, that the beans needed to soak, at least for 2-3 hours, but better still overnight. So this morning before work, I put the mix in a bowl to soak... and by the time I got home from work- it had changed into what you can see in the image below. Pretty neat, huh?

I rinsed the rice briefly 2 times, but was careful not to rinse away all of the starchy residue, as that was also the flavor and the stuff that would make this wine dish so creamy and delicious.

I put the rice into a saucepan and filled it up with water until the rice was covered by about an inch. The ratio of water to rice mix should be 1 part rice to about 2 times water. I brought the water up to the boil and then reduced the heat to a simmer and let the rice boil away for around 20 minutes until the water had evaporated away. 

I then added both salt and soy sauce to season, along with a little grated ginger and a little finely chopped garlic, then topped it up again with enough water to cover it by about 1" again. Then back on the heat it went for a further 20 minutes or so... those beans do take their time! And of course, in the meantime, the mixture was become richer in color and texture from the beans, turning from white at the beginning to a rich red-brown color- yummy!

Whilst the rice was simmering gently away, I decided to cook some egg (gyeran) to go with the kongbap. I had seen many versions served with a boiled, poached or even fried egg in the examples online and decided this would give a nice contrast to the rice, grains and beans. 

I simply took an egg and beat it a little- not too thoroughly, as I always think it is nice when the flavor of the yolk and whites are both present, and poured it into a small non-stick pan. Of course it immediately began to set, so I gently lifted it on one edge and folded it over, then folded again and once more, moving quickly before the top of the egg began to set, so that it would stick together nicely. Simple. Also, I didn't add anything to my egg roll at all- I wanted it to taste mild and sweet as a contrast to the rest- the fun flavors were yet to come!

I seasoned the rice further with some rich, dark, soy sauce and for some nice, nutty sesame flavor, opted to use a tablespoon of Tahini rather than sesame oil... obviously not a Korean ingredient or preparation... but you know? This was MY version for MY supper. And I liked it!  

I served it up with the egg roll sliced in two and sprinkled with finely sliced Spring onion and a little fresh chili. The finishing touch to this was a generous, but not overly-so drizzle of Hoisin sauce... and let me tell you... the combination was rather terrific! This is just ordinary, Winter food- with the rice and beans tasting like... well... rice and beans! But the nuts and dates and grains make it yummy and satisfying, especially when it is seasoned and enriched with soy. And yes, that mild egg, hot chili and rich hoisin made this into a Winter winner... at least for me! If you are wondering whether you might like it or not... there is a simple solution... try it yourself! But I am pretty sure you will!

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