clockwise from top: potatoes, edamame, scallions, sweet pototoes, zucchini, mung bean sprouts, and carrots – and shrimp in the middle
EVENT: Informal supper for the Urtak-ers
TYPE: Small dinner party
SIZE: Two guests and me
VENUE Cara’s apartment, Park Slope
MENU: Baguette with carrot dip; Bibimbap and condiments; Coconut pudding with star sables
My friends Aaron and Marc have launched an ambitious and attractive public opinion website called urtak.com. It’s revolutionary in that it lets users generate their own questions as well as answer the queries of others.
While I was deciding what to prepare for the pair, I got to thinking how so much input might make dinner-party planning next to impossible. As hosts, we’re always the ones mandating what to eat, so dinner parties are subject to the dictatorship of the hostess, not run by a democracy of the guest. I do try to take into account dietary restrictions and preferences, but in the end the menu’s up to me. And thus my indecision begins.
Going back and forth among cuisines, styles, and ingredients, I considered posting questions on urtak. Maybe “Do you like Korean food?” “Do you like pudding?” “Do you like to eat dinner?” (it’s yes or no questions only), etc. Instead, I quieted my wavering by choosing a dish that gives the power of choice back to the guests.
Anyway, this “democratic dish” was, of all things, Bibimbap, a Korean-style rice bowl topped with separate heaps of vegetables and protein and sprinkled with chili sauce. What seemed great about it to me was that each diner then gets to pick and choose among the toppings and condiments. So if you don’t like celery, say, you can scoop up rice and zucchini and leave it out. If you’re obsessed with peanut butter in all forms? Pile on that peanut sauce. And so on and so on.
From my kitchen, small but democratic, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
no smiles allowed
Since the nature of bibimbap is so flexible, I used some unexpected ingredients, like potato. But then there’s something about winter that might make me crave carbs with my carbs. Regardless, you can use the toppings of your choice and as few or as many as you’d like, though I’d try to include four or more. Each individual topping can be prepared ahead and then rewarmed in the wok over the rice before serving.
1 cup sushi rice
1 medium sweet potato, cut into fry shapes
about 6 small potatoes (like Yukon gold),
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 cup mung bean sprouts
5 scallions, sliced
3/4 cup frozen edamame beans, shelled and defrosted
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (see TIP)
3/4 pound shrimp, cleaned and de-veined
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce (like Sriracha, or other Asian chili)
1-2 tablespoons safflower oil, or cooking spray
TIP: to toast sesame seeds, put them in a frying pan and watch them carefully. Shift the pan to toast them evenly, and when they’ve only just browned, remove from the heat. They burn easily!
Marinate the shrimp: combine the cleaned shrimp with the grated garlic and ginger in a bowl. Keep in the fridge for half an hour or longer, while you’re preparing the vegetables.
Cook the rice: rinse the rice in several washes of cold water until water runs clean. Add it to a small pot with 1 1/4 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When the water boils, turn heat to very low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for another 10 minutes.
For the potatoes: preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the sweet potatoes and potatoes separately with about 1 teaspoon of oil each, then spread on opposite sides of a baking sheet. Roast, flipping once, for 35-45 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and browned.
For the carrots and zucchini: warm a large saucepan or wok over high heat. Add a tiny bit of oil or a coat of cooking spray, then add the carrot matchsticks and toss until they’ve softened and gotten a tiny bit brown. Remove and set aside, then repeat for the zucchini.
Re-coat the wok with oil and mound all the rice at the bottom. Top with the mung beans, scallions, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, edamame beans, carrots, and zucchini, in separate wedges. Sprinkle with thetablespoon of sesame oil and the chili sauce.
Cover with a lid or with foil, and set the whole wok over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are warm and the rice has developed a slight crust.
Meanwhile, warm 1/2 teaspoon of oil in a smaller frying pan. When hot, add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they are pink through. Pile the shrimp on the vegetables and rice and garnish with sesame seeds. Serve straight from the wok.
Truthfully, the rice and toppings are delicious on their own, making the condiments optional. For ease, this is also a good time to bring out any favorite pre-packaged sauces—peanut, chili, miso, or ginger. The coconut-peanut sauce I served is not the thick, Chinese one I put on noodles, but thinner and sweeter, like satay sauce.
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Peel the cucumber and cut it into half-moon shapes. Cut the onion into thin slices. Combine with the salt in a bowl for 1 hour, then drain off the excess liquid. Add the vinegar and chili sauce and chill until ready to serve.
Sweet and Sour Carrot Dip
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
This is a simple puree with a slight sweet-and-sour vibe. Some of the same prep work goes into this as the Bibimbap—like grating ginger and peeling carrots—which streamlines the cooking.
3/4 pound carrots (4-5 carrots)
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Salt to taste
Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add salt and the carrots and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until the carrots are quite soft. Reserve 1/2 of the water and drain the rest.
Add the carrots to a food processor or blender with the ginger, vinegar, oils, and salt. Process until you have a hummus-like puree, adding some of the reserved water as necessary.
Serve with fresh carrot sticks and some crusty torn baguette. I garnished it with sesame seeds I’d toasted for the Bibimbap.
Makes 4 servings
I made a simple sugar cookie recipe to add some crunch to the smooth dessert. You can serve the pudding without, or else grab some thin, crispy cookies from the store (gingersnaps might be nice…).
1 cup canned coconut milk
1 cup milk or low-fat milk
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup fruit or 1/3 fruit jelly or compote (optional)
In a small bowl, stir together the egg yolks and the vanilla. Set aside.
If you’re using the fruit (I used apples that had been stewed in sugar, but you could use pears, berries, or a bit of good jam), spoon it evenly into the bottom of four custard ramekins, wine glasses, or regular old drinking glasses. Keep them near you on the counter.
Combine the cornstarch, sugar, salt, and about 1/2 cup of milk in a saucepan. Whisk until all lumps are gone, then add the rest of the milk and the coconut milk. Stirring constantly but mellowly over medium heat until the mixture thickens. Lower the heat and keep stirring until the pudding begins to simmer around the edges. When it does, leave it simmering for another minute without touching it.
Then scoop up about a cup of the thickened pudding and add it, 1/3 at a time, to the egg yolk/vanilla mixture, stirring constantly but still not vigorously. Remove the pudding from the heat, and slowly pour the egg-pudding mixture back into the pan, gently folding it in – don’t beat it now or you risk thinning the pudding out.
Divide equally among the custard cups. Serve warm or refrigerate until dessert time. Garnish with cookies.