As an artist, creative expression shows up in all facets of my life. I often find myself weaving my imagination into unexpected places, for example my “second art studio,” aka my kitchen. I frequently use different techniques and recipes to transform simple ingredients into little edible artworks. Playing with aesthetically pleasing presentations is just one side of creativity in the kitchen. Experimenting with new recipes and different flavors can also be a way to tap into creative expression. If you are someone who may be intimidated or overwhelmed with the process of cooking, learning to lean into the creative side can make it enjoyable.
A simple way to explore the creative side of cooking is by finding a base recipe that can be easily customized. Flexibility and creativity can go hand-in-hand when cooking, and once you have familiarity with a favorite recipe you can really start to make the dish your own. Learning to be creative through substituting ingredients in a recipe to suit your personal preferences or by utilizing what you already have on-hand can be helpful in a practical sense but also empowering.
One of my favorite dishes to make that allows me to flex my creative muscles is called “bibimbap,” which is Korean for “mixed rice.” This traditional Korean dish is typically made with cooked rice topped with various sauteed vegetables, marinated beef and eggs, with a side of red chili sauce. I can honestly say that I’ve never made this dish the same exact way twice. It is so versatile that it feels like I’m making a new version of it each time, which is part of the fun.
When gathering your ingredients for this recipe, be open to thinking outside the box. Maybe you have different dietary needs or personal preferences to consider for yourself or for a loved one. Bibimbap can be made vegetarian or vegan with an easy swap or omission. I have included a non-exhaustive list of substitutions and optional additions to the recipe.
To save time, clean and cut your vegetables and make the marinade and the chili sauce ahead of time. Trader Joe’s frozen rice is ready in three minutes and works in a pinch. Once your ingredients are prepared, this dish comes together quickly. Cooking does not have to take hours to be a fun form of creative expression.
Regardless of how you decide to customize your bibimbap bowls, remember that creativity begets more creativity, so keep playing with your food!
(Korean Mixed Rice Dish)
Serves 4-5 people
- 4 cups cooked short-grain rice
- 1 egg per person
- 16 oz. beef (top sirloin, tenderloin, or boneless ribeye), cut into thin strips across the grain
- 2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 8 oz. baby spinach, rinsed
- 12 oz. soybean sprouts, rinsed
- 5 green onions, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 ½ tsp. soy sauce
- 1 ½ tsp., plus 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 3 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
- Vegetable cooking oil (I like to use sunflower)
For the beef marinade:
- 1 stalk green onion, sliced
- ½ tsp. minced ginger
- ½ onion, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp. gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- ½ Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp. sugar or honey
- ½ tsp. apple, grated
- 4 Tbsp. soy sauce
For the chili sauce:
- 2 Tbsp. gochujang
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 ½ Tbsp. rice vinegar
- ½ Tbsp. sesame oil
Zucchini, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, red bell pepper, roasted seaweed, kimchi (authentic style can be found at the Asian Food Store on 7th Street NW)
- Use the beef marinade on thinly sliced chicken breast and stir fry.
- Substitute tofu or your other favorite meat alternative.
- Brown or Jasmine rice can be used instead of short grain white rice.
- Riced cauliflower or quinoa can be substituted for rice.
Combine all marinade ingredients into a medium-sized bowl with the thinly sliced beef. Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
Prepare your rice so it is freshly cooked when you plate your dish. Remember to rinse your rice thoroughly before cooking.
Combine all chili sauce ingredients and set aside in a small dish.
Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Blanch spinach for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then immediately remove from the water and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set spinach aside and allow to cool. Repeat this step with the soybean sprouts, this time cooking for 7 minutes, then rinsing in cold water.
Once the spinach is cool enough to touch, squeeze out any excess liquid and place into a small bowl. Add 1 minced garlic clove, 1 chopped green onion, 1 ½ tsp. soy sauce, 1 ½ tsp. toasted sesame oil and 1 ½ tsp. sesame seeds. Mix to combine, then set aside.
Repeat this step with the cooled soybean sprouts, this time adding 1 minced garlic clove, 1 chopped green onion, 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil, 2 tsp. soy sauce and 1 tsp. sesame seeds. Mix to combine then set aside.
Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable cooking oil over medium heat in a large wok or pan and stir fry the carrots with a dash of salt for 2-3 minutes or until slightly softened. Set aside in a small bowl.
Carefully wipe off the wok and heat 1 tsp. oil over medium high heat. Cook marinated beef in small batches. Place cooked beef in a medium-sized bowl and add 1 tsp. sesame seeds and set aside.
Cook eggs sunny-side up (season to your preference) in a bit of oil so they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. You can also opt to beat the egg in a small bowl and cook it into a thin omelet on medium heat in your pan. Once the omelet is slightly cooled, slice it into thin strips and place it into a bowl next to your other toppings.
Once your rice is done cooking, you can begin to plate your dish. Add desired amount of cooked rice to each bowl then add a portion of beef, spinach, soybean sprouts, carrots and minced green onions. Top with a dash of sesame seeds and one sunny side up egg or slices of omelet. Serve with a side of chili sauce.
After you’ve taken a mental or actual photograph of your creation, mix everything in your bowl so that you can enjoy the perfect bite of all flavors at once. Enjoy!