Maybe because keeping kosher something I chose, not having been raised observant, I get a lot of Don't you miss prosciutto? type of questions. I don't. Keeping kosher—and I do like the locution "keeping," with its emphasis on process—is much more meaningful to me. (Though I have been known to joke that if Chazal, the rabbis who redacted oral traditions of Jewish law, had tasted a Maine lobster, they would have found a way.) There is one thing that I do miss, quite a lot. It's being able to join in on the homemade Korean, Thai, north Indian, south Indian, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Italian-American, Mexican, and apple-pie-American food served at the tables of my childhood friends. (To be clear, I strongly believe that dietary choices of all kinds need not be barriers to connection; but effort is certainly required.)
I first encountered moo shu at the seaside home of a friend in Del Mar, crepes smeared generously with from-scratch hoisin sauce, stuffed with rice noodles and vegetables and ethereally thin cuts of steak. I was comforted by congee served by my friend's grandma in suburban New Jersey. I marked Thanksgiving with hot pot, and endured some good-natured ribbing at the amount of spice I could handle (or not) sampling Punjabi curries. My first curry puff, a soft packet of spiced potato and chicken, was served personally by the chef, a friend's relative, in the tiny dining room of her hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant.
I honor the companionship and warm memories of these meals today by making these foods in my own kitchen. As the years go on, I notice how much these moments shaped me, and they've become an integral part of the kosher kitchen my children know.
I discovered kimbap, Korean sushi rolls, on the counter of a friend's kitchen after school. She looked at me shyly: "Oh, that's just something my mom made." But I didn't want chips or crackers, so we had the kimbap. Quickly winning my affection was the mustard-yellow pickled daikon, which, along with a quintet of flavors and textures, makes up this flavorful, rotund roll. This friend moved away shortly after--another constant in my life, whether it was me or the friend doing the moving away. But I remember her kind, quiet way and the chagrin that showed on her face when I liked her mom's "strange" food. I will always think of kimbap as the most elemental form of sushi, and my favorite.
How to Make Kimbap
Making kimbap at home requires some ingredients sourcing and prep work, plus rolling skills that must be won through practice. (I haven't exactly won them yet, myself, but thankfully there's Maangchi.) Perfect or not, making kimbap is doable and rewarding. My takeout-sushi-loving kids like these a lot, too.
To make kimbap, you'll need a sushi mat, which are inexpensive and easy to find; I bought a set of two that came with a rice paddle and spreader for under $10. I use one mat for meat rolls (like kimbap, or chicken tempura) and the other for dairy and fish rolls (tuna, salmon, "Philadelphia," and so on).
The components in kimbap vary, but usually include vegetables and pickled daikon radish, a rolled omelette, and meat. These are placed on a bed of seasoned short-grain rice and wrapped up in nori, seaweed sheets. Nori with a reliable hechsher is also generally easy to find; most packages come with ten sheets, so you'll have enough to make two sets of sushi.
My version of kimbap uses six elements rolled inside the rice, four of which are kitchen staples: carrot, cucumber (I believe blanched spinach is more traditional, but we like it with cukes), eggs, and ground beef. The two elements that you'll have to seek out and prep are the pickled daikon and the braised burdock root. Luckily, both of these are easy to make yourself from raw ingredients that are not kosher-sensitive. Burdock root looks like a long, thin, tan-skinned carrot and can be found at Asian markets. Or, you can substitute parsnip, which most supermarkets carry.
Preparing quick-pickled daikon radish - danmuji
Most recipes for kimbap will direct you to buy premade danmuji at an Asian market, which, to my knowledge, is impossible to find with a hechsher. (Happily, many other essential Korean ingredients are available with reliable certification from Koko Kosher Korean Foods, imported from Korea. You can buy most of their products on Amazon. Their gochujang is fantastic.)
However, making danmuji is as easy as boiling the pickling liquid and pouring it over the radish that you've cut into matchsticks. One radish makes two packed pint jars of danmuji and lasts a long time in the fridge (in fact, it gets better with age). I've included the instructions in the recipe below.
Assembling the rolls
The potentially trickiest part of making kimbap is the rolling. You first spread out about ½ cup of rice over the nori. I like to leave a bit of room at the top to help seal the roll. Then, you arrange the inside components in neat lines. You can use the sturdier vegetables to create holding areas for the softer ones.
Split up the make-ahead steps and give yourself plenty of time on the day-of to assemble the rolls, and you'll be rewarded with a kosher Korean meal. If you have leftover fillings after forming the rolls, serve them in a bowl over mounded, seasoned rice topped with a bit of chopped nori and call them Kimbap bowls.
Kimbap - Korean Sushi Rolls (meat)
- 5 sheets nori - (toasted seaweed wrappers)
Pickled daikon radish (make ahead):
- 1 daikon radish
- 7 whole, black peppercorns
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
- 2 bay leaves
- ¾ cup water
- ¾ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp powdered turmeric - or freshly grated in equal amount
- ¾ cup sushi rice - (short-grained white rice)
- 1 ½ cups water
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ lb ground beef - 250g
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp honey
- ½ Tbsp rice vinegar
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp minced garlic - (1 clove)
- ¼ tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp gochujang - or sriracha, optional
- 1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp water
- 1 burdock root
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp mirin - (rice wine)
- 1 ½ Tbsp honey
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 tsp oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 Persian cucumber
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 tsp soy sauce
Make ahead—daikon pickle, burdock, carrots:
- First, make the DAIKON PICKLES, at least a day ahead, a week is even better: Peel and julienne the daikon into long, thin matchsticks (you can use a mandoline; I prefer to use a knife).
- Pack the radish matchsticks into two small jars. (This is a refrigerator pickle, so you don't need to worry about canning procedures, although it's always a good idea to sterilize your jars with boiling water before packing them.) To each jar, add 3-4 whole black peppercorns, ½ clove
of garlic (slice one clove in half and place one half in each jar), and 1 bay leaf.
- In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and turmeric to a boil. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Boil for another 5 minutes. Using a funnel if needed, pour the brine into the jars over the radish and whole spices. Allow to cool to room temperature, then transfer to
the fridge for cooling and storage.
- Saute the CARROT: Peel and julienne the carrot. Heat oil in a small skillet and saute the carrots for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the soy sauce and remove from the heat.
- Make the BURDOCK: Peel and julienne the burdock (or parsnip). Place in a small skillet (you can use the same one that you used for the carrots) along with the water, soy sauce, mirin, and honey. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, 7 minutes or so. Watch carefully towards the end, because it can burn quickly.
Prepare rice, beef, omelette + cucumber the day-of:
- Make the RICE: Using a rice cooker or on the stovetop, cook the rice in water. When it's ready, fluff with a rice paddle or fork. Allow to cool slightly, then fold in the seasonings: rice vinegar, sugar, and salt.
- Make the BEEF: Brown the ground beef in a saute pan. When nicely browned and nearly done, add the soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, minced garlic and ginger, and gochujang/sriracha, if using, into the pan. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, thoroughly dissolve the cornstarch in a spoonful of water to make a slurry. Pour the slurry into the pan and cook for a minute more, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Marinate the CUCUMBER: Julienne the unpeeled cucumber and place in a small bowl with the marinade ingredients. Stir to combine and set aside.
- Make the OMELETTE: Heat a large, non-stick skillet over a medium flame. Beat the eggs with the soy sauce and add to the hot skillet. Cook, undistrubed, until the top is nearly set, about 4-5 minutes. Using a flexible spatula, fold in first one side and then the other. Leave to cool in the pan for 5 minutes or so. Remove the omelette, place on a cutting board, and slice into long, thin pieces.
Assemble the rolls:
- Lay one sheet or nori on a bamboo sushi mat. Using a rice paddle or the back of a spoon, spread about ⅓ cup cooked, seasoned rice over the sheet of nori, leaving about a ½" (1cm) border.
- Layer in the fillings: beginning at the bottom of the roll (the side facing you), place strips of burdock, carrot, cucumber, rolled omelette, and pickled daikon on top of the rice. Using a spoon, carefully place a row of the beef filling along the vegetables.
- Carefully begin to roll up the kimbap. After one turn, pause to compact the roll by pressing gently but firmly on the sushi mat. Continue another turn, press again, then finish rolling. Repeat with the remaining four sheets and ingredients.
- Brush the tops of the rolls with sesame oil, using a pastry brush. Sprinkle gomasio or sesame seeds on top if you like.
- Spray a chef's knife with oil, and carefully cut each roll into 6 pieces. Serve immediately.