Gimbap (김밥, sometimes transliterated as Kimbap), literally means “laver and rice”. Loaded with fillings and rolled up like Futomaki sushi, Gimbap are a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth. In Seoul, there are Gimbap specialists, which vend these tasty morsels out of little holes-in-the-wall, and it’s often what I grab for a meal on the go while I’m there.
You might be thinking that gim looks a lot like nori, and you’d be right in that they are both made with laver, a type of algae, but that’s about where the similarity ends. Unlike nori, gim is thinner and more delicate, passing light like a green sheet of stained glass. With a crisp rustic texture that melts away into a briny pool of sesame oil seasoned deliciousness, gim is a truly delightful snack on its own that reminds me a bit of kale chips.
While Futomaki is usually limited in terms of the ingredients that are permissible, I love that there are really no restrictions in terms of what an acceptable filling is for Gimbap. I’ve seen rolls contain everything from cheese to nuts to tofu, and that’s not including more traditional fillings like bulgogi, spam and kimchi. For me, I like to select the fillings based on what I have on hand, while trying to capture a wide range of color, texture and taste. You want to get as many colors in the roll as you can so that it looks nice when the roll is cut. Similarly it’s important to select ingredients with a variety of textures and flavors to keep each bite interesting.
This time around, I started with a base of verdant boiled spinach, a sweet egg omelette, crunchy pickled radish, and sesame seasoned carrots. A layer of kkaennip leaves(korean perilla) add a delightful snap and potent herbal aroma, while canned tuna seasoned with some gochujang brings the protein and heat.
- 1 carrot (julienned)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 4 whole spinach (thoroughly washed)
- 200 grams canned tuna (1 large can)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons gochujang
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 4 sheets gim (Korean nori)
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 4 cups cooked short-grain rice
- 8 leaves kkaennip (a.k.a. Korean perilla or wild sesame leaves)
- 90 grams Danmuji (yellow pickled radish, cut into sticks)
- Put the julienned carrots in a bowl and massage in the salt with your hands. Let this sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the spinach, root-end first. Press the spinach down into the pot and wait for the water to return to a boil. Drain the spinach and wash with cold water until completely chilled. Line the spinach up by the roots, and then squeeze as much water out of the spinach as you can using your hands. Trim and discard the roots from the spinach and set the spinach aside.
- For the tuna, drain the excess liquid from the tuna in a wire strainer and then add the tuna to a bowl along with the gochujang. Stir to combine evenly and then set aside.
- For the egg, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt until the mixture is uniform and there are no clumps of white or yolk remaining. Heat a small (8-inch) non-stick frying pan over medium heat until hot and then add a the oil and spread around with a paper towel, removing any excess oil.
- Turn down the heat to low and add just enough egg mixture to coat the bottom of the pan after swirling. When the egg starts to set on top (but still a little tacky on top), use a spatula to roll the egg towards the other end of the pan. The egg should not be browned on the bottom. If it is, your heat is up too high.
- Pour some more egg into the pan, swirl to coat evenly and then roll the omelette back towards the front of the pan. Repeat until you've used up all the egg. Set the egg aside and allow it to cool before slicing into 6 sticks.
- To finish the carrot, massage them to force out more water. Put the marinated carrots in your hand and squeeze as much water out of them as you can. Then toss with 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds.
- To assemble the rolls, prepare a bowl of water to to dip you fingers in. Place a sheet of gim (rough surface up) on a sushi mat and then brush with sesame oil.
- Wet your fingers to keep the rice from sticking to them, and then spread rice evenly on top of the gim from edge to edge on the sides, all the way to the bottom edge, and 90% to the top edge. Putting down a thin layer of rice and then using a pressing motion with the tips of your fingers works best.
- Add the fillings, and then roll with the sushi mat, being careful not to roll the mat into the gimbap towards the end.
- Set aside with the cut seam facing down and repeat until you run out of ingredients. This should make about 6 rolls. Slice your gimbap into 8 slices using a very sharp knife. Since the gim and fillings are already seasoned, you don't really need any soy sauce, but you can sprinkle a little sea salt on top of the cut rolls if you like.