Sometimes we have ideas that are realised pretty instantly, and sometimes we have those that plant a little seed and grow, slowly, in your mind until one day, you suddenly realise it’s a tree and do something about it. It may be a pretty odd metaphor to apply to a recipe, but hey, that’s what happened with me and these delicious, ugly little rice balls.
I tried ‘Ugly Kimbap’ at a Korean take-away in London about 5 years ago and my interest was sparked. Being only relatively enamoured with rice, more so of course when covered in something saucy, sticky, and delicious, the idea of a rice ball was perhaps a little dull to me. I then tried this little ball of sticky rice and realised that it was filled with all sorts of goodies; flavoured with sesame oil, vegetables, meat and something deliciously salty and flavourful that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. This was the seed planting.
I then began my search for what I had discovered was Korean rice seasoning. I still don’t know the Korean name. I didn’t even find it in any of the Asian supermarkets I went to (in neither London nor Amsterdam), but then again I never made it to a Korean specialty supermarket. What I did find, however, was Japanese rice seasoning, furikake. So I bought some. Kimbap is a Korean dish made from cooked ingredients wrapped in rice and dried seaweed, so understandably one might compare it to sushi, but the flavours and preparation methods are actually very different. However, the Japanese rice seasoning, furikake, makes a beautiful addition to my ugly kimbap, giving it the salty, umami flavour that makes it so incredibly moreish.
When I finally got round to experimenting with these flavours and creating this dish (and opening my year old packet of furikake), it was all I wanted it to be. Next time I’m going to add some mince meat, but for now I’ve stuck with a vegetarian selection. These little rice balls are unbelievably moreish, and incredibly easy to make. Furikake, in it’s various forms, is much more popular with your average Asian supermarket than the nameless Korean version, apparently, so you’ll be able to find some pretty swiftly.
Korean rice balls (ugly kimbap/gimbap)
Timings: 45 mins
Quantities: 14-16 balls, (roughly ping pong ball sized)
Kitchen stuff: Lots of little bowls and a saucepan (or rice cooker)
For the rice:
For the rest:
Toasted sesame seeds
1.RICE: Cook your rice according to the instructions on the packaging, should take about 30 mins. Once the rice has just finished cooking and is still hot, stir in 1/2 tbsp sesame oil and 1 1/2 tbsp vegetable rice seasoning. Taste, it’s delicious.
2. CARROTS: Whilst the rice is cooking, prepare your vegetables. Sprinkle about 1 tsp sea salt on the julienned carrots and mix with your hands. Leave them for 10-15 minutes then give them a quick rinse and use your hands to squeeze the water out.
3. PICKLES: Put your julienned cucumber in a sieve or a colander and sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and mix. Put something heavy on top of them to help the water drain (I use my pestle an mortar on a small plate). Leave for 15 minutes. Squeeze the water out and mix with 1 – 2 tsp rice vinegar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar. Mix.
4. SPINACH & MORE CARROTS: Blanch your spinach, then drain and toss with 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic and a dash of sesame oil. Add a dash of cooking oil to a hot pan and add 1 tsp finely chopped garlic and 1 tsp finely chopped ginger. Stir for just a few seconds then add the julienned carrots and a dash of soy sauce (1/2 tsp or so). Stir fry for less than one minute, just to merge the flavours and remove from the heat. Mix in a dash of sesame oil (1/4 or 1/2 tsp).
5. SEAWEED: Tear your seaweed and put it in a ziplock bag. Scrunch with your hands until the seaweed is in little pieces. Alternatively, tear or chop the seaweed into little pieces. Put it in a bowl with 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds.
6. BALLS: Once your rice and veg is all prepared, you can make your rice balls. Here you have two options, you can make little pockets of veg in the middle of your rice balls, or you can mix the rice with the veg and make balls, but due to the sesame oil, these don’t stick together quite as well. To make the pockets: wet your hands slightly as it’s easier to handle the sticky rice, and grab a ping pong ball sized amount of rice. Flatten it slightly in the palm of your hand and place a small amount of veg in the middle, mixed if you like. Press the veg in slightly and fold the rice around it, add a little more rice if necessary. Roll into a ball then put it in the bowl of seaweed flakes. Swirl the bowl around so the rice ball rolls, and the seaweed and sesame seeds stick to the outside. For the mixed method, mix some veg (not too much) with some rice in a separate bowl, and form into balls before coating in seaweed and sesame seeds. Voila. Repeat with all your rice. Serve with the excess veg on the side and dip into soy sauce.