Today, gimbap is the most popular on-the-go meal in Korea. They are practically sold everywhere. To make gimbap, the rice is rolled in seaweed with various fillings. Traditionally, the rice is lightly seasoned with sesame oil and salt. The fillings are individually seasoned and cooked, yielding an interesting combination of textures and flavors. Everything is well seasoned, so gimbap is not served with sauce. There are many variations these days, but the best gimbap to me is the traditional version my mother used to make for us on our field trip/picnic days. So, here is how to make gimbap the traditional way!
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In a medium-sized bowl, mix the beef well with the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and garlic. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, and when hot, stir-fry until cooked through, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the pan and clean out the pan.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and prepare an ice bath. Blanch the spinach, place immediately in the ice bath, then squeeze out the water using a kitchen towel. Season with the sesame oil and salt and set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in the same pan used for the beef, and when hot, add the carrots. Stir-fry until softened and season with salt, to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Crack and beat the eggs in a bowl with a spoon or a fork. Stir in a pinch of salt. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in the same pan over medium-low heat. Add the eggs to the pan. When the bottom is set, flip it over. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut lengthwise into 3/4-inch-thick strips.
In a bowl, mix the fish cake with the soy sauce and sugar. Season with salt, to taste. In the same pan, heat the remaining vegetable oil over medium heat. Stir-fry the fish cake until softened, about 2 minutes.
Cook the rice in a rice cooker using a little less water than usual. (Fresh cooked rice is best for gimbap.)
Remove the rice from the rice cooker. While the rice is still hot, add the sesame oil and salt. Mix well by lightly folding with a rice paddle or large spoon until evenly seasoned. Season with additional salt, to taste. The rice will cool down during this process.
Put a sheet of nori with the shiny side down and longer side toward you on a cutting board or a bamboo mat. Spread about ¾-1 cup of rice evenly over the nori, using a rice paddle or your fingers preferably.
Lay the prepared ingredients on top of the rice, on the side closest to you. Lift the entire bottom edge with both hands and roll over the filling away from you, tucking in the filling with your fingers.
Put firm pressure over the roll with the help of the bamboo mat, if using, to close everything in tightly. Then, continue to roll again, putting pressure evenly over the roll using both hands. Repeat with the remaining filling and nori sheets.
Rub or brush the rolls with a little bit of sesame oil for extra flavor and shiny look. Apply a little bit of sesame oil to a sharp knife. (This will keep rice from sticking to the knife. Repeat as necessary after each cut. Wipe the knife with a damp towel if the rice still sticks.) Cut the roll into ½-inch bite sizes.