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Our family categorizes most good meals as feasts — especially when there are abundant colors, options and variety on the table (like this Pad Thai recipe!), when family-style bowls abound, each with their own magical treat inside. One such feast is Kimbap, pronounced [KIM’-bop], also called Gimbap. More than sushi, this interactive meal is fun to share, delicious to eat and is great for Paleo, GAPS, Keto and Whole30 diets! Enjoy this new Korean dinner option!
The History (more than sushi)
Kimbap is, some say, the Korean version of sushi. But that doesn’t do the feast or the Korean approach justice. In some ways kimbap is even more fun and kid-friendly than sushi, thus my enthusiasm for sharing the idea with you here. Also, the history and original evolution of kimbap is debatable. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, from 1910-1945, many would argue that Japan shared sushi with Korea; and that it took its own unique form. Sushi means simply vinegar and rice. Whereas kimbap does not use vinegar in its preparation, but instead the beloved sesame oil and salt. Kimbap literally means, “seaweed rice.” So while these ingredient changes may have actually occurred and evolved, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that kimbap originated in Korea independent of Japan’s influence.
Accordingly, my favorite piece of trivia regarding the origins of kimbap comes from wisegeek.com, “Gimbap is thought to have originated from a Korean dish called bokssam, which means “lucky wraps.” Bokssam is made by wrapping vegetable leafs around cooked meat, and the dish is eaten with a spicy sauce, such as ssamjang, which is made from typical Korean ingredients.” The reason I love this insight is that it more closely matches my experience.
My introduction to kimbap was through a roommate and good friend in college who was raised in a 3-generation Korean home, cooked for almost exclusively by her Korean grandmother, who did not speak any English. I remember marveling that her grandfather, who loved gardening, grew a special kind of edible fern for an authentic Korean fern soup. Everything I was blessed to eat in that home, on just two or three visits, filled me with wonder and curiosity. There is a mystery and excitement that accompanies the pleasure one finds in authentically prepared ethnic food.
Therefore, my version of kimbap is not exactly like I see all over the internet, as I have researched what others are doing. On the internet you’ll see rolls of seaweed, similar to maki (sushi rolls) in appearance. They are filled with cooked meat and both pickled and raw veggies. But I think my version is the best, especially for family meals! It’s the most fun, easiest, and its origin is pure. Imagine this lovely older woman shuffling around the dark Portland kitchen in her slippers, bringing dishes to us as we ate, now bringing a folded piece of tin foil with some broiled teeny fish, now a little Asian porcelain bowl with some spicy squid. And we only knew some of what it was we were eating, and that it was all wonderful! The following guidelines are based on the feasts I remember relishing in that Portland kitchen.
What follows is our recipe. It’s informal, like the dinner itself, so I hope you can roll with that!:
The 1, 2, 3s of our Kimbap RECIPE
- Instead of large sheets of nori, kipbap uses small squares, approximately 3 by 4 inches in size. Pile them high on a small plate or give each person their allotment of seaweed.
- Each square becomes the foundation for a satchel or pouch that is filled and then eaten in one to two bites, usually one. So instead of neat rolls, each chef/eater gets to make a parcel, each one filled with their favorite combination of available ingredients.
- Traditionally steamed rice is put in first. But it is never missed! If you are grain-free, or even if you are not, I recommend leaving the rice out and filling your belly paleo-style instead, using only well-sourced meats and produce. You may also use cauli rice, of course.
- Serving bowls or plates on the table may contain broiled fish, wild-caught shrimp, julienned cucumber, julienned carrots (omit for keto), avocado, fermented veggies, including kimchi, and any other leftovers or favorites. Roasted chicken is yummy; mango can be fun (but omit for keto), tamago-style egg or savory egg pancakes, sliced, all work beautifully. Fresh cilantro, mint, and lettuce leaves also add texture, flavor and nutrition, although fresh herbs are not traditional. Even grass-fed hot dogs can be sliced lengthwise or at an angle. Sashimi grade salmon or other fish is great too. It is not traditional, but it’s delicious.
- Regarding fermented veggies, the two best to accompany kimbap are 1) kimchi (make your own HERE), or a lovely carrot-ginger ferment (find that HERE, toward the bottom of the post, to make your own). These condiments are not only authentic, they’re delicious, perfect with this meal and teaming with probiotics for great gut and general health benefits!
- Bottles and small serving dishes on the table fill each person’s little dipping bowls with the following optional condiments: coconut amino acids (for Keto- use real fermented soy sauce, find it HERE), fermented fish sauce (find Paleo fish sauce safe for all these diets HERE), sesame oil, hot chili oil, fried fresh julienned ginger and fried sliced fresh garlic. Individual teeny bowls are a source of pleasure and doting to most children, and even to some adults. (We have a hodge podge of lots of different teeny bowls that we regularly use for such purposes.)
This is a highly interactive meal. Often a good portion of our dinner conversation on these nights revolves around asking each other to pass one or another dish, or telling our favorite combinations. Our four-year-old is the most likely to tell us to try his favorites.
“You’ve got to try this one!” he’ll say before listing a series of ingredients.
In addition to the fun and community building aspect of this meal, it’s a nutritious powerhouse and can be financially prudent. Nori is dehydrated at low temperatures, protecting its superfood vitamin and mineral content, including calcium, folic acid, magnesium (great for counteracting inflammation), iodine (a necessary mineral which helps the thyroid function), iron, potassium, and vitamins A and C.
This dinner is full of good fats, healthy proteins, probiotics and lots of vitamins and minerals. It’s naturally low-carb.
Kimbap’s frugality potential comes from what ingredients you choose to offer at the table. It is wonderful to include at least one condiment, such as coconut amino acids or sesame oil; but you don’t need to include all the options. And if you have leftovers, any kind of simple roasted or sautéed meat, and some homemade kimchi, they are livened up by avocado and the fun of making your own combinations. Make the meal as elaborate or as simple as your budget and mood dictate.
Let’s discuss the grocery list!
Most importantly, what kind of nori seaweed should you buy? These days, unfortunately, seaweeds abound, even at places like Trader Joe’s and Costco, that are made with unsafe oils. Look for raw or roasted organic seaweed (find it HERE). Also look for olive oil or sesame oil-toasted seaweed. Avoid all seaweed made with canola or other polyunsaturated oils, even if they are expeller pressed, especially when they are not organic. This is just one more opportunity as consumers to carefully avoid genetically modified oils and those that are high in omega-6’s, or quite possibly rancid and cancer-causing due to the form of extraction used.
Regarding the size of the nori, although there are cute little kimbap size seaweeds that now abound, you can also buy full size sheets of nori and fold them yourself, back and forth along the lines you create to make the right shape and size, to achieve the kimbap look.
A good rule of thumb I learned, when I worked at a sushi restaurant many years ago, is to never spend less than $5 on a package of 10 full size nori sheets. It is reminiscent of my dad’s advice to my husband and me to never spend less than $10 on a bottle of wine, (assuming you can afford such luxuries, or that you shouldn’t buy it if you can’t! No guilt for staying within budget!) You can spend less; but you will taste the difference and wish you had paid for the better quality. With seaweed, the big issue is not so much the flavor but the texture. If you buy cheap seaweed you will end up battling with every bite for the seaweed to break away from itself. Good quality seaweed will crunch and break, not be overly chewy. So you will feel ladylike and prim as you bite or, as the case may be, manly and in control as you bite. Haven’t we all laughed at ourselves or a stranger in a sushi restaurant? You try to bite into a maki piece and end up leaning over your plate embarrassed while you pull with your hand and clamp with your front teeth, hoping the thing will separate? After that christening, most of us decide to make one huge bite of it and shove the whole piece in next time! At a high-end sushi restaurant, you are much less likely to have this dilemma. Good nori will be brittle, light, crispy, easy to bite.