I finally stepped up and got my thermal immersion circulator (Polyscience Creative unit), and signed up for an online class on sous vide cooking. As part of the class, I get a weekly cooking challenge. This week's challenge was a vegetarian entree thrown out by Chef Michael Natkin of Herbivoracious fame. I do cook vegetarian on occasion for the family, and also friends who are of the vegetarian persuasion. When I've forgotten that certain things like chicken stock and gelatin are not vegetarian per se, well, it's good that my friends are understanding. So I thought I'd take the challenge a step further and go full on vegan for my dish.
|Thermal Immersion Circulator|
My first thought was to do bibimbap, because, let's face it, bibimbap is delicious and fun to say. But converting bibimbap to a vegan dish didn't seem all that challenging. Asian cuisine in general seemed straightforward to cook vegan. So that was out. I hit upon the idea of southern cooking and traditional barbecue. Not the type of food that's typically vegan friendly. This had the potential to be a really terrible idea. In other words...right up my alley. With bibimbap still on my mind, I thought I'd take the bibimbap bowl concept and adapt it to southern cooking and barbecue, while keeping it all strictly vegan, and maybe throw in a few Korean / Asian ingredients, fusion style. .
First off, I needed to ditch the bibimbap rice component, because they don't believe in rice down south (I know, I know, but I'm making a point here). Rather than rice, I thought I'd use grits. For the toppings, I had barbecue, sweet potato, collard greens, okra and peaches. That's a good old fashioned southern meal in a bowl.
Now, because this is a sous vide class, I did need to use sous vide as one of the techniques in creating the dish. All of my experience with sous vide is with proteins and eggs (yes, still proteins), so vegan sous vide was treading new ground. I thought that a corn cob stock would be a good way to amp up the natural corn flavor in the grits and bring in additional flavor and richness, so I made a sous vide vegetable stock with onion, carrot, celery, shitake mushrooms, lemongrass, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and some corn on the cob (Adapted from Chef Cohen @ Dirt Candy). I bagged everything up with some water and threw it into the 85C water bath.
|Sous Vide corn cob stock|
While that was cooking, I started on the sweet potato. I always like to top my sweet potatoes with some maple syrup, toasted pecans and a shot of bourbon, all flavors that also go well with bacon. So why not treat the sweet potato like bacon? I sliced the sweet potato into thin slices (that looked sort of like bacon) and created a marinade of maple syrup, bourbon, miso, and soy sauce. I threw this into the water bath with the stock to cook and infuse the marinade.
|Sweet potatoes marinating|
After 3 hours (stock) and 1 hour (sweet potato) I pulled everything out of the bath and put it into the fridge to cool and continue to infuse overnight.
|Sous Vide Bath|
I wanted to have a pickled component and thought the peaches would lend themselves well. The next morning, I sliced up some peaches, and simmered in a pot of sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, clove, allspice and star anise. Then I covered the peaches in the syrup and put into the fridge. Ok, ok, I ate a few too. These were freaking awesome peaches. I'd never pickled peaches before, but I'll be doing this again for sure.
For the barbecue, I thought I'd use tofu. I sliced it into 3/8" thick pieces, dried it, and seasoned with some salt and pepper. Then I smoked it at a low temp over some cherry wood smoke. I also smoked the sweet potato slices at the same time.
Collard greens are a challenge because I've always cooked them with smoked pork of some kind or another. However, I adapted a recipe from the Herbivoracious site for vegan collards that used shitakes and soy to flavor the greens. While these were simmering, I started on the grits.
I treated the grits essentially like I do risotto. I sweated some garlic and onion in olive oil, then added the grits to toast. Rather than white wine like I'd use for risotto, I added some beer (Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale), then continued to stir while it was absorbed. I added the corn cob stock a little at a time, continuing to stir and let the liquid absorb. I finished it with some corn cream (basically corn pureed with water in the blender into a rich smooth paste (Thanks to Dirt Candy for this idea too!).
I got the tofu and sweet potatoes from the smoker. The tofu was glazed with a barbecue sauce made from gochujang (Korean chile paste), molasses, sugar, mirin, and sesame oil. The sweet potatoes were glazed with maple syrup. I took the torch to each to give it a little sear / caramelization.
|Sweet Potato Bacon|
Finally, I sliced up some okra, tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted in the oven.
After that, all that was left was assembly. I topped the grits with each of the components and then poured a little bit of corn cream around the side. And there it was. Barbibimbapque.
|Barbibimbapque - Southern Barbeque / Korean Bibimbap Fusion|
The grits were absolutely phenomenal. Probably the best grits I've ever had, and they were just singing with corn flavor. The flavors of all the components worked both on their own, and together in the dish. The heat and smokiness of the barbecued tofu balanced the sweet-sour peaches. The sweet potato bacon was sweet, smoky, salty and tasted like sweet potato. The okra was crispy and vegetal. And finally, the collards added some bitterness from the greens countered with a woodsy umami punch from the mushroom and soy. All in all, it worked out pretty well. I don't know yet if I'll win the challenge, but I gave it a good shot. And last, but not least, you know what's more fun to say than Bibimbap? Barbibimbapque!