This may sound slightly blasphemous, but I have never really understood the attachment to white rice. The fact that it’s steamy and fluffy and just the right kind of clumpy is nowhere near enough to offset its complete lack of taste and nutritional value. I’ve read stories about Japanese nobles who, obsessed with the cleanliness and purity of white rice, malnourished themselves into comas, often requiring intravenous vitamin supplements to recover. It’s a credit to the rest of Korean cuisine that people manage to survive despite having a nutritional wasteland at the center of their diet.
Even so, you’ve gotta have something to stuff in your lettuce wraps, to dilute your soybean paste soup, and to mellow out your kimchi; something cheap, filling, and familiar to base your meal around. Care to hear my suggestion? Japgokbap.
No, that’s not a typo. Jap (잡/mixed) gok (곡/grain) bap (밥/rice) can contain anywhere from five to thirty or more ingredients, such as black rice, barley, black beans, white beans, red beans, kidney beans, millet, and some other things you’ve likely never heard of. Each different plant has its own nutritional profile, the specifics of which don’t really matter as long as you manage to take in a bit of everything. More protein, more fiber, more vitamins, more minerals, more colors, and more taste. What’s not to like?
Switching over to japgokbap (also called Honhapbap, 혼합밥), in addition to benefiting your insides, also benefits the planet in several ways. Rice is an extremely intensive crop whose production extracts great amounts of nutrients from the soil; white rice is particularly egregious, since producing it requires discarding the outer (brown) layer of the seed, effectively wasting much of the water and fertilizer that went into growing the plant in the first place. Legumes, on the other hand, perform the crucial function of returning nitrogen, and thus fertility, to the soil. They also grow at different times of the year, meaning that farmers can afford to vary their crops more and leave more land fallow. Finally, many other crops require less pesticide and fertilizer than rice, which means lower input costs for farmers and lower rates of cancer for consumers (and innocent bystanders).
Admittedly, japgokbap does take a tiny bit more work than white rice – a fair trade considering all the extra goodness you’ll receive in return. All you have to do, though, is soak the rice for anywhere between one and eight hours depending on the quantity, the contents, and the power of your rice cooker. After that, everything is the same. Cook it like you normally would, paying a little extra attention on your first few goes, and you’ll become an expert in no time. Head to your nearest mid- to large-sized mart, or to any one of the many organic shops around town, pick up a bag, and give it a shot. One last piece of advice: chew thoroughly!
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You can buy all the grains separately, either at the store or at the market.
Or, if you want premixed stuff, here's what to look for:
Pre-rinsed 8 grain
Pre-rinsed 25 grain
Mixed black, extra-healthy
Smooth whole grain, extra-healthy, 14 grain
13 grains, heavy on the beans
5 colors, 7 grains
Mixed mixed, 15 grains
THE KING: Eco-friendly / pesticide free / 15 grains.