The Weeknight Dinner: Bulgogi

By Casey Seidenberg

The much maligned weeknight dinner. It causes so much angst in so many lives. And for good reason, a good weeknight dinner is hard to find. It must have specific qualities in order be a keeper: a narrow number of healthful ingredients, minimal preparation time, and eaten by all. If it takes too long to prepare or if it garners too many complaints, forget it. Life is too short to be in that kind of relationship. The weeknight dinner is also a bit of a stalker: it never goes away, even when you make a fantastic meal one evening, everyone will be hungry again the next. No wonder it causes so much angst.

But as we all know, the right recipes can alleviate weeknight stress. Bulgogi, also known as Korean beef, is one of our anxiety-free regulars. It is delicious over rice or wrapped in lettuce leaves. It takes just a few minutes to toss and stick in the fridge in the morning, and then just a few minutes to cook at night. The kids never protest, neither do their friends who often spontaneously stay for dinner.

Because my backyard garden is presently producing more lettuce than we can eat, we are wrapping up our bulgogi. Kids love wraps. My guess is they enjoy the excuse to eat with their hands. I enjoy not having to remind them to use a fork.

I like to add a little fermented kimchi for the health benefits and make the rice in coconut milk for the flavor, although the kids keep it pretty simple: a little beef, a quick wrap, and dinner is done. That sounds like a weekday routine I can commit to.

Bulgogi, 8 servings

MAKE AHEAD: The meat needs to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, preferably toasted, plus more for optional garnish
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced
  • 6 to 8 scallions, trimmed and cut crosswise into thin slices
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 cup rice wine (mirin)
  • 2 pounds lean sirloin or top round, trimmed of excess fat, then thinly sliced (ground sirloin works too)
  • About 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 heads lettuce, separated into leaves, rinsed and dried

Directions:

Combine the sesame seeds, onion, scallions, garlic, soy sauce or tamari and rice wine in a gallon-size zip-top bag (or airtight container). Add the beef and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Massage to coat evenly. Marinate for 2 hours (at room temperature) or up to overnight (in the refrigerator).

Heat the wok over medium-high heat until it is quite hot. Swirl in the oil to coat evenly. Use tongs to transfer half of the beef, onion and scallions to the wok, along with 2 tablespoons of the marinade. Stir-fry just until the meat is cooked through; transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining beef, onion and scallions. (No need to add more marinade; discard the remaining marinade.)

Return all of the bulgogi to the wok just to heat through.

Lay lettuce leaves on a platter. Spoon equal amounts of the bulgogi into them. If desired, garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve right away.

First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, July 25, 2013.