I've probably mentioned somewhere that I've starved a lot in culinary school. Part of it is putting in a lot of hours in the kitchen without breaks, tasting food here and there but never actually eating. Part of it is having to support myself as a student and not having money for groceries. So time and money are big factors, which is why I often resort to cheap, easily assembled meals like pasta or frozen dumplings.
This meal I learned to make offhand. I kind of stumbled into realizing that it could be a meal. It was the spring of my senior year at college, in the agonizing weeks before thesis deadline. I was in a classmate's dorm, trying to take advantage of the change of place to not procrastinate. It wasn't working very well. I had followed my classmate into the kitchen and there she scooped some freshly cooked rice into a bowl, accompanied by kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) and nori (salted dried seaweed).
I'd grown up thinking kimchi and nori were accompaniments to a meal, so by no means a full meal, even with rice. Little did I know that four years later I would consider it a subsistence meal, much like some students would consider instant ramen.
I just about finished this whole jar of kimchi in about two weeks. Of course I really should learn how to make my own kimchi. (As a side note, the best kimchi I ever had was in this vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Brooklyn. My friends and I went there religiously for it, until one day the kimchi no longer tasted the same and the owner said it was because they had started to make it in house, so it would be fully vegan. Which means that the taste probably had something to do with fish sauce, or shrimp paste.)
Several factors are important in the kimchi + nori + rice trifecta. The rice has to be freshly steamed and piping hot. The nori has to be the Korean kind, which is salted and slick with oil, unlike the Japanese kind, which is dry and more papery. The saltiness of the nori offsets the sour spiciness of the kimchi, and the papery crunch makes a great contrast to the steamy rice. I added the sesame seeds as an extra toasty garnish.
As an added bonus for the blog I decided to make kimchi sushi rolls. The nori absorbs the moisture from the rice and gets all soft, but other than that it works.
The sushi is great just because it's bite-sized, but the rice bowl is more satisfying as a meal.
So this was my subsistence dinner. Completed with some green tea. Very Asian, but very satisfying and simple.
I always find it nice to expend a little extra effort to make a meal look pretty. Even if one is dining alone and so very poor, it still makes a difference.