Korean food is a delicious new take on things for those unfamiliar with it, and for those of us who already know the wonders, it seems we are always just looking for ways to have it a little more often. It’s got spice. It has strong flavors, crispy pickles and all sorts of fermented fun. And, there are health benefits to boot.
Without a doubt, one of the most popular ways to try Korean food is through barbecue. It’s a wonderful, communal set-up, in which the food is grilled at the center of the table and folks just dive in, combining a wonderful array of side dishes with their grilled main. There’s a spicy sauce to dip into and the barbecue (let’s be frank, meat) is generally wrapped up in lettuce leaves before eaten, i.e. we get to play with our food.
Typically, Korean barbecue is a very carnivore experience, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there are many ways to peel this potato so that we plant-based folks can get in on the action as well.
Life on the Side
With any Korean dining experience, there comes a plethora of side dishes, and barbecue is no exception. Expect to find dishes like green onion salad in a spicy sauce, peppers to put on the grill, fresh vegetables — cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, etc. — to eat with the barbecue. There will be a bowl of rice. There will likely be crunchy pickled radishes, probably some tofu, and any assortment of side dishes that could technically combine to make a well-rounded meal.
Sticking with the sides and staying off the grill is especially useful when dining in mixed company (vegan and non-vegan). It allows for the communal sharing of stuff, often with free refills on the side dishes, but doesn’t force the plant-based hand with demanding a meat-free grill. If a little more sustenance is needed, there will be lots of tofu, mushroom and vegetable options. While meat is often the central focus of a Korean barbecue, the cuisine never moves too far away from vegetables.
Life on the Fire
And, hey, it’s not like meat is the only thing that works well on a grill. Eggplant and squash both feature prominently in Korean food, as do potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and a bunch of other vegetable. There are tremendous varieties of tofu and some of the most flavorsome mushrooms imaginable. Suffice it to say, that there are plant-based items in the kitchen of that Korean restaurant that will grill up just dandy, that’d happily provide something to be wrapped in a lettuce leaf and devoured.
With the many great plant-based Korean staples that can be grilled, one needs only to add a little spicy Korean barbecue sauce, a mixture of red pepper paste and soybean paste to round out the experience. And, by all means, don’t forget to have a little soju (rice wine) to wash it down with, or a cold beer certainly isn’t out of the question.
Life on the DIY
As always, doing this all at home isn’t oh-so-far from a reality, and it might be a good way to throw a party. Set up a hibachi outside, or make your own tiny Korean table pit, or even just set up a portable skillet. Marinate some funky mushrooms,extra firm tofu and some vegetables. After all, the whole idea is that everyone sort of cooks the stuff themselves, so all you’ll have to do is set them out and give quick demonstration for newbies.
Prepare some side dishes for all to share: a little DIY kimchi, green onion salad, and pickled radishes (available at any Asian supermarket). Steam some rice or barley, if you are into kicking it up to something seemingly fancier. Choose a few other easy, authentic dishes gone vegan, like maybe savory Korean pancakes or kimbab. You’ve got yourself a pretty rocking Korean barbecue right there at home, the whole thing gone madly vegan.
Lead Image Source: Stephanie/Flickr