Between the bold, savory flavors of the dishes and the novelty of a hands-on dining experience, it is no surprise that Korean barbecue has become so widely appreciated and popular on this side of the globe! Korean food is no longer a curiosity; for many, it’s comforting food done in a fun, social setting. While it may seem like a clear “no-go” for plant-based individuals, there are numerous ways to enjoy vegan Korean barbecue without sacrificing flavor or experience.
Choose a Cooking Appliance
When it comes to cooking your barbecue, your choice in cooking appliances is important. To keep with the theme of community that is so integral to Korean food culture, you’ll want your dinner guests to be able to gather around their food as it cooks. Using an outdoor grill is easy and convenient as guests can simply pull up a chair. Plus, with an outdoor grill, there’s no need to worry about smoke from the barbecue filling your home.
If you do choose to cook indoors, using a portable hot plate on a large table will be similar to the experience you’ll have at a Korean restaurant — just be sure to open a few windows to prevent smoke from building up. Brushing your grill with a high heat oil prior to cooking will be important for flavor, preventing your barbecue from sticking, and for mitigating the amount of smoke given off. For information on natural cooking oils, check out Everything You Need to Know About Natural Cooking Oils.
Another kitchen gadget that is super useful during a Korean barbecue is a rice cooker. While you’re busy grilling and socializing, your rice cooker will keep your rice fresh and steamy.
Select Your Protein
In crafting your own vegan Korean barbecue experience, there are countless ways to substitute veggie options and maintain all the same BBQ flavors and textures. If you would like your barbecue to remain a protein source, consider using extra-firm tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other mock-meat options. These products will take on the flavors you cook with.
Tofu will make a good dakbulgogi (chicken) substitute, while tempeh and seitan‘s textures aid them in standing as bulgogi (beef) and dwaejibulgogi (pork) substitutes. If you’re not into soy products or processed mock-meats, consider subbing vegetables such as mushrooms (Oyster and Portobello are perfect), cauliflower florets, sliced squash or eggplant, peppers, or whatever suits your fancy.v
Keep in mind that Korean barbecue involves grilling at a very high temperature, so the grilled entree should be sturdy enough to withstand heat and being moved around on the grill with chopsticks or tongs. The last thing you want is to watch your mouthwatering meal cook in front of you, only for it to fall apart or burn as you remove it from the grill.
Choose a Marinade and Sauce
In Korean barbecue, marinades and sauces are at the forefront of the flavor palate. The ideal Korean barbecue marinade has a savory, soy sauce base with hints of spice and sweetness peeking through. After the marinade ingredients are combined, your marinade should sit with your vegan barbecue entree of choice (tofu, seitan, tempeh, veggies, etc.) in a container for two hours — overnight before being grilled. If you’re new to Korean barbecue, try the marinade below!
In a mixing bowl, combine the following ingredients to create a Korean barbecue marinade:
- 1/3 cup of soy sauce or tamari
- 5-6 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (if you don’t want to use processed sugar, try using apple or pear purée in its place)
- 1-2 teaspoons of ginger powder, or smaller portion of freshly grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 1 handful of chopped green onion (up to 1/4 cup)
- 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon of Korean red pepper powder or chili powder
- Add black pepper to taste
Of course, this recipe can be tweaked to your personal preferences. Water can be used to slightly dilute and thin the marinade if necessary. Korean barbecue marinades typically have similar ingredient lists, but it is common for families have their own unique recipes, so feel free to play around with these ingredients and get creative! Check out Korean BBQ Sauce to learn how to whip up a thick, savory sauce to top your vegan Korean barbecue. If you have leftover marinade, try using it as a stir-fry sauce.
Add Sticky Rice and Banchan
For many, Korean barbecue is the gateway into Korean cuisine. Because of this, there is a misconception that Korean food is always meat-heavy, which isn’t necessarily true. The staples of Korean food are largely vegetable-based, and even vegan (yay!). Whether you are planning to make Korean barbecue or even a casual Korean-style dinner, there are two components that are crucial: sticky rice and ‘banchan’, or side dishes.
White, Sticky Rice
Korean rice is traditionally short-grain, plump, white rice. The starch content of this rice makes it fluffy but very sticky – the perfect base for a Korean meal. Don’t forget to rinse the grains of rice a few times with cold water prior to cooking.
Banchan refers to the side dishes that are normally served with any Korean meal. At Korean restaurants, these dishes are almost always free and refillable. Thankfully, many banchan dishes are by default vegan or easily made vegan. Banchan is typically made up of seasoned vegetables that target distinct flavors such as salty, tangy/sour, spicy, sweet, and savory. When doing your own Korean barbecue, prep as many banchan dishes as you’d like. Definitely try out traditional cabbage kimchi, blanched bean sprout salad, seaweed salad, Korean BBQ brussel sprouts, cucumber kimchi, grilled or sautéed enochi mushrooms, and lettuce cups if you’re open to eating your meal with your hands. There are no rules when it comes to banchan dishes, so you can tailor these tasty side dishes into what you are craving with your meal.
While DIY vegan Korean barbecue may seem like a tall order, remember that the most important part of a Korean barbecue is fostering a fun environment for cooking food with those around you. Start with a steaming hot bowl of rice, add on all the banchan you’d like, and sit back while cooking marinated veggie goodness on the grill. Be sure to let us know what your favorite part of the Korean barbecue experience is!
If you’re looking for plant-based recipes, cooking tips, and more, then we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day!
Lead image source: Korean BBQ Tofu