When I was in college, there was a popular fast casual Korean restaurant just down the street from campus. They had a fairly extensive menu of Korean cuisine but most everyone I knew would order bulgogi every time, or occasionally bibimbap. I didn’t eat meat at the time, so all I could do was smell the delicious aroma of sesame and soy while my friends chowed down. I’m not sure I would have even ordered tofu bulgogi if it was on the menu, since I wasn’t the biggest tofu fan in those days either!
Years later, I still have memories of stepping into the restaurant and smelling that sweet and savory bulgogi marinade. So when a friend of mine mentioned that he had recently gone there for lunch, for old times’ sake, I decided it was about time to recreate a vegan version in my kitchen. After discovering recently that I really love the texture of tofu that’s been frozen and thawed, I knew that tofu bulgogi would be the perfect vehicle for these flavors.
I ended up finding an authentic (I hope) recipe for beef bulgogi marinade (just an FYI for veg folks there are a lot of meat pictures in that post) and following it pretty closely to marinate my tofu. I NEVER would have guessed that crushed pear is an ingredient but it works great! I guess it’s included as a meat tenderizer, but in the tofu version it still works to add a natural, light sweetness. The main changes that I made were to swap out the refined sugar, and to add a bit of fermented hot sauce to up the umami flavor. I don’t have gochujang on hand, but I would have used it if I did. Instead I added sriracha, which I’ve come to learn is usually a good idea!
(There it is before getting doused with more sriracha)
I think it came out really well! Like I said, I haven’t tried traditional bulgogi though I’ve smelled it a lot of times. But my partner and I both thought this tofu bulgogi tasted great. Paired with brown rice and green beans, it made for a filling and healthy dinner. I prepared the marinade the previous evening. When I got home from work I started the rice in the pressure cooker, put the tofu in the oven, and steamed the beans for just a few minutes, and dinner was on the table in less than half an hour. Not bad at all!
Note: You don’t have to bake this… the marinade will be really tasty along with whatever your favorite method is to prepare tofu :). Enjoy!
- 1 package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained
- ½ of a small Asian pear (see notes)
- ½ of a small onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- pinkie-sized knob of ginger, peeled
- 1 green onion, both green and white parts, chopped
- 3 tb. soy sauce or tamari
- 2 and ½ tb. coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 tb. gochujang or sriracha
- 1 tb. rice vinegar
- 1 tb. toasted sesame oil
- pinch of black pepper
- 2 tb finely chopped carrot
- Place the drained tofu in the freezer overnight. Remove from the freezer and thaw, either at room temperature on the counter, or in the microwave for a faster option.
- Press the tofu using towels, paper towels, or a tofu press, for at least 20 minutes. Slice the tofu into about 12 pieces.
- In a blender or food processor, blend the pear, onion, garlic, and ginger until relatively smooth (some chunks are okay).
- Stir in the chopped green onion, soy sauce, coconut sugar, hot sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, black pepper, and chopped carrot, plus water if needed to thin (it shouldn't be too thick or the tofu won't absorb it as well).
- Add the pressed tofu to a nonreactive container and pour the marinade over it. Let marinate for up to 20 minutes (longer and it may start to fall apart).
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the tofu slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.
- Bake for 15 minutes, flip over the tofu, and brush more of the marinade over it. Bake for another 15 minutes. Optionally, broil for 2-3 more minutes to get the edges a little crispy.
- Serve hot with brown rice or another grain and cooked veggies.