Our tofu bulgogi recipe is a vegan take on a traditional Korean beef barbecue recipe. “Bulgogi” literally translates to “fire meat” (so we guess that this is “fire tofu”), and it is probably called such because the traditional marinade includes chili, ginger, garlic, onion, and spring onion. But our version isn’t really fire hot, although it is flavorful! Traditional bulgogi marinade also includes about a half a fresh pear, either finely chopped or grated. But you don’t have to confine yourself to making tofu bulgogi during pear season! You can also use dried pears for year-round peary goodness in your vegan bulgogi!
Bulgogi is believed to have originated over 2000 years ago! According to Wikipedia, that veritable font of food history information (some of it even accurate), “Bulgogi is believed to have originated during the Goguryeo era (37 BCE–668 CE), when it was originally called maekjeok, with the beef being grilled on a skewer.It was called neobiani, meaning “thinly spread” meat, during the Joseon Dynasty and was traditionally prepared especially for the wealthy and the nobility. In the medieval Korean history book Dongguksesi, bulgogi is recorded under the name yeomjeok, which means “fire meat.” It was grilled barbecue-style on a hwaro grill on skewers, in pieces approximately 0.5 cm thick. Although it is no longer cooked skewered, this original type of bulgogi is today called bulgogi sanjeok.”
Our tofu bulgogi recipe uses water-packed tofu, the kind you find in the refrigerator case at the grocery story, which is then drained and pressed. If you don’t already have a tofu press, we highly recommend this tofu press (actually even if you do have a tofu press already; we have 3 different tofu presses, and we end up using this one by far more than the other two).
We also use Sambal Oelek chili paste. If you’re not familiar Sambal Oelek, we wax rhapsodic about it in our Tofu with Figs and Cashews recipe, in which we also quote Bon Appétit senior editor Rick Martinez, who waxes even more rhapsodic about it, saying “Sambal Oelek is the hot sauce that can do everything. I chose sambal oelek, an Indonesian chile paste, because it’s so flavorful and so simple – crushed raw red chiles, a little vinegar, and salt. It’s good as a condiment and is also good as an ingredient in cooked foods, and, even better, it will taste like you are cooking with fresh chiles.” So you can see why we’re fans. If you don’t have Sambal Oelek you can use Sriracha or another chili paste, but you can also get Sambal Oelek right here on Amazon, and we highly recommend it!
Tofu Bulgogi – Vegan Bulgogi for a Taste of Korean BBQ
1 package water-packed tofu, drained and pressed
1/2 pear, chopped (Asian pear is traditional but you can use any variety or a dried pear, rehydrated and chopped)
1/2 small or medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 green onion, chopped (use the entire onion, both green and white parts)
3 Tablespoons liquid aminos, tamari, or soy sauce
2-3 Tablespoons date sugar, coconut sugar, or brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Sambal Oelek (can substitute another chili sauce or paste)
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar or other mild vinegar
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon pepper (optional)
Stock or filtered water in case marinade needs to be thinned
Note: Once you have made this, you can adjust any of the ingredients by using more or less to your taste.
Drain and press your tofu, and cut either into cubes or planks such as for our Easy Oven-Roasted Tofu Planks recipe. Planks are much more traditional, and easier, but if cubes are your thing that’s ok too.
While the tofu is draining put all of the rest of the ingredients into a blender and pulse until the ingredients are fully mixed and slightly more chopped, but not liquified (actually some people prefer the marinade to be completely smooth, and that’s ok too). If it’s too thick add some stock or water, a bit at a time, until it’s the consistency you like.
Marinate your tofu planks or cubes in the marinade for about 20-25 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours.
Now, there are as many ways to cook your bulgogi as there are recipes for it. Some say to fry it in oil. Some say to broil it. We say to line a baking sheet with parchment paper, put your marinated tofu on the lined baking sheet, and to bake it in a 375° oven for 20 minutes, then flip the pieces over and bake it for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve over rice or on its own, pouring some of the leftover marinade over it.
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