When you think "cuisines that are super-easy to veganize," you think "Korean!" Right? Right?!
OK, so the meat-heavy Korean barbecue is not the most natural fit for vegans, what with the sauces and side dishes that always manage to sneak in powdered shrimp (who the heck needs to powder a shrimp?). But that doesn't stop your intrepid PDX Vegan Cooking Club. We threw down a fast bulgogi-type, pan-Tsushima Basin* dinner tonight, and everyone was happy -- even an omnivorous guest.
* It's the blue part of the map between South Korea and Japan.
The first few times we tried bulgogi, we used steak-style Meal Starters. It worked well, but the omni (who's addicted to "real" bulgogi -- which, apparently, is made from pig muscles) didn't think the beef flavor was right. We also tried Tofurky Oven Roasted Deli Slices. That approach was delicious, and the texture was pleasingly al dente. The omnivore, however, is not Tofurky compatible. If we didn't love her, we probably would have stopped with the steak-style Meal Starters, or the Trader Joe's analogue. But, because we're a good guy or something, we went back to the ol' drawing board to try to find a recipe that would convince her that she didn't have to go to meat-cooking places to find Korean goodness.
Tonight, we won. Yeah, score one for the vegans!
The breakthrough was using chicken-style Meal Starters. (We'd have preferred the TJ's version, but we had a freezer full of the Meal Starters.) After all, pig flesh is supposed to be "the other white meat," according to the television in the 80s. Why not try a fake white meat?
So we took this recipe for Spicy Pork Bulgogi from Recipezaar. Substitutions: 2 8-oz. bags of chicken-style Meal Starters for the meat; 1 Tablespoon of red pepper flakes instead of two. We also added about 2 cups of sliced white mushrooms from Trader Joe's, 1 chopped red bell pepper, a dozen or so thin slices of lotus root, and one tablespoon of toasted sesame oil.
Marinated the whole mess for an hour or two (though overnight would have been better); cooked it; served it. Had tremors of taste bud happiness throughout the meal.
If you've been to a Korean Barbecue restaurant, you know that they serve a million side dishes with the main dish. Bean sprouts, kimchi, veggie salads, pickled things, peppers, unidentifiable black things, marshmallows, flip-flops, calculator keys marinated in Wite-out... um... what were we typing about? Oh, yeah... side dishes. Here's where we decided to go Japanese, with a little Korean thrown in for authenticity.
The Korean is kimchi, for sure. You don't do bulgogi without kimchi. So when we started this odyssey, we went to the Pado World Korean market in Beaverton and looked through the dozens of kimchi brands to find one without shrimp, fish, squid, or centipede toes. That's also where we picked up the delightfully tangy and hot Kochi-jang (spelled 470 ways on Google -- good luck).
Today, it was off to Uwajimaya for side dishes. We decided on seaweed salad, bean sprout salad, fresh bean sprouts, and pickled radish salad (hari hari zuki). Paid about $7 total for enough salads to last three people for two or three meals, and enough bean sprouts to last 94 meals (or, truthfully, about one more meal before the remainder goes slimy).
The hit of the side dishes was the pickled radish salad. A forkful of bulgogi with a crisp, pickled radish on the end made for a perfectly sweet, tart, savory, spicy bite. The Japanese seaweed salad combined interestingly with the bulgogi as well, with the complementary elements meeting at the toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. The bean sprout salad was fine on its own, and it was all right combined with the bulgogi.
Served with TJ's frozen-for-the-lazy-person brown rice and spicy veggie potstickers whose package threatened, "You can be served with delicious roasted dumplings."
A good meal was had by all, and no people (or pigs) were served with delicious roasted dumplings.