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Korean Vegetarian Eats

Glutty Vegan By Glutty Vegan Published on January 26, 2017
This article was updated on April 4, 2017

When you think of eating Vegetarian food, some of the most accessible cooking styles come from Asia.  There's Chinese food, Thai, and Indian that are some of my top picks.  Such a wide variety of flavours and textures are available in these foods.

Did you know that Korea also has a lot to offer when it comes to vegetarian cooking?  When I first thought of Korean food, I thought about the ubiquitous Korean BBQ that you can find pretty much anywhere nowadays.  I mistakenly thought that there wasn't a lot for me to eat.  However after watching more than a few Korean dramas, I saw them eating a huge variety of delicious-looking side dishes, dumplings, salads, and soups - and all of these were vegetarian.

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Korean Small Plates

Historically the common staples of Korean cuisine are grains (rice, noodles), vegetable dishes (often uncooked or pickled), soups, meat, and seafood.  Often meat would be more expensive and therefore eaten mainly by the ruling class.  There's also a buddhist influence on Korean food, which is where a lot of the vegetarian input came from.

If you happen to be travelling to Korea sometime soon, check out this handy guide to Eating Vegetarian in Korea, complete with some much-needed catch phrases.  

So I finally decided to take the plunge and cook some Korean food!  Ironically I haven't eaten much Korean food so this was definitely a foray into the unknown.

My first takeaway - no Korean meal is complete without Kimchi.  There are some varieties of Kimchi, some out of cabbage, some out of radish, some fermented, some not - but generally Kimchi is spicy, pickled vegetables.  You can eat Kimchi raw, put it in fried rice, make pancakes out of it, put it in soups - the sky is the limit.  

The other thing I noticed is that a lot of Korean dishes require sesame oil - not something you might already have in your kitchen cupboard.  

Lastly make sure you get some Korean chili powder - it'll come in handy!  You can also get some doenjang, which is like miso but spicy- yum!

I tend to keep a pretty well-stocked kitchen when it comes to vegetables, but here are some common ingredients you might want to make sure you have on hand:

  • Sesame Seeds
  • Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes
  • Flour
  • Shiitake Mushrooms, Brown Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Onions, Garlic, Salt, Pepper

You might have to visit an Asian store to get some of the following (luckily there's a Korean grocery store a couple of blocks from where I live!):

  • Doenjang
  • Miso
  • Sesame Oil
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Lotus Root
  • Daikon / Korean Radish
  • Chilli Powder

I picked up this really handy book which has lots of pictures in it clearly showing step-by-step how to prepare Korean Vegetarian Food:

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For my first attempts I chose things that I already had the ingredients for at home:

  • Kimchi Fried Rice
  • Pan-friend Kimchi Fritters
  • Shiitake Mushrooms and Onions

I already had some ready-made Kimchi at home that I bought at my favourite Korean Grocery Store.  But in case you don't have one of those handy, the book even teaches you how to make your own Kimchi - I'll save that for another day!

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Kimchi Fried Rice

The Kimchi Fried Rice was super easy to make!  Just cook some rice, dice up some kimchi and stir fry it with some onions, then mix it all together and fry a little more.  Add a dash of sesame oil and some chili powder.  Then serve it with some sesame seeds and spring onions.  It was pleasantly spicy (could be too spicy for some - Korean food is spicy so beware!).  

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Pan-Fried Kimchi Fritters

The Kimchi latkes, as I like to call them, have a mix of mashed potato, crumbled tofu, and kimchi.  In the book they are a pleasant golden brown colour, but mine always came out a little black - I need to work on finding the right pan or adjusting the temperature to get the right look.  The recipe also calls to add an egg, but I simply omitted this step.

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Mushrooms and Onions

Lastly, the Mushrooms and Onions dish.  This had to be my favourite.  It was pretty simple, too - cut some shiitake mushrooms in half and put them to boil in a pot with some water, soy sauce, and a couple tablespoons of maple syrup.  Let that reduce for a long while until the sauce is a bit thick then serve with some sesame seeds and spring onion again.

This had such a nice, hearty flavour, very robust.  I ended up throwing these mushrooms on top of my kimchi fried rice and had this amazing explosion of spicy, sweet, salty, amazingness.

So far I'd call my first foray into Korean cooking a success!  I look forward to making some other dishes soon:

  • Braised Tofu
  • Spinach Kimchi Salad
  • Sweet Potato with Almond Syrup

Stay tuned for further adventures in Vegan cooking!  

I am a vegan, a kickboxer, and a writer.