‘Korean Vegan’, one of the best cookbooks of the year, is great on taste and comfort

‘Korean Vegan’, one of the best cookbooks of the year, is great on taste and comfort

When I first came across Joanne Lee Molinaro’s cooking videos, I was not aware that she was cooking. Tucked between a TikTok dance and an arresting drag queen makeup tutorial, her sound stopped me in my tracks before I even noticed she was cooking.

Beautiful food videos are almost a dime a dozen, and Molinaro’s sumptuous and romantic TikTok posts are no exception. Think of evocative lighting that captures every steam, or close-ups of spoons and chopsticks touching rice or omelettes or bowls of noodles, every perfectly imperfect crack or texture exposed. In many cases, Molinaro does not even offer a recipe, not a measurement. Instead, Molinaro’s gentle and confident voiceover guides viewers through a 60-second story from her life as the daughter of immigrants, lawyer, chef and now cookbook author. The food? Fantastic, but not the point.

In many ways, Molinaros The Korean vegan cookbook is an extension of her poetic and personal presence on social media. An exploration of popular and less traveled dishes from the Korean gastronomic encyclopedia, it’s a debut cookbook that I have not been able to put down.

Molinaro’s lyrical stories about her family’s immigrant experience – full of family photos and with beautiful, aesthetic photographs – got her millions of TikTok followers over the last year when people found her on that platform. Her vulnerability and empathy translate to the page, as when she describes her suburban upbringing: “… at the far end of the yard was my grandmother’s pride and joy: dozens of tall, graceful stalks of perilla leaves transforming their heart-shaped faces toward the sun like a group of ballerinas. ” Throughout the book, she uses her custom vegan recipes as a bridge to her heritage.

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Molinaro started a food blog in 2016 “with an eye toward sharing vegan versions of Korean recipes while preserving the details that are sometimes stripped in a hurry to bring Korean recipes to the masses.” She writes early in her book that “veganism remains extremely rare in Korean culture … I was afraid that becoming vegan meant losing my ‘Korean-ness’.”

Molinaro wisely bypasses non-vegan Korean ingredients by offering versions that are easy to make at home in any international pantry, like an umami-packaged “fish sauce” that uses mushrooms among other flavorful ingredients, or a rich Korean barbecue sauce that makes double duty as a marinade or stir-fry sauce. An entire chapter on banchan, the range of Korean accessories that are the lovely workhorses at every meal, is stacked with varied, flavorful dishes like dooboo jeon (tofu cakes), braised lion mane mushrooms and simply roasted and glazed onions.

Some standouts include modern offerings of non-Korean dishes, such as a really spicy “angry penne pasta”, an inspired riff of Italian pasta arrabiata using gochujang and gochugaru, Korean red pepper pasta and flakes, respectively.

The deceptively simple dooboo kimchi, a modestly cooked dish of boiled tofu with a kimchi mix, has proven to be a staple in my home – it’s the kind of comforting and quick evening meal I love to gather in under 20 minutes. It is deeply satisfying nourishment in a humble package.

As the nights get longer and colder, there are recipes I have earmarked for just that purpose, like midnight black jjajangmyun, a dish of noodles lacquered in a glossy black bean sauce that has become famous by the film Parasite, and gamja seaweed, an invigorating potato stew.

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I’m not vegan, not by a long shot, but you do not have to be to enjoy the earthy, hearty meals in this book.

Even when Molinaro tells about his stories, the tastes I have encountered in Korean vegan transport me to another point in my own life: From middle school to high school, my brothers and I wanted to join our childhood friends, who were Koreans, for weekly Bible study in their church. Undoubtedly, the most exciting part of these evenings would be fellowship with the other children and elders, feasting on plates of bulgogi or omelettes, rice, mandoo, kimchi of all varieties.

Cooking through this book and tasting the round heat of gochujang or the fermented seaweed of kimchi reminds me of a simpler time where I did not eat my grandparents’ cooking but someone else’s and the spirit where we broke bread and shared food. There is coherence in these recipes. Molinaro writes: “What I have learned by collecting and sharing these recipes is that what really matters is not whether the food tastes exactly like your grandmother made it, but how it makes you feel. “They remind me of my mother’s persistence, my father’s laughter. They remind me of home.”

Buy The Korean vegan cookbook at bookshop.org | Borrow it from the free library

IN The Korean vegan cookbook, Joanne Lee Molinaro offers readers a vegan version of the ubiquitous Korean staple, baechu kimchi, made with Napa cabbage and fermented at home. The process can be daunting for some readers, and when you do not want to wait a week for high-quality kimchi, but instead need a quick meal, you can buy vegan products like mother-in-law Kimchi or Mama O’s in a pinch. , online and in grocery stores. Gochujang and gochugaru (Korean red pepper paste and flakes, respectively) are also widely available in most grocery stores now.

1 16-ounce block of medium tofu

1½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 large trumpet sponges, cut into ⅛-inch thick pieces


½ tbsp plus 1 tsp sesame oil

½ large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups kimchi, coarsely chopped

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon spicy gochujang dressing (below)

1 spit bowl, chopped

1 Korean green chili, cut into thin slices

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

Gochujang dressing

¼ kop gochujang

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

1 tbsp mirin

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Make gochujang dressings: In a small bowl, whisk all the ingredients together. Add 1 tablespoon water and continue stirring. The sauce should have the consistency of salad dressing. If it is too thick, add another tablespoon of water to dilute it. Gochujang dressing can be stored in a lid container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

In a small saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Carefully add the whole block of tofu to the pan. Cook the tofu for 8 to 9 minutes.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced ​​mushrooms in a single layer and cook until both sides are evenly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Do not cover the mushrooms. Reserve the pan.

Remove the tofu from the boiling water and carefully cut the block in half. If the center is still cool to the touch, put both halves back in the boiling water for another 2 minutes. When the tofu is completely cooked, remove it from the water and pat it dry with a clean kitchen or paper towel. Cut the tofu into ⅓ empty thick pieces. Set aside.

Place the reserved pan used to cook the mushrooms over medium heat. Add ½ tablespoons sesame oil and the remaining ½ tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and fry until the onions become translucent and the garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes.

Put kimchi and mushrooms on the pan and sauté all the contents until the kimchi begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add ¼ cup of gochujang dressing to the pan and stir all the ingredients until evenly covered with the sauce. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Add scallion and chili, sprinkle with the roasted sesame seeds, and drizzle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil.

For serving, place the sautéed kimchi mixture in the center of a round dish and serve the tofu slices in a circle along the edge. Drizzle the tofu with the remaining 1 tablespoon gochujang dressing.

1 12-ounce box of penne pasta

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup chopped red onion

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 Korean red chili or serrano chili, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp gochugaru

1 tbsp gochujang

Parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and start cooking according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add red onion, garlic, peppers, Korean chili, salt and black pepper and fry until onions become translucent, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and more salt to the pan and continue to stir occasionally. Add the gochugaru and gochujang and stir until the vegetables are evenly covered. Add ¼ cup of the starchy pasta boiling water to the pan and stir.

Remove the vegetable mixture from the heat and blend the contents with a stick blender (you can also transfer to a regular blender; be careful with the hot contents in the pan).

When the pasta has 1 minute more left, drain the pasta and put it back in the pan. Put the pan over medium heat and add the blended sauce. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Garnish with parsley if using and serve.


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