Bring something out of the ordinary to grilling season! These spicy Korean-inspired vegan bowls are made with bulgogi tofu, sautéed spinach, and kimchi on brown rice.
A few years ago, I became a little obsessed with Korean cuisine. It all started when I visited Franchia in New York City and morphed into a kimchi habit that had me going through a jar a week.
In Korean, bulgogi literally means “fire meat.” It’s typically made with beef that has been marinated in a spicy sweet marinade and then cooked on a grill.
I decided to take some of those bulgogi flavors and use them on tofu instead. It is a blank slate that beautifully soaks up the tastes of gochujang, tamari, and toasted sesame oil.
Then I popped it onto my outdoor grill, and served it in bowls with brown rice, sautéed spinach, and kimchi.
Kimchi is similar to sauerkraut in that they both include fermented cabbage. But kimchi takes things up a notch with spices and other fermented vegetables, garlic, and chili peppers.
Some kimchi brands use fish sauce. So you’ll want to read the ingredient list before buying.
However, I haven’t had any problems finding kimchi that is vegan. My go-to brands are Sunja’s and Gold Mine.
What is gochujang?
One of the bulgogi marinade ingredients is gochujang. If you’re not familiar with gochujang, it’s a fermented hot pepper paste that’s made with red chili, glutinous rice, and soybeans.
The taste and thick, sticky consistency is reminiscent of what would happen if miso paste and Sriracha fell in love.
A jar of gochujang lasts a long time in the refrigerator. You can find it in tubs in any Korean grocery store or in jar-form in Whole Foods in the Asian section. (This is the brand I’m currently using.)
How to make bulgogi tofu
Start by cutting 10 ounces of vacuum-packed super firm tofu into 1/2 inch slices.
(I use Trader Joe’s high protein tofu. Wildwood also makes a vacuum-packed tofu.)
If you don’t have vacuum packed tofu, you can use water-packed instead. Just press it from a 14-ounce package.
(Need more info? Check out this post on how to press tofu.)
The difference in ounces is because of the water you’ll lose once you press it out to make the tofu firmer & ready to pick up the flavors of this marinade.
Then put the tofu slices into a bulgogi marinade made with:
- Agave syrup
- Brown rice vinegar
- Toasted sesame oil
- Granulated onion
- Ginger powder
- Minced garlic
- Black pepper
Let the it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. The longer it marinates, the more flavorful it will become. Aim for at least 8 hours.
Half way through the marinating time, flip the slices so that it’s evenly coated.
Once it’s fully marinated, it’s time to grill!
Bring the outdoor grill to 500 degrees. Grill the slices for two to three minutes on each side until nice dark grill marks form.
(Don’t move or flip the slices until you get those marks!)
To complete the meal, sauté garlic in oil. Once the garlic is fragrant, add baby spinach leaves to the skillet. Move the leaves across the pan until they are just wilted. Add salt to taste.
Serve the bulgogi tofu and spinach in bowls with brown rice and drained kimchi.
I like to give my spinach, rice, and kimchi a good stir before digging in, so that all of the flavors are combined.
Make it your own
- Serve it with kimchi fried rice.
- Use it in a tofu sandwich with kimchi & avocado.
- Serve it in a lettuce wrap with kimchi.
- Add it to a rice or noodle stir-fry.
- Top your favorite salad with it for an extra punch of protein.
- Instead of spinach, serve this bowl with sesame kale.
Bulgogi Tofu Bowls
For bulgogi tofu
- 1/4 cup tamari
- 1 Tablespoon gochujang
- 1 Tablespoon agave syrup
- 1 teaspoon brown rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- Grind black pepper
- 10 ounces super firm tofu in vacuum packaging, cut in 1/2 inch slices*
- Oil for grill grate if necessary
- 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 6 ounces baby spinach leaves
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup cooked brown rice
- 1/2 cup kimchi drained
To make bulgogi tofu
- In a shallow glass baking dish, combine tamari, gochujang, agave syrup, brown rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, granulated onion, ginger powder, minced garlic, and a grind of black pepper.
- Place the slices of tofu in the marinade, and then flip them so that both sides are coated. Marinate tofu slices for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Flip the tofu again halfway through for even marinating.
- After the tofu has marinated, heat the outdoor grill to 500 degrees.** If necessary, lightly oil grill grate. Grill tofu slices on grill for two to three minutes on each side until brown grill marks form.
To make bowls
- Bring a non-stick skillet to a medium heat and add extra virgin olive oil. Sauté garlic in oil. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the baby spinach leaves to the skillet. Move the leaves across the pan until they are just wilted. Add salt to taste.
- Put a half cup of brown rice into two bowls. Divide the sautéed spinach between the two bowls. Top the rice with 1/4 cup of kimchi each. Place 2 slices of tofu in each bowl, and serve.
Here’s what Kathy had to say about this vegan bulgogi:
“This is probably the most delicious tofu I’ve ever tasted. Other than the time spent marinating, it comes together very quickly. I actually let mine marinate anywhere from overnight to up to 48 hours! Then I grill it in my grill pan and have to stop myself from eating the entire block of tofu. I will always, always have all these ingredients on hand so that I can make it on a regular basis.”
Originally posted April 2016. Content & photos updated July 2019.