I love switching up our recipes to include more international flavors. From this vegan shakshuka to this vegan katsu curry, we are always serving interesting dishes in our regular meal planning. This vegan bulgogi is no exception. It’s easy to make and adds plant-based protein and flavor to your regular meals.
Why This Recipe is a Winner
- Tofu is pressed until firm to create the best texture
- Creating a savory sauce infused with seasonings is the best way to cook tofu, infusing it with flavor
- Adding a pear to the sauce creates hints of all-natural sweetness and flavor.
What You Need
You can find the full printable recipe, including ingredient quantities, below. But first, here are some explanations of ingredients and steps to help you make this recipe perfect every time.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this recipe:
- Tofu — I recommend firm or extra firm tofu.
- Sesame oil — You can use toasted sesame oil for even more flavor or substitute olive oil.
- Garlic — You’ll need 3 cloves of garlic.
- Onions — I use mild and colorful green onions in this recipe. I like the flavor and color added from using both the white base and the green stalk.
- Ginger — You’ll need a small section of fresh ginger or you can substitute 1 to 2 teaspoons of ground ginger.
- Tamari — This is a gluten-free soy sauce. If you don’t have issues with gluten substitute soy sauce.
- Agave Nectar — I like this subtle sweetener, but you can substitute maple syrup.
- Black pepper — I’m a big fan of freshly ground black pepper or you can substitute ground pepper.
- Crushed red pepper flakes — You can leave this out, but the bit of kick it offers adds a lot to this recipe.
- Mirin — This is a sweet rice wine that is common in Japanese cooking. I find it in the international aisle of many grocery stores. Or substitute white wine.
- Rice vinegar — You can also find rice vinegar in the international aisle of most grocery stores. Or substitute white wine vinegar.
- Fresh pear — You’ll need a fresh green pear. I prefer green pears because they’re available year-round and inexpensive.
What Tofu is Best for Bulgogi?
Firm or extra-firm tofu is best for vegan bulgogi because it has a compact texture that produces the perfect mouth-feel. Tofu has a neutral flavor, allowing it to soak up the seasonings it’s cooked with. However, tofu comes packed in water, so pressing the packing water out of the tofu is the best way to make way for the flavors you’re about to cook it with. To press tofu, wrap it in a kitchen towel and place something heavy on it, like a pan or use a tofu press.
How to Make Vegan Bulgogi
- Cook pressed, sliced tofu in a skillet with oil and use a spatula to break it down into smaller pieces.
- Make the bulgogi sauce by pulsing ingredients in a food processor, leaving some texture.
- Pour the sauce into the skillet with the tofu and cook until the sauce thickens.
- Use a spatula or potato masher to mash the tofu.
- Serve bulgogi tofu warm over cooked rice or noodles and with plenty of steamed veggies.
Here are more detailed step-by-step instructions:
Step One: Press the Tofu
When you remove the extra firm tofu from its package, you will notice that it’s packed in water. This helps the tofu maintain its form and fresh flavor. So, the first thing to do is to drain that water. Then press the tofu to remove some of the liquid it’s been stored in.
- Manual Press: Wrap the tofu in a kitchen towel, then place it on a plate, with something heavy over the top, like a kitchen pan. Set it aside for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Press Tool: Or, you can use a tofu press. I love my tofu press and use it several times a week for various recipes such as marinated tofu.
Once the tofu is pressed, cut it into several slices.
Step Two: Cook the Tofu
Place a skillet over medium heat, add the oil, and heat it up for a minute or so. Then add the tofu slices. If the pressing didn’t remove all the liquid from the tofu, you will notice the tofu slices begin to release more juices. This is great.
As you cook the tofu, use a rubber spatula to break the tofu into small bits. Cook for several minutes, until the edges of the tofu bits are lightly golden.
Step Three: Create the Bulgogi Sauce
Next, combine all the sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender. You can roughly chop the onions and garlic and let the food processor do most of the chopping.
Pulse in short bursts until it’s blended together and the larger veggies are broken down. I like a little texture in the sauce, so that’s why the short bursts work best.
Pour the sauce into the skillet with the tofu bits. At first, the sauce might be a little thin, but it will thicken as it cooks.
Step Four: Mash the Tofu
As the tofu simmers in the sauce, use either a potato masher or the flat side of a firm spatula and press the tofu into the pan. This will break the tofu down into smaller mashed bits, resembling shredded tofu.
Let the tofu simmer in the sauce for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove it from heat. Now you’re ready for my favorite next step, eating it!
Serve vegan bulgogi with the following:
- Cooked noodles
- Cooked white rice
- Brown rice
- Steamed Veggies
- Sesame Zoodles
- Peanut Sauce
- Vegan Spring Rolls
- Soft Tacos — Serve bulgogi on corn or jicama tortillas with your favorite toppings.
- Nachos — You can make the best Jackfruit Nachos for an indulgent, plant-based dinner!
Make Vegan Bulgogi Sandwiches
To serve bulgogi as sandwiches, cut the tofu into strips, marinade them in the bulgogi sauce, and then cook the strips in a skillet. Serve strips on toasted buns with caramelized onions (such as this onion confit), cooked bell pepper slivers, vegan mayo, and more.
More Bulgogi Recipes
If you love this vegan bulgogi, here are even more plant-based bulgogi recipes and international recipes to tempt your taste buds!
For the Tofu
- 15 ounce extra firm tofu
- 2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
For the Bulgogi Sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 green onions, stems removed and roughly chopped
- ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- ¼ cup tamari (low sodium or regular)
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 tablespoons white wine (or mirin)
- ½ cup fresh pear, with skin on, washed and chopped
For the Tofu
- Remove the tofu from the tub and drain the fluid. (See notes for tips on pressing tofu) Once, it's pressed, cut the tofu into several slices.
- Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and tofu slices. Cook for several minutes, to allow the tofu to release its juices, about 5 minutes. (Depending on how pressed the tofu is, there may be more or less juice in this stage). Use a spatula to break tofu down into smaller pieces. Continue cooking the tofu for another 5 minutes.
For the Bulgogi Sauce
- As the tofu cooks, add the sauce ingredients to the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse several times in short bursts. The goal is to create a sauce with some texture, not to make it completely smooth.
- Add the sauce to a skillet with the tofu. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens.
- Use a spatula or potato masher to mash the tofu as it cooks. Simmer for 10 minutes or so until it's thickened and heated through.
- Serve tofu bulgogi over cooked rice or noodles with steamed veggies.
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The nutrition information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator and should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
This post was originally published in 2011 and was updated to include new photos, new text, and an updated recipe in 2021.