Korean Spa Turned Vegan Crispy Korean BBQ Tofu

After being peer pressured by my lovely friend, I finally spent a day at our suburban Chicago version of a Korean spa or jjimjilbang. I’ve been avoiding it possibly because that same friend kept referring to it as the “naked spa.” I just kept envisioning Plato’s Retreat circa 1978. Google it and you’ll see why I was apprehensive. I was wrong.

The experience turned out to be eye opening and quite enjoyable. I’ll tell you more about that later, I guess, but one of the most enjoyable parts was the restaurant nestled within the spa’s 34,000 square feet. I love a surprise culinary win.

My friend and I both ordered something different, but what stood out was the side dish – the Korean potato salad. I know. I know. Potato salad is rarely the star of any meal, but this version was so good and different that it got me thinking and cooking. I left the spa determined to vegan-ize the potato salad as the accompaniment to my vegan BBQ Crispy Tofu.

My friend and I both ordered something different, but what stood out was the side dish – the Korean potato salad. I know. I know. Potato salad is rarely the star of any meal, but this version was so good and different that it got me thinking and cooking. I left the spa determined to vegan-ize the potato salad as the accompaniment to my vegan Korean BBQ Crispy Tofu.

Vegan Korean BBQ Crispy Tofu

1 block of extra firm tofu

¼ cup corn starch

1 tablespoon Himalayan sea salt

Oil for frying 

1 inch of ginger (grated)

¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar 

¼ cup sesame oil

2 tablespoons vegan Gochujang paste

4 cloves of garlic (finely grated)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

½ finely grated apple (I use the other half in the potato salad)

First, press your tofu if you haven’t already. You can buy presses that’ll do it for you, but quite frankly, I don’t need any more kitchen gadgets, so I just wrap the brick of tofu in paper towel and a kitchen towel, and then I lay my ancient cast iron skillet on top. It should be pressed enough within 30 minutes but pressing it longer will only add to the chewy texture. You may be pressed (insert rimshot here), but NEVER forget to press your tofu. 

Next, prep the BBQ sauce by mixing the grated ginger and garlic, rice vinegar, sesame oil, Gochujang paste, and sugar. Whisk it all together and set aside.

Now let’s get ready to fry…

Add your oil of preference to a skillet at low medium (or whatever temp gets your fryer popping). While the oil is heating up, cut the tofu into slices or cubes, whatever suits your fancy. I chose cubes just because they fry up easier and quicker. Next, combine the corn starch and salt in a small bowl, throw in the cut tofu and toss lightly until all sides are coated. 

Add your oil of preference to a skillet at low medium (or whatever temp gets your fryer popping). While the oil is heating up, cut the tofu into slices or cubes, whatever suits your fancy. I chose cubes just because they fry up easier and quicker. Next, combine the corn starch and salt in a small bowl, throw in the cut tofu and toss lightly until all sides are coated. 

When the oil is ready for frying, add the tofu and brown on all sides. Place on paper towel covered plate when done to get rid of the excess grease. 

Now, it’s time to add the sauce! Clear the oil from your frying pan, return it to the heat, and add the sauce. Cook it on low until it begins to thicken a bit, then add the tofu and toss until it’s coated. Remove the Crispy Korean BBQ goodness and then top with scallions and/or sesame seeds. You should have plenty of sauce left in the pan that you can use to drizzle over it all. 

Like I mentioned, I paired the tofu with what turned out to be an amazing new addition to my repertoire – Korean Potato Salad. This is one good meal, y’all.  Try it and tag me if you do.

Peace.

Notes:

  • Coconut oil is my favorite oil.
  • If you don’t have seasoned rice vinegar, just use your regular rice vinegar and add more sugar and a little salt to taste.
  • I used Coconut Secret Gochujang.
  • I whipped up extra sauce and it kept well in my refrigerator. I needed it because everybody wanted more. It gets slightly spicier the next day, but nothing too uncomfortable.

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