While trying to come up with what to make for Heather‘s Meatless Mondays A-Z challenge this week, I found myself in a questioning quandary unlike any week before. There just seemed to be an endless amount of E is for Eggplant explorations and experiments to examine.
But then, just like that, inspiration!
While meandering through the Charlottesville farmers market two Saturdays ago with Lindsey—only mildly distracted by the appearance of another intriguing purple* vegetable–
*Although I would definitely call eggplant a deep plum-to-black rather than purple.
–we ended up at the stall of a couple who sell cuts of beautiful beef (to those so inclined to consume it). The wife is Korean, and had started that weekend to sell pre-marinaded packages of beef bulgogi, a famous Korean dish that I have never actually had, but the ingredient list of which was incredibly appealing.
Lindsey: Even Asian pear?!
Me: Yes! Even Asian pear!*
*Thank you Chobani Blend breakfast, and my food klepto tendencies.
Although she didn’t seem to understand that I don’t actually eat beef she was very patient and happy to discuss how she and her husband generally made and served their bulgogi.
Mixing mushrooms with marinated beef and onions, then serving in “any form of green” (lettuce or cabbage wraps) seemed to be the couple’s preferred preparation.
“Well,” I thought, “if mushrooms work…why not eggplant?”
I guess I really shouldn’t have been all that shocked. Despite never actually having bulgogi, I should have known from the ingredients–honey AND molasses AND sugar?–that this was not a salty marinade.
It is, however, so good I pretty much wanted to drink it all immediately.
(Or at least cook and dip every vegetable or meat substitute I had in it.)
So, what does one actually do with bulgogi once she’s made it?
My new Korean culinary instructor told me the sauce she makes for drizzling is a red bean, chili, and honey mixture. For once doing the smart thing and NOT purchasing an entire jar of red bean paste while trying to actually clean OUT my kitchen and move, instead I shook together what was left of my sambal oolek chili paste with soy sauce and honey.
However, despite my only true Korean meal experiences having been delivered to me by a parent of one of my students when I was teaching fifth grade outside of D.C., I DO know something about the culture’s food traditions.
(Just as fun to say, but even more eyes-closed ‘yum’-inducing to eat.)
Tempeh + Eggplant Bulgogi
- 1 block tempeh
- 1 cup diced sweet onion
- 2 cups finely diced eggplant (raw or cooked)
- 1 small Asian pear, grated, with juice (1 cup)
- 1/3 cup soy sauce, tamari, or liquid aminos
- 2-3 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
- 2 1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp. brown or turbinado sugar
- 1 Tbsp. molasses
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp minced ginger
- 1 Tbsp. minced garlic (roasted if you have it)
- 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed
- 1/4 tsp. sambal oolek (ground chili paste)
- dash of cinnamon
- salt + pepper (to taste)
*The number of servings truly depends on how hungry you are, and if you are using it as one (of many) toppings/ingredients for bibimbap.
**You might want to double the marinade. It will be ‘saucier,’ and it really is that good.
- Whisk together all marinade ingredients.
- Combine with tempeh, onion, and eggplant in a small bowl, stirring very well to coat.
- Allow to soak for three hours or overnight.
- Cook bulgogi mixture in a saute pan over medium heat until onions soften and eggplant is cooked, adding water to help steam if necessary.
- Serve in lettuce wraps or as part of bibimbap.