Tempeh + Eggplant Bulgogi

by Sarah on June 3, 2013 · 7 comments

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!

this is the product. not the inspiration.

While meandering through the Charlottesville farmers market two Saturdays ago with Lindseyonly mildly distracted by the appearance of another intriguing purple* vegetable–

*Although I would definitely call eggplant a deep plum-to-black rather than purple.

and the people at whole foods said i'd never find kohlrabi grown around here...

–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.

I also happened to already have every single thing I needed to make the marinade.*

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.

good thing i've had this block of tempeh in my fridge for an indeterminate amount of time to stand in for beef

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.

i figured if using ground beef was 'wrong' then crumbling the tempeh would be, too

“Well,” I thought, “if mushrooms work…why not eggplant?”

this one has a dimple on its tuckus.

I made a list of everything that went into the pre-packaged beef bulgogi at the market, and then glanced over a few other recipes I found online.

every commentary i read said you MUST toast your sesame seeds

To my surprise, the addition of a sweet Asian pear was not simply the genius idea of the woman at the market, but actually a common ingredient.

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.)

some people are too lazy to get out a spoon for stirring and just use the paring knife they have out already instead

If I’m being honest–and didn’t feel the need for protein–I might have even left out the tempeh entirely.

The flavor was great, but I’d need to make more of the marinade next time to get it a little more ‘saucy.

On the flip side, I would have added more onions and eggplant, because those two soaked up that flavor and became devourably delicious morsels of Korean-inspired flavor.

So, what does one actually do with bulgogi once she’s made it?

i might have forgotten to mention that you cook it in a pan after you marinade 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.

And followed her instructions to fold the bulgogi into a lettuce wrap.

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.

And bulgogi?

Well, bulgogi is just one egg away from bibimpap.

(Just as fun to say, but even more eyes-closed ‘yum’-inducing to eat.)

since i already had no idea if this was anywhere close to 'authentic,' i figured i could also get away with spaghetti squash instead of rice

Tempeh + Eggplant Bulgogi

[Serves 2-4]*

  • 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.

  1. Whisk together all marinade ingredients.
  2. Combine with tempeh, onion, and eggplant in a small bowl, stirring very well to coat.
  3. Allow to soak for three hours or overnight.
  4. Cook bulgogi mixture in a saute pan over medium heat until onions soften and eggplant is cooked, adding water to help steam if necessary.
  5. Serve in lettuce wraps or as part of bibimbap.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsey @ Pas de Deux June 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

I love this! I’m going to have to make it very soon…


Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table June 3, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I read this and a) felt very ADD and b) inspired to further bastardize bulgogi. My admiration for you and your strange (but good) mind has once again increased.


Alex @ Cookie Dough Katzen June 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I’m excited that I actually know what both of those ingredients are! My friend was eating tempeh over a salad last night and I meant to try it. It smelled delicious! Your recipe looks good!


meri June 3, 2013 at 6:28 pm

How fun is the word “bulgogi”? I’m an eggplant lover so you got me!


Tricia @ SRFD June 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm

You know I love this! I need to put this on my list of ‘must make soon’ recipes. The Korean place in F’Burg is small and the owner always comes around to talk. You would love her! I bet she’d take you in her kitchen. Hope to see you soon!


Ttrockwood June 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm

I actually buy bulgolgi marinade (premade) in the groceries in chinatown often- what i think is funny is all the versions of the marinade are vegan :) pear juice is always an ingredient- i often use to marinate veggies before i roast them. I’ m impressed you had all the ingredients in hand! I will have to try it with tempeh next


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