Vegetarians and meat eaters alike will rejoice when they try our Tofu Bulgogi. Packed with all the hallmark notes of a classic sweet and spicy bulgogi, this version is studded with sweet bell pepper, EXTRA crispy crumbled tofu and hints of shredded apple. Serve with brown rice, your favorite noodles or eat it straight out of the pan.
I am not a vegetarian by any means but I’m here to shout it from the rooftops: TOFU IS DELICIOUS. From the day I inhaled an entire order of Crispy Tofu with Awesome Sauce at one of my favorite local Chinese restaurants, I have become slightly obsessed with this soy-based phenomenon.
I am not an expert on tofu by any means but in addition to its delicious nature, it’s also extremely easy to to cook and incredibly versatile. A win for all tofu novices.
I’ve made a vow to be a little bit more plant-based in my day-to-day life so I’m taking turns swapping out some of my favorite Asian dishes typically made with meat with tofu. Today that starts with Tofu Bolgogi. While I’m obsessed with our original form we serve in lettuce wraps, it’s heavy on the red meat, as most bulgogi dishes go, so it was time to lighten it up.
To mimic that crispy beef flavor we toss crumbled tofu with corn starch and then take our time frying it in a little bit of olive oil until every nook and cranny transforms into a crispy golden brown oblivion.
In addition to a crispy meat or meat alternative the hallmark of a classic bulgogi is in the sweet and spicy soy-based sauce. And that we don’t change one bit.
It has notes of soy sauce, plenty of garlic, sweet mirin and a curve ball ingredient – grated apple. It’s sweet, savory, spicy and umami-packed and I promise, you’ll want to bottle it up and drink it.
Let’s get started!
What you’ll need for the Crispy Tofu
Tofu. Extra firm tofu is what you will need. Anything less than extra firm won’t stand up to the cooking process and mimic the texture of beef.
Spices. I like to keep things extra simple with just garlic powder, onion powder and salt.
Corn starch. This is what is going to make the tofu bulgogi EXTRA crispy. Don’t skip it! I’ve tried it without the cornstarch and it really does make such a difference.
Olive oil. You can use any oil with a high smoke point but to keep things heart healthy AND to prevent burning I go with classic olive oil.
And what you’ll need for that drinkable bulgogi sauce
Soy sauce. Low sodium, regular, or tamari – all fair game.
Gochujang. Actually any spicy chili paste will work great. I prefer this or sambal oelek but if all you have is sriracha or something similar, totally fine.
Mirin. If you haven’t used mirin in cooking before, I’m excited for you because you will love it. It’s a fortified rice wine similar to sake and not only does it add really lovely sweet notes but umami notes as well. If you can’t find it, you can also swap out a sweet or dry sherry.
Brown sugar. Just a hint and I love the molasses flavor it adds.
Sesame oil. Gotta have a hint of sesame in our tofu bulgogi.
Veggies. I like to use thinly sliced onion, red bell pepper, green onion and of course, plenty of garlic.
Fruit. One of the more unique ingredients not only in our Tofu Bulgogi but in a classic bulgogi is the addition of grated fruit, typically pear. This time around all I had was apple so that’s what I used.
Let’s Make Tofu Bulgogi
Coat the tofu. Slice the tofu block in half legth-wise so you have to thinner squares. Use a dish towel to press as much moisture out of the tofu as possible. Next, use you fingers to crumble the tofu into a bowl. It’s okay if there are varying sizes of crumbles – we want that! Use the same towel (or another if it’s very wet) to get a little bit more of the moisture out of the tofu. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Toss. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons corn starch. Toss.
Cook the tofu. Heat a really large non-stick skillet or wok to a high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the oil. Swirl to coat the pan and add half of the tofu. Evenly spread the tofu out and DO NOT DISTURB IT for at least 2-3 minutes. You want the oil to really do its job and crisp up the tofu. Once the bottom is crisp, toss the tofu and continue to cook and crisp it up. When it’s all super crispy, remove to a plate. Repeat with the remaining tofu.
Make the sauce. While the tofu cooks, add the soy sauce, sambal oelek, mirin, brown sugar, sesame oil and remaining two teaspoons cornstarch to a mason jar.
Cook the veggies. When the tofu is done browning, remove it all to a plate. Head the same skillet to a medium high heat. Add another tablespoon olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan. Add the sliced peppers and onion. Saute until the onion and bell pepper are softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, green onion, and apple. Saute another minute.
Assemble! Add the crispy tofu back to the skillet with the veggies along with the sauce. Toss to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and coats the tofu and veggies nicely.
Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Be sure to get as much moisture out of the tofu as you can.
- Make sure the oil is hot before adding the tofu.
- Don’t be tempted to cook all of the tofu at once, it will not crisp up.
- For extra heat, add some crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce
- Swap out the apple for pear.
- Use your favorite chili paste.
- For extra sweetness, add more brown sugar.
- Feel free to add in sliced mushrooms, water chestnuts, or any other veggie.
- 14 oz tofu bolgogi
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp + 2 tsp corn starch, divided
- 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp gochujang or sambal oelek
- 3 tbsp mirin
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1/2 small onion, sliced very thin
- 1 small red bell pepper, cut into very thin 1/2 inch slices
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 8 green onions, sliced
- 1/2 medium apple, grated (about 1/2 cup) no need to peel the apple
- sesame seeds for garnish
- Large skillet or wok
- Mixing bowl
- Drain the tofu. Slice the tofu in half horizontally so you have two thin rectangles or squares. Use a dish towel to press as much moisture out of the tofu as possible. Use fingers to crumble the tofu into a large bowl. It's okay if there are varying sizes of crumbles- we want that for maximum texture. Use the same towel (or another if it's very wet) to get a little bit more of the moisture out of the tofu. Sprinkle the tofu with garlic powder, onion powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Toss to combine. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of corn starch. Toss to evenly coat.
- Heat a large non-stick to a medium-high heat. When it's very hot, add one tablespoon of olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan. Add half of the tofu. Evenly spread out the tofu and don't disturb for 2-3 minutes. You. want the bottom to get crispy and brown. When the tofu crumbles start to get golden brown toss. Continue to cook until all the tofu is golden brown and crisp, it should take about 5-6 minutes. Remove to a plate. Repeat with the remaining tofu. Remove all of the tofu to a plate.
- While the tofu cooks, make the sauce and chop the veggies. Add the soy sauce, sambal oelek, mirin, brown sugar, sesame oil and remaining two teaspoons cornstarch to a mason jar. Secure lid and shake until the brown sugar has dissolved. If you don't have something you can use to shake it, you can use a whisk and bowl. Just make sure the brown sugar dissolves and the cornstarch isn't clumpy.
- When the tofu is done browning, remove it all to a plate. Heat the same skillet to a medium high heat. Add another tablespoon olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan. Add the sliced peppers and onion. Saute until the onion and bell pepper are softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, green onion, and apple. Saute another minute.
- Add the crispy tofu back to the skillet with the veggies along with the sauce. Toss to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and coats the tofu and veggies nicely, this should take about 2 minutes.
- Spoon over brown rice. Top with more green onion and sesame seed. Optional: Top with freshly sliced red bell pepper and carrot.