This recipe comes from Joanne Molinaro, aka The Korean Vegan (and author of the best-selling cookbook of the same name). Every flavor in her recipes tells a story from her Korean heritage, family and childhood, or both. So we asked her to share one of her favorite comforting vegan main dishes that will satisfy vegans and meat-eaters alike during the holidays. Below, she shares how she came up with this recipe based on her own traditions—and how to make sure you get perfectly crispy eggplant “steaks” every time.
The first thing I did when I started veganizing Korean food was to go to eggplant. I remember my first attempt at a galbi-jjim was using eggplant instead of short ribs. Eggplant is such a hearty food and does the same thing as a lot of proteins—it sucks up the flavors it is immersed in. It’s such a great sponge for intense flavor. The trouble with eggplant is that it’s a little tricky! Because it is so spongy and soaks up so much liquid, it has a tendency to get soggy. That’s why I love this method of dredging it in a little potato starch—a very Korean ingredient; a lot of western and Chinese recipes call for cornstarch—which is lighter and creates a crispier texture. Dredging with potato starch before frying creates the perfect texture while also protecting the eggplant from becoming overly soggy.
When I think of hearty main dishes, I can’t not have rice! That’s very Korean of me—there has to be a noodle or a rice to make the dish complete. I love mixing the different kinds of grains, even just brown and white rice, which is what my umma (mom) does all the time. It creates a dimension to what is often just an afterthought to a meal. I took it to the next level with fried rice, studded with sweet potatoes—which my family and I had almost every day growing up, especially around the holidays—for extra festivity and color. But the best part of this dish, and surprisingly the least Korean part, is the mushroom gravy. My mom would make American food for the holidays, but she’d often forget the gravy. Turkey and steak taste terrible to me without a proper gravy or sauce, so I would run to the store, get a jar, and heat it up for the family. It really does bring everything together in a very joyous, sumptuous, holiday way.
1 cup short grain brown rice
1 cup short grain white rice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup small diced sweet potato (about 5 ounces)
4 scallion whites, chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup mushroom stock or vegetable stock
4 scallion greens, chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
1 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for prepping the steaks
1 teaspoon pepper
2–4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup mushroom stock or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons vegan butter
2 tablespoons potato starch
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
Keep calm and curry on.
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