Bulgogi tofu meatball lettuce wraps are a fun vegetarian take on classic Korean food!
Hello from Phoenix! Actually, technically speaking this is hello from 30,000 feet above somewhere in Tennessee. We’re visiting Phoenix to watch our Clemson Tigers play in the college football national championships against Alabama. I’m nervous to write anything about the game because this post will live in internet eternity, so no predictions or trash talk from me! Plus, I don’t want to jinx anything, because you know, how well Clemson plays is totally reliant on what some random 31-year-old nutrition grad says ;)
Instead, let’s talk bulgogi, which I don’t think will have any trickle down effects on the championship game. At least I hope not…
Bulgogi is a Korean barbecue dish, made from thin strips of beef marinated in a mix of soy, brown sugar, sesame oil, Asian pear and gochujang (aka Korean ketchup). Living in the South, there’s passionate debate over where to find the best barbecue. Is it our local mustard based sauce? (Probably). Or is it the thick, sweet ketchup based sauce? (No). Some think it’s the simple vinegar and chili mixture used in North Carolina. (Maybe). We can all agree it’s not that weird mayo based barbecue sauce those crazy people in Alabama like so much. (Okay, maybe a little bit of trash talk ;) )
I might not be let back into South Carolina on Wednesday, but frankly, I think the debate is rather silly, because Asian barbecue wins hands down. Bulgogi is the perfect example with it’s sweet and spicy, complex blend of flavors. South Korea > South Carolina when it comes to barbecue. I am so sorry guys, but it’s the truth. If any of my Columbia friends are mad at me, go eat dinner at Arirang and then tell me how you feel.
Now, this dish definitely isn’t traditional, but it’s simplified, fun to eat, and still really really tasty. I found this recipe for bulgogi chicken meatballs on Goop that was calling my name. After more meat eating than normal with our recent travels and the holidays, I decided to take a stab at a vegetarian version (p.s. you can make these vegan too!). I remembered my spicy tofu burger from a few years back and realized it would make the perfect base. I actually think I like using this mix in ‘meatball’ form instead of a burger, because you get more crispy crust.
I served these as lettuce wraps with brown rice, shredded carrots, cucumber, and kimchi, which I forgot to photograph in the rush to catch the last minutes of daylight. Oh my food bloggers readers, you know the joys of winter! If you have some cilantro or basil on hand, I’d throw out a bowl of it too. You could also swap brown rice noodles, or even quinoa. To make these vegan, use chia eggs - 1 tablespoon ground chia with 3 tablespoons water.
Bulgogi Tofu Meatball Lettuce Wraps
Bulgogi Tofu Meatballs:
- 1/2 cup cashews
- 16 ounces extra-firm tofu, pressed
- 1/2 cup whole grain panko breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon gochujang or sriracha
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons gochujang
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 cups cooked brown rice
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 head butter lettuce
- 1 cucumber, julienned or spiralized
- 2 carrots, shredded
- Kimchi, for serving
- Sriracha, for serving
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a food processed, blend cashews until finely chopped. Add remaining meatball ingredients, blend until combined, scraping down sides as needed.
- Spray a baking sheet lightly with oil. Form small golf ball sized meatballs with the tofu mixture. Mix should make about 20. Spray tops lightly with oil. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes until golden, flipping halfway.
- While tofu balls are baking, make glaze. Mix soy sauce, brown sugar, gochujang and sesame oil in a small pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes.
- Drizzle or brush glaze over meatballs. Mix brown rice with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve with lettuce cups, brown rice, cucumber, carrots and kimchi.