From K-Pop to K-Drama – Korean influence on contemporary culture has seen a dramatic rise in recent years, running in parallel with the growing global appeal of Korean cuisine. After all, there is really a lot to love about the simple yet soul-stirring style of cooking rooted in dishes that are as vibrant as they are rich in sweet, savoury and spicy flavours. From “banchan” (small plates that complete a Korean meal) to noodles and rice-based dishes that are a meal in themselves, Korean cuisine spans a breadth of vegetarian-friendly recipes that are both replicable and adaptable in homes outside Korea.
If you enjoy Korean cuisine as much as we do, gathered here you’ll find a one-stop guide to getting you started – from key ingredients to stockpiling in your pantry, to a selection of recipes that will elevate your weeknight dinners and level up your next dinner party too!
Key Ingredients For Vegetarian Korean Cooking
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it presents a capsule collection of the key ingredients required at a minimum to make a broad range of Korean dishes at home:
- Kimchi: a natural probiotic, kimchi was created as a away of preserving vegetables through longer periods of time to last through winter. It packs a punch that’s part sour, part salty, adding an umami-rich twist to everything it touches from toasties to ramen.
- Gochujang: this fermented red pepper chilli paste is a staple in Korean cooking, imparting fiery shades of heat offset by a subtle natural sweetness from its fermenting grains. Beyond its traditional uses for dishes such as bibimbap or bibimguksu (cold noodles), you can add gochujang to just about anything from eggs to pasta and salads.
- Gochugaru: these crushed coarsely-ground red pepper flakes have lingering fruity notes that cut through their spice factor to enliven the humblest of dishes with a burst of vibrance.
- Sesame oil: sesame oil adds a finishing finesse to many Korean recipes from dipping sauces to barbecue dishes, stir-fries, rice-based preparations and more.
- Rice vinegar: a little vinegar goes a long way in balancing the flavours of dipping sauces and dressings with a tarty touch.
- Toasted sesame seeds: Another key ingredient, lending an earthy nuttiness that’s essential for vegetarian Korean cooking, not to mention it adds a moreish crunch for a savoury texture!
Vegetarian Korean Recipes
Banchan & Side-Dishes
“Banchan” broadly refer to the small plates that complete any Korean spread. These include “muchim,” which roughly translates to “mix and season,” a popular dish being “oi muchim,” a salad of sorts starring cucumbers tossed with a sweet-and-spicy, tangy dressing!
Did you know that the word “meal” in Korean is interchangeable with the term for “cooked rice” or “bap.” Most Korean dishes are had with rice!
& dishes to pair with rice
Soups & Stews
Some form of soup or stew is an essential part of most Korean meals, served to right of the rice bowl. A classic Korean stew is known as jjigae, with variations including sundubu (soft tofu) jjigae and kimchi jjigae.
I’ll be the first to admit that neither of the recipes below are “authentic” Korean dishes, rather they are creative experiments starring the unsung hero of K-cuisine – gochujang! And with over 25 million views (and counting!) -these gochujang noodles are definitely one of my most popular recipes to date.
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