There’s a lot happening in this dish. I’ve taken the pungent, sweet, and insanely spicy “Bul Sauce” from one of my favorite Korean dishes, and used it to doctor-up some humble TVP. With that delicious mixture, I’ve concocted a plant-based noodle bowl reminiscent of Chinese dan dan noodles, tossed with Sesame Garlic Asparagus, quick pickled veggies, peanuts, cilantro, green onions, and a cooling drizzle of creamy coconut milk.
In Korean, the term “buldak” literally translates to “fire chicken”. Topped with melted mozzarella cheese, this sweet and super spicy dish was one of my favorite foods in my pre-vegan days. However, not eating meat and dairy hasn’t stopped me from craving these complex flavors on the regular. I already have a perfectly delicious vegan version of this dish on my channel (check it out HERE), but I wanted to see what else I could do with that fiery sauce.
In the olden days of vegan packaged foods, ground meat alternatives were hard to come by. There was maybe Lightlife brand ground something-or-other, in a tube, but even that wasn’t always readily available.
What was readily available, though, was TVP.
TVP stands for Textured Vegetable Protein. According to Wikipedia, it’s made of defatted soy flour, and it’s often used commercially to “extend” meat. It comes in a few different sizes and shapes, but I’ve really only found it in the small flake size which is great for mimicking the texture of ground meats.
TVP was a staple in health food stores, and prior to Bob’s Red Mill coming along and putting a cute label on it, it was pretty much only found in bulk bins between the bulgur wheat and carob squares.
For many years, TVP was my go-to protein of choice when making tacos because it’s cheap and effortless to prepare. You just soak the TVP in an equal amount of water or broth, brown it up a bit, and you’re in business.
Since vegan meat analogues have become more readily available, I haven’t really had TVP around the house. I think the last time that I actually used it was when I filmed my “Vegan Cruncharito Supreme” video (check it out HERE) a couple of years ago.
The second week of this quarantine, I decided to let Amazon deliver some groceries to me. However, when I sat down at the computer to search for the foods that I needed to restock my pantry, I was shocked to find out that tofu, tempeh, and legumes of any shape and size were all sold out.
What was a vegan to do?!
They did have TVP, though, and knowing that it’s a great pantry staple to have on hand, especially when I didn’t know when I’d ever see a block of tofu again, I added a package to my order.
It sat in my cupboard for a few days before I started to get a craving for my buldak recipe. I didn’t so much want the full dish with melted vegan cheese on top, but I instead pictured myself using the “Bul Sauce” on the TVP to make rice bowls or noodle bowls, or even sloppy joe style sandwiches.
Having nothing else to do one afternoon, I whipped up a batch of the “Bul Sauce”, and hydrated a cup of the TVP in some warm water and a bit of coconut aminos.
Because I’d had prior experience with TVP and I knew that it’s pretty unpleasant just re-hydrated, I heated up a nonstick pan and added a bit of sesame oil to it.
Freshly hydrated TVP has a very soft texture. It’s not inedible, but it does lack pizzaz. By pan frying it a bit and allowing it to reduce and brown slightly, the texture and flavor are greatly improved. I used the same technique when making tacos with it, so I used that method as a jumping-off point.
Once the TVP was browned up a bit, I stirred in a bit of the sauce. I allowed it to cook on medium-low until the sauce was reduced quite a bit, and just starting to caramelize.
I had some leftover rice in the fridge, so I heated that up, and topped it with the fiery TVP. For flavor and texture contrast, I also added some refrigerator-pickled carrots and cucumbers.
It was honestly love at first bite. It hit the spot, and satisfied the craving, but it also inspired me to use it in other ways. Dan dan noodles are one of my favorite Chinese noodle dishes (which I also have a recipe for HERE) , and so I immediately thought of using this Korean TVP to make a similar dish.
My partner and videographer, Ben, can be a bit picky sometimes, and I like to test recipes out on him before putting them on my channel. I knew that he loved both buldak and dan dan noodles, so I made up a plate for him using some rice noodles and an extra drizzle of the “Bul Sauce”. I also topped his dish with a bit of chopped cilantro and green onion for a fresh pop of flavor
He loved the dish, but it was missing something. One of the most important components on buldak is the melted cheese on top. The dish is so fiery that it’s nice to have the relief from the creamy melted cheese.
I thought the dish, as a dan dan style noodle bowl, would be weird with melted cheese on top, so I decided that I should make a cashew-based cream sauce to help balance flavors and to cool things down a bit.
As I looked through the fridge to find my cashews , I spotted a jar of leftover coconut milk. What could be better than making a sauce for this dish? Having one already made for me. So, instead of grabbing the cashews, I just put the full-fat coconut milk into a squeeze bottle and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since making this dish, I have been able to find tofu and other proteins at the grocery store. If you were not interested in trying TVP for this dish, or you would rather use something else instead, I think this would be great with crumbled tofu (prepared similarly to the tofu in these Asian Nacho Cups found HERE).
This spicy Korean TVP is so great on rice and noodles, but I know it would make an amazing sandwich as well, or even added to salads with a creamy ranch dressing (recipe HERE)
Check out the video below to see just how easy this dish is to make, and then scroll down for the full recipe for Spicy Korean TVP, as well as my Sesame Garlic Asparagus.
Spicy Vegan Korean-Style Bowl
Humble TVP is turned into a sweet and fiery Korean inspired "meat" that can be served over rice, tossed with rice noodles, or on a bun like a sloppy joe.
- 1 cup (100 g) TVP – Textuerd Vegetable Protein*
- 1 cup (250 ml) hot water
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) coconut aminos, or light soy sauce and a pinch of sugar
- ½ cup diced onion
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons (40 g) gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste)
- 2 tablespoons (8 g) ancho chili powder or 1/4 cup korean chili flake
- 3 tablespoons (60 g) agave nectar or sweetener of choice
- ½ cup (115 ml) tamari, soy sauce, or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- 8 cloves of garlic, very finely diced
- 1 teaspoon (5 m)l sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon (2 g) freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- ½ inch knob of ginger, finely grated or ½ teaspoon powdered ginger
- ¼ cup water
- rice or noodles, cooked according to package directions
- Sesame Garlic Asparagus (recipe below)
- reserved sauce
- toasted sesame seeds
- full-fat coconut milk
- fresh cilantro
- green onion
- chopped peanuts
- quick pickled veggies or Korean-style pickles
In a medium-sized bowl with a lid, combine coconut aminos, water and TVP. Cover, and allow the TVP to absorb the water; about 10 minutes.
In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together all of the sauce ingredients except for the water. Once fully incorporated, add just enough water, about ¼ cup, until you have 1 cup of sauce.
When the TVP is hydrated, turn a nonstick or well-seasoned cast iron pan to medium-high heat. Once heated, add the sesame oil and onions and saute for a couple of minutes just until the onions start to soften. Fluff the TVP with a fork, and then add it to the pan . Cook, stirring occasionally, until the TVP is starting to get golden, and the texture slightly chewy.
Pour in ½ to ¾ of the “Bul Sauce", and stir to combine. Continue cooking on medium to medium-low heat until the sauce is reduced, and just starting to caramelize. Add more sauce to your liking, but just reserve a bit of sauce for serving.
Fill a bowl with noodles or rice. Top with a generous serving of the Spicy Korean TVP, Sesame Garlic Asparagus, and pickles. Finish the bowl off with fresh cilantro, green onion, peanuts, sesame seeds, and a drizzle of coconut milk.
*If you don’t have TVP, or don’t want to use TVP, then you could definitely make the same dish using tofu. Follow the cooking directions for the “teriyaki tofu” from THIS RECIPE, but use the “Bul Sauce” instead of teriyaki.
Quick and easy Asian-inspired asparagus dish. Perfect as a side, or tossed into a rice or noodle bowl.
- 1 bunch asparagus* (about 3/4 to 1 lb)
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) toasted sesame oil
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) liquid aminos or low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Rinse asparagus, trim off the woody ends, and cut the stalks into 1 to 2 inch pieces.
Heat a pan to medium-high heat and add toasted sesame oil. Add asparagus, and toss in oil, stirring occasionally until the asparagus is “al dente” and starting to get a bit of color, about 5 minutes. Just before turning off the heat, add sliced garlic and liquid aminos. Toss to combine, and then allow the garlic to cook slightly in the residual heat, and allow the liquid aminos to reduce, about 2 minutes. Top with toasted sesame seeds.
*The first iteration of this dish was actually made with sliced zucchini. Use the same cooking method and ingredients to cook whatever vegetables or greens you have on hand.