If you haven’t noticed my last name, I’m Korean–which means I feel genetically entitled to all things kimchi. I didn’t know how much I owe myself to kimchi until my work bestie pointed out that my veins run red with fiery kimchi juice (her exact words). My boyfriend calls me hot pepper, and occasionally, angry dumpling. What can I say, except that children raised on kimchi will be made of FIYAH! As a matter of fact, I don’t like spicy food, and my biggest hurdle is the medium-guacamole, but somehow I love kimchi and can eat a bowlful without any rice, no problem. I’m especially partial to the traditional Korean dish combining my two big passions: tofu and kimchi. You pan fry the tofu in a nonstick pan with some oil until golden brown on either side, and pair with sauteed kimchi. Cooking the kimchi mellows it out and turns the flavor really complex, round, and almost caramelized. If you’ve never had sauteed kimchi, you must try it.
The traditional way of eating this tofu-and-kimchi dish is either with a bowl of steamed rice, or with a cold beer. But a hunk of lofty, chewy focaccia bread marries perfectly with the tofu and kimchi, especially spread with creamy avocado and tahini “aioli.”
Pan Fried Tofu and Kimchi Sandwich with Creamy Avocado Aioli
Makes 1 sandwich
1 6 inch long piece of focaccia bread (you could substitute with ciabatta, but focaccia works the best)
1/3 block extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2″ thick dominoes
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp vegan butter
1/3 cup kimchi (somewhat aged kimchi works better for cooking. Really “fresh” kimchi will be more grassy, and it turns gradually more sour and pungent)
1. Put a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. (It’s crucial that you use nonstick–trust me, your expensive All-Clad and even cast iron skillets won’t beat the cheapie nonstick on this one.) Once it’s hot, add olive oil and spread it around with a spatula. You will see tiny bubbles forming once the oil is hot enough. Add the tofu, making sure to spread them out. Salt and pepper lightly.
2. Fry the tofu for about five minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove from the pan.
3. Put the same pan over medium heat and add the vegan butter. Once it’s melted, add the kimchi. (It’ll be a good idea to turn on the vent if you haven’t done so already. It can get pretty smokey!) You might want to adjust the heat if it looks too high, because you don’t want kimchi to burn before it cooks through. Let it fry for 4 minutes or until the kimchi looks browned and tender, and the kimchi juice gets caramelized.
4. Slice the focaccia cross-wise. Spread each side generously with the avocado aioli, and stack with the tofu and kimchi. Bon appetit!
Avocado Aioli (enough for 2 sandwiches):
1/2 medium Hass avocado
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
2 tbsp tahini
2-3 tbsp water
1/2 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients together using a food processor–or if the avocado is perfectly ripe, you can mash and mix using a fork.
More vegan comfort food ideas: Vegan Stuffed Shells with Cashew Tofu Ricotta
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling