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Popular Korean Vegan Delivers Creative takes on Classic Cuisine in This Cookbook - Recipe Review

By Kevin Thomas

(Photographs by Kevin Thomas)

TUCSON, Ariz.The Korean Vegan Cookbook, Reflections and Recipes from Omma’s Kitchen by New York Times bestselling author Joanne Lee Molinaro, features authentic and traditional plant-based Korean dishes.

Located in the table of contents, home chefs can find multiple mouthwatering chapters honoring the cuisine within the cookbook. Examples were Banchan (Side Dishes), Bbang (Breads), Bar and Street Foods, recipes for making homemade kimchi, and even a chapter for those with a sweet tooth.

Before making their way to the easy-to-read recipes with uniquely inviting photos, readers will find a couple of introductory chapters laying out some of Molinaro’s family history and their relation to the foods in the cookbook. She also walked the readers down the road that led her to create her own vegan cookbook.

“I realized that my love of the food I grew up eating was inextricably tied to their [Molinaro’s family] journey in the United States… as I grew older, I started to understand the importance of collecting and chronicling them – just like I would with recipes,” (Molinaro, 17)
Molinaro said in The Korean Vegan chapter of the book.

Molinaro outlines how rare it is for Koreans to also be vegans due to Korean cuisine’s frequent usage of pork and other meat products in dishes such as the famous Korean Barbeque or Bibimbap.

The two dishes chosen for this review made up one complete meal, a banchan and a stew. An entree and side dish pairing provided a greater idea of what creating a whole meal from the book would feel like.

Dish Choice:

The side dish choice for this meal was kale moochim. Molinaro’s recipe for moochim is a blanched kale salad with a soy and sesame dressing.

This is a unique take on the dish, as traditionally, the dish would be made with spinach, not kale. Molinaro prefers the way that kale maintains its fresh bite and “structure” after being cooked.

The entree for this meal was kimchi chigae. The kimchi stew recipe was a mostly traditional take on a Korean staple.

Molinaro added black beans to the recipe as another way to introduce more beans into her diet because the blogger enjoys them. The beans, while additive and nutritious, are not traditional to the dish.

Kimchi stew is traditionally made with older, more sour kimchi that is close to, or is past the fermentation point, where it is no longer desirable to eat straight out of the jar.

At this point, many will utilize this kimchi in a kimchi stew. The strong acidic flavors of the fermented vegetables are fully developed and get brought out to play in this stew.

Mis en Place:

Preparation for these dishes was intuitive, stress-free, and efficient. The process did not require any unusual techniques or uncommon kitchen gadgets. Knives, pots, a cutting board, bowls, and containers were practically all that was used.

Dicing, slicing, and preparing the ingredients for kimchi chigae was also easy, even for beginners. Only rudimentary knife skills and basic measuring equipment are required.

Some of the ingredients could be hard to find at a name-brand super-grocer, but there is nothing wrong with supporting a local international grocery store and exploring new aisles. It can be an eye-opening and rewarding trip to the store. It's a break from the massive stores most are used to.

Additionally, Molinaro offers recipes for making the aroma emitting broths, flavor-packed sauces, and other accompaniments that one may find oneself running to the store for before making some of the cookbook’s recipes.

Molinaro’s clear and concise instructions will hold your hand as you walk through each step of the recipe. Reading each page of the book was quick, easy, and something to look forward to. Can a cookbook be a page-turner? Anyway, The instructions are clearly well thought out and simple to understand.

Executing the recipe:

Once it was time to get to creating magic in the kitchen, the kale was blanched and the next step was to take a towel and squeeze the kale dry. This step was slightly tedious. However tedious it was, the step was vital to creating the bouncy and satisfying texture of the kale. I was also prepared for how many times I would have to dry the kale by the helpful tip located within the recipe.

" This is the hardest and most annoying part of the recipe, but it's necessary." (Molinaro, 85)

The process of mixing the dressing was not annoying in any way. The basic yet addicting dressing consisted mainly of fermented soybean paste (doenjang), sesame oil, and olive oil and smelled good enough to eat on its own. Aromas of sesame, soy, and fish flowed from the container where the dressing was being hand-mixed.

That was all that there was to the process for the bittersweet banchan, kale moochim. It may be simple to make, but the flavor is complex. The bitter taste of the kale plays a really nice duet with the sweet and umami-packed flavor of the dressing. The slight resistance provided by the kale stems was beneficial and provided an enjoyable variety of textures and nutrients to the dish; as Molinaro notes in the recipe footnotes,

"I like using the stems for the extra fiber whenever I cook my kale; however feel free to use only the leaves here if you want a more uniform texture." (Molinaro, 85)

For the stew, readers can use a recipe for homemade vegetable broth provided by Molinaro or a broth of the store-bought variety. This home chef used store-bought broth. It is worth noting that the depth of flavor that homemade broth brings could be worth the time it takes to make.

The fragrances began to flood the air, filling the kitchen as garlic, ginger, and onions were sauteed on the stove. The addition of the sour kimchi, broth, and other ingredients only intensified the smells so pungent it could have been tasted. Scents of toasted sesame, soy, and fermented cabbage were unmistakable.

The fifteen minutes required to cook the potatoes in the stew and the approximately 2 minutes of cooking time once tofu, beans, and scallion greens were introduced allowed time to prepare the table for the meal.

Once the bowls of rice were ready, the kale moochim and the kimchi chigae were placed down, and the fun truly began.

First Bite:

This fulfilling meal will be seen again in my kitchen. The stew’s broth was comforting in the way that a good soup or stew should be, leaving anyone who ate it with a warm feeling in their stomach afterward. The broth was well-spiced by the ingredients and had some kick to it.

Teetering upon the tightrope of being flavorful and spicy without going over the edge, past flavorful and becoming “hot.” This is a beautiful balance that this dish is able to find.

The spice brought to the palette by the stew is cooled off by the cool temperature of the fresh, dressed side of kale. The kale moochim served as a refreshing bite. The mouth-watering, poignant, umami flavor provided by the kale moochim cut the spice of the stew down, pairing together really well.

Combining the stew with a hot bowl of rice, as suggested by the recipe introduction, while not necessary, surely brought a lot of value to the meal and would be dearly missed otherwise. Never forget your rice.

Overall, sitting down at the dinner table and having this meal was highly nourishing for the body and mind.


What happened when a Korean food influencer combined awe-inspiring photography and recipes that make your mouth water with a rich personal, familial, and cultural backstory?

The result was a really well-written and interesting cookbook that takes cuisine and culture and puts it directly into the hands of the consumer.


Molinaro, J. L. (2021). The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipes from Omma’s kitchen. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


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