Sometimes I feel guilty about my cookbook collection. Not that I have so many (really, can one EVER have too many cookbooks?!?), but that I ignore some and go years without opening them. Such as been the case with Vedge, from the owners/chefs of the vegan Philadelphia restaurant of the same name. I’ve had the book for well over a year, and today is the first time I’ve made a recipe from it. Resulting from a purposeful pledge to make something from those cookbooks I’ve neglected, what better way to start than with one I’ve yet to use.
One of my favorite TV food shows is “Chopped,” on the Food Network. Four chefs compete through three rounds of appetizer, entrée, and dessert using the “mystery basket” ingredients. A chef is eliminated each round and the one remaining after dessert wins $10,000. Typically not vegetarian cooking, this show often features animal foods such as beef tongue, rocky mountain oysters (bull testicles), or a whole fish. Occasionally something like tofu or tempeh is in the basket, but not often.
About a year and a half ago, while watching the chef intros at the beginning of a “Chopped” episode, I thought I heard them mention this chef by the name of Rich Landau was chef/owner of a vegan restaurant. Wow, how was he going to compete? If I remember right, the appetizer and entrée rounds mystery baskets didn’t include any animal products, so he was safe, and his dishes really impressed the judges, advancing him to the dessert round, which contained honey (technically, not vegan). Chef Landau reluctantly incorporated the honey into his dessert and ended up winning the ten grand. Impressed, I Googled him and his Philly restaurant and found he had a cookbook coming out. Shortly after, when my mom asked what I wanted for my birthday, I immediately told her Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small that Redefine Vegetable Cooking.
Not sure why I waited so long to actually make one of the recipes, but judging from how good this first one was, it will definitely not be over a year before I make another one!
The recipe calls for Japanese eggplants and mentions an Italian eggplant can be substituted in a pinch. Surprisingly I could not find Japanese eggplant, so the Italian variety is what I used, and they were still fantastic. This truly is one of those dishes that gives you a crave-generating food memory long after it’s gone.
A couple side-notes: The recipe calls for gochujang, a savory and pungent fermented Korean condiment. It can be found in Asian grocery stores, some well-stocked conventional supermarkets, some natural food stores, and also online (I first wrote about it here). Kimchi is also an essential part of this recipe and many brands contain fish sauce, which, of course, isn’t vegetarian. I have found vegetarian kimchi at Trader Joe’s, but lately they haven’t had it. I did find a veg version at a local grocery store, so just keep looking, you’ll find it eventually, if it’s important for you to have a fish-sauce free variety. Also, because I’m not a big cilantro lover, I used Italian parsley, and it’s a good substitute if you’re cilantro-averse.
Eggplant is one of those “meaty” vegetables that satisfies even carnivores in heartiness, and with the gochujang heat and spicy kimchi funk, non-vegetarians won’t even notice they’re eating vegan. Enjoy!
Korean Eggplant Tacos with Kimchi Mayo
1 tablespoon gochujang
2 teaspoons tamari (wheat-free soy sauce—much better than regular soy sauce)
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Japanese eggplants, peeled and julienned (substitute 1 Italian eggplant, peeled, seeded and julienned, if necessary)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
½ cup vegan kimchi, drained, chopped fine
1 cup vegan mayo (Earth Balance Mindful Mayo is so good!)
Four to six 6-inch whole wheat flour tortillas
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves (or Italian parsley)
½ cup chopped scallions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Make glaze by whisking together the gochujang, tamari, vinegar, and sugar in a large bowl.
In another large bowl, toss the eggplant in the sesame oil.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. It is important to get a nice sear on the eggplant, so arrange the strips in a single layer across the bottom of the pan and let them get crisp, turning after a couple minutes, cooking for a total of about 5 minutes. You may need to do this in two or more batches, depending on the size of your pan. Transfer the cooked eggplant to the bowl of glaze and repeat until all eggplant is seared.
Toss the crispy eggplant in the glaze, then transfer to a sheet pan. Roast until the glaze bakes onto the eggplant, being careful it doesn’t burn, 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, fold the kimchi into the vegan mayo in a small bowl.
Warm the tortillas in the oven, directly on the rack for about 2 minutes.
Assemble the tacos by spreading about 1 tablespoon of the kimchi mayo down the center of each tortilla. Top with a large spoonful of the roasted eggplant, dress with the cilantro and scallions. Serves 2-4.