What do you do when you crave Kimchi Stew, Soft Tofu Stew, and Tteokbokki? You put them all into one giant wok!
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Did you know that ya boy can cook?! I mean, I'm sure some of you have assumed that I could, but I'm also sure some of you had their doubts since all I've ever done since 2015 was talk about other people's food.
The truth is yes, I can cook, but let's just say I ain't applying to Top Chef Ametuers anytime soon. I've always have had confidence in my palate and my book knowledge of how to layer flavors when cooking, but I just never really practiced as much as I'd like to at home. Since the pandemic of 2020, that has surely changed.
Discovering Vegan & Gluten-Free Living
I started living with my girlfriend, Ellie, in May of 2020, and cooking is something she always needs to do, due to her many allergens and dietary restrictions. Because of those, she sticks to a strict vegan and gluten-free diet.
What I've learned from eating and cooking with her is:
1) it's difficult to find restaurants that provide dishes that can cater to both restrictions,
2) If they do offer something that's vegan, it often isn't gluten-free as well
3) When asking about her restrictions, service staff sometimes don't have a clear answer, which can lead to feeling like we are annoying or troublesome for asking based on the reaction of that staff member,
4) We'll end up going home with takeout only to find in the container a piece of meat or something ambiguously questionable as to what it exactly is, which undoubtedly ruins any notion of eating when you have severe health concerns like her.
These experiences have humbled me in my understanding and love for food. I'm so much more aware and conscious of what is offered when reviewing a menu at a restaurant. It has challenged me to cook things that I love in different ways so that she too can experience, love, and enjoy as well. I love Hawaiian food and anything Asian, so how can I make favorites like Loco Moco, Chicken Katsu Curry, or Ma Po Tofu without including meat, dairy, or wheat? My journey so far has led to the introduction of many new ingredients (hello nutritional yeast), plant-based products like Impossible Beef and Beyond Sausage, and equipment that I would never have thought I would have in my kitchen, like a food processor and cold press juicer. It is this venture into the plant-based realm that has added and renewed my love for discovering new food.
Don't get it twisted though; While I'm enjoying new plant-based foods, I'm not ready to go completely vegan. I prefer to be a "Freegan". That's plant-based most days but I won't say no to fried chicken or a cheeseburger if offered. What can I say, don't threaten me with a good time!
A while ago I found a vegan & gluten-free recipe for Tteokbokki, the long, cylindrical-shaped rice cakes commonly found in Korean street food and grocery stores. The recipe, by well-known Vegan food blogger Caitlin Shoemaker of From My Bowl, was a hit to my girlfriend, and it was the first experience my girlfriend had with Korean home cooking. After making it several times due to popular demand, I started to experiment with using other ingredients, measurements, and substitutes to create what I'm sharing with you reading today.
The other night, Ellie was craving Tteokbokki, while I was craving Kimchi stew. We thought, why not combine the two? By adding my 3-month old half bottle of kimchi in the fridge to the soup base, I thought the pungy sourness would make a nice addition to the dish. Then, I remembered I had a quart of soft tofu and thought it would be a great additional protein to add to the dish, along with the medley of veggies I was planning to use as well. Boom - we got what I shared on Instagram the other night, and thanks to the amazing responses from folks watching, I now share my full recipe with you, Enjoy!