Use Lentils For A Korean Barbecue-Inspired Vegetarian Meal

When someone suggests having Korean barbecue for dinner, your mind probably goes to a spread of meats like bulgogi to grill and pair with sides like pickled vegetables or kimchi. The array of ingredients makes for a fun meal, especially if you're grilling it on the tabletop with family or friends, but we've got a meat-free dinner idea that still has an essence of the same flavors. It's our recipe for Korean BBQ-inspired lentils created by Tasting Table recipe developer Miriam Hahn.

Lentils are ideal for this vegetarian meal, or any meat-free recipe, for a few reasons. The legumes are packed with fiber to keep you full between meals and protein which is an essential nutrient. Lentils also can soak up flavors from broths or stocks, spices, and other aromatics similar to rice or quinoa, making it an ideal vessel for the flavors found in Korean barbecue. Another benefit: A bag of lentils will surely be much cheaper than buying any cut of beef or other meat, especially with the rising costs of meat these days. In our recipe, Hahn uses red lentils, but you can also use brown or green varieties but you will have to adjust the cooking time for the same result.

Brown sugar tempers spice in Korean barbecue-inspired lentils

Many aromatics, condiments, and spices can give lentils similar flavors to a traditional Korean barbecue. Hahn combines the legume with onion, garlic cloves, Asian pear, soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil. The flavors of those additions will be reminiscent of grilled meats, but you can also take it up a notch with ingredients commonly found in marinades for Korean barbecue. For a boost, add fresh ginger, brown sugar to temper the spice of the other ingredients, toasted sesame seeds, or Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) to add heat to your lentils.

These lentils work on their own as a complete meal, but we've got a couple of ideas to make it heartier. Hahn suggests serving with a garnish of chopped scallions and a side of rice. If you want to take more inspiration from a Korean barbecue, pair it with sides like cucumber salad, kimchi, pickled onions or radishes, and condiments for dipping like ssamjang sauce. To get the full Korean barbecue restaurant experience, serve these sides in ramekins for guests to build their own bowls. And you can't go wrong serving it all with soju or Korean beer.