The spicy and crispy garlic tofu (Kkanpoong tofu) from the Korean vegan


Chef’s Notes

I came up with this spicy and crispy garlic tofu recipe because it had to happen. For example, there was a gaping throat in the universe that could only be filled after this recipe was created. OK, let’s put aside my illusions of greatness, let’s just say this recipe confirmed nostalgia. Growing up, my family and I went to this Korean-Chinese restaurant in K-town called Great Seas. Great Seas was absolutely famous for its chicken wings or kkanpoongi. Her walls were covered with photos of happy guests who set up and broken the “How many grand pianos can you eat in one sitting” challenge, and it was no secret why. Their sauce was so good that it was packed in jars, labeled, and sold. My family went to Great Seas for all kinds of special occasions – birthdays, graduations, the day after a juice fast. When I went vegan, I knew that I basically would never eat anything again at Great Seas, so I set out to veganize it. And boy, was I thrilled with the results!

Technique tips: Be sure to squeeze your extra firm tofu to remove any excess liquid. This will make your tofu pieces nice and crispy. Use potato starch instead of corn starch or flour to keep this dish gluten-free but to make the tofu extra crispy. Make sure that the crispy tofu bites don’t sit too long in the sauce before serving – the longer they sit in the sauce, the softer they become. Serve with rice – this dish is spicy!

Exchange option: Use gluten-free soy sauce to keep this entire recipe gluten-free!



In a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of potato starch to the tofu pieces. Gently swirl the tofu to make sure everything is coated evenly. Put aside.


Prepare your vegetables by chopping the garlic, chopping the onion, slicing the Korean chilies, and chopping the green onions.


Prepare the sauce by mixing the gochugaru, soy sauce, white wine vinegar, maple syrup, mirin and 1 teaspoon of potato starch together. Put aside.


In a very large non-stick pan, add 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat. If the oil is very hot, add coated pieces of tofu in one layer, being careful not to let them touch. When they touch, they stick together.


Cook the tofu and turn it one at a time until it is brown on all sides (approx. 7 minutes). Take the tofu pieces out of the pan and set them aside on a cooling shelf to drain the excess oil. Repeat with the rest of the tofu.


When all of the tofu is fried, add 1 tablespoon of oil in the same pan. Then add the garlic, onions, chillies and spring onions and sauté the vegetables until the garlic turns brown.


Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the sauce, stirring with a wooden spoon until it reduces to a thick sauce, about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat.


Carefully return the fried tofu and stir everything together so that the tofu pieces are evenly coated in your sauce.


Garnish the tofu with 1/2 tablespoon of sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

From The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipes From Omma’s Kitchen by Joanne Lee Molinaro, published on October 12, 2021 by Avery, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 Joanne Lee Molinaro.


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