Korean Lentils – Vegan Bulgogi (GF Option)

Angled view of a black bowl filled with rice topped with lentils, shiitakes, broccoli and kimchi

This Korean inspired lentil dinner is easy, nutritious and sure to have you craving it on your weekly meal plan. A super flavorful quick sauce is simmered with lentils and seared mushrooms. Serve over rice for a quick vegan meal, and use leftovers for a great addition to salads, wraps and more!

If a flavorful lentil recipe ready in under 20 minutes is what you’re after, then look no further! This is an easy vegan meal inspired by Korean bulgogi. Bulgogi is usually made by marinating and cooking strips beef in Korean barbecue sauce. My version uses lentils and mushrooms instead of meat.

Don’t love mushrooms? You can leave them out – the lentils make this a meal! While I used shiitakes, you can substitute cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos.)

Close up of a black bowl containing rice with lentils, shiitake mushrooms, steamed broccoli and kimchi

The Korean barbecue sauce has a blend of soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, ground black pepper and toasted sesame oil. It’s salty, a bit sweet and is rich in a toasty umami or savory flavor. You’ll want to cook everything in it! Traditionally, Korean barbecue sauce often has Asian pear in it, but it’s not readily available here this time of year and we love the sauce with or without it!

How to Make Korean Lentils:

  1. Fry the mushrooms
  2. Prepare the sauce
  3. Simmer the sauce and lentils in with the mushrooms
  4. Serve!

Tips for Vegan Korean Lentils:

For the Best Flavor:

  • use fresh ginger (dried ginger powder does not taste the same)
  • use toasted sesame oil (regular sesame oil isn’t as flavorful and is missing the toastiness)
  • while I don’t recommend leaving any of the other ingredients out, you can leave out the chili flakes if you don’t want any heat, or you can add as much as you like!
  • use cooked lentils in this recipe. Originally I wanted to have the lentils cooked in the sauce (plus some water) but I wasn’t getting consistent results. Depending on the age of the lentils, the size of the pot, the intensity of the heat the stove burner gives, etc, I was getting the results worth sharing with you guys. The other issue is that lentils end up a bit tough or feel under-cooked when cooked with salt. As this sauce has salt in it from the soy sauce, it’s best (and least stressful) to add the sauce once the lentils are cooked.

You can use either canned lentils in this recipe or cook your own from scratch. I’ve included some tips below on cooking green or brown lentils. I chose these types of lentils for this recipe because they are readily available, easy to cook, hold their shape pretty well (unlike red lentils), and are economical.

Peeking over a black bowl filled with rice, lentils, shiitakes, cucumbers, broccoli and kimchi

How to Cook Brown or Green Lentils:

  1. Unlike most beans and other legumes, lentils don’t need to be soaked for optimal cooking. Simply measure out 1 1/2 cups of lentils, and inspect them carefully for small rocks and other debris.
  2. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Don’t salt the water – lentils tend to remain tough when cooked with salt.
  3. Add the lentils to the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Keep an eye on them as they can quickly go from perfectly cooked to mush in a matter of minutes. Cooking the lentils at a low simmer rather than a boil is important so they retain their shape instead of getting beat up and falling apart. Drain and continue with the korean lentil recipe.

Tips for Cooking Mushrooms:

Keep them dry: I generally don’t wash my mushrooms with running water. Instead, brush any dirt off with a damp paper-towel. If you use water to wash them, blot them dry before slicing and cooking. Water will cause them to steam and become rubbery while they cook.

Even slices for even cooking: slice the mushrooms into similar sizes. Like anything else, similar sizes cook at the same rate. Cooking a variety of sizes will result in some mushrooms being overcooked and others being under-cooked.

Preheat the skillet: The skillet should be hot before adding the sliced mushrooms so they start to sear on contact, sealing in their juices. Adding them to a cold pan means they slowly warm up with the pan, leaking out their juices, creating steam and becoming rubbery.

Don’t crowd the skillet: Mushrooms piled into the skillet or pan will leach out their juices and create steam. This results in rubbery mushrooms. We want the mushrooms to sear on each side, so those sides need to be in contact with the hot bottom of the skillet. If your skillet or pan is too small for all of your mushrooms, cook them in batches.

Don’t add anything except oil until the mushrooms are cooked: Adding other ingredients can cause steaming which (yup, there’s a theme here) causes rubbery mushrooms. Salt in particular will draw out the mushroom juices – salt not only creates steam but, once the mushrooms are cooked, they won’t be as juicy. We’re after a nice caramelized brown sear on the outside and a juicy inside. Add the sauce and lentils to the pan once the mushrooms are cooked.

Flatlay of 2 black bowls filled with rice topped with lentils and mushrooms, broccoli, cucumbers and kimchi

If you want would like to make this lentil recipe gluten-free, simply use tamari instead of soy sauce!

If you make this Korean Lentils recipe, please give it a rating in the recipe card and leave a comment below! Follow along on Instagram where you can tag me in your creations using my recipes, I love seeing what you’re cooking! You can also follow me on Pinterest for vegan recipe inspiration and on Facebook. Thank you for reading!

Angled view of a black bowl filled with rice topped with lentils, shiitakes, broccoli and kimchi

Korean Lentils – Vegan Bulgogi (GF Option)

This Korean inspired lentil dinner is easy, nutritious and sure to have you craving it on your weekly meal plan. A super flavorful quick sauce is simmered with lentils and seared mushrooms, and served over rice.
4.5 from 6 votes
Print Pin
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Korean
Keyword: Easy Vegan Dinner, Lentil Recipes, Vegan Bulgogi
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 513kcal

Ingredients

For the Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger minced or microplaned
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar packed
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (use tamari for gluten-free)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes or to taste
  • 1/2-1 tsp ground black pepper or to taste

For the Mushrooms:

  • 1-2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 12-16 oz shiitake mushrooms (or criminis) stems removed and sliced (about 4-5 cups)
  • 2 x 398 ml cans green or brown lentils, drained and rinsed or 3 1/4 cups cooked*

Suggested Serving:

  • 4-6 cups cooked basmati rice
  • 4 cups steamed brocolli
  • sliced green onions
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • vegan kimchi

Instructions

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce.
  • In wide cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed pan, heat 1 tbsp of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add in the sliced mushrooms. If you don’t have a wide pan, work in batches. Let them cook for 3-5 minutes before stirring. Stir, then leave them for another 3 minutes and repeat one more time or until the mushrooms are seared and cooked through.
  • Add in the sauce, scraping the bottom to get any bits that have stuck. Stir in the drained lentils, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer until the sauce is reduced and the lentils start to stick a bit, about 5 minutes. Stir only as necessary so you don’t mash the lentils.
  • Serve over hot basmati rice, side of steamed broccoli, sliced green onions, vegan kimchi and toasted sesame seeds if desired.

Nutrition Info:

Calories: 513kcal | Carbohydrates: 93g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 858mg | Potassium: 1049mg | Fiber: 13g | Sugar: 19g | Vitamin A: 604IU | Vitamin C: 84mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 5mg

Notes:

*To cook green or brown lentils:
  1. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of lentils, and inspect them carefully for small rocks and other debris.
  2. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Don’t salt the water. 
  3. Add the lentils to the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and gently simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Keep an eye on them as they can quickly go from perfectly cooked to mush in a matter of minutes. Drain and continue with the vegan bulgogi recipe.
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The Nutrition Information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the Nutrition Information for any recipe on this site cannot be guaranteed.

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