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Spicy and Crunchy Garlic Tofu (Kkanpoong Tofu)

Joanne Molinaro

Chef notes

I came up with this Spicy and Crunchy Garlic Tofu recipe because it needed to happen. Like, there was a gaping maw in the universe that could only be filled once this recipe was created. OK, putting to one side my illusions of grandeur, let's just say that this recipe was borne out nostalgia. Growing up, my family and I would go to this Korean-Chinese restaurant in K-Town called Great Seas. Great Seas was absolutely famous for its chicken wings, or kkanpoongi. Their walls were covered in photos of happy diners who set and broke the "how many wings can you eat in one sitting" challenge, and it was no secret why. Their sauce was so good, it was jarred, labeled and sold by the gallon. My family would go to Great Seas for all sorts of special occasions — birthdays, graduations, the day after a juice fast. When I went vegan, I knew I would basically never be able to eat anything at Great Seas again, so I set out to veganize it. And boy, was I elated with the results!

Technique tips: Make sure to press your extra firm tofu to remove excess liquid. This will ensure your tofu chunks are nice and crunchy. Using potato starch in lieu of cornstarch or flour to keep this dish gluten-free but make the tofu extra crispy. Make sure not to allow the crunchy tofu bites to sit in the sauce too long before serving — the longer they sit in the sauce, the softer they will become. Serve with rice — this dish is spicy!

Swap option: Use gluten-free soy sauce in order to keep this entire recipe gluten-free!


  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon potato starch
  • 1 (16-ounce) block extra firm tofu, pressed and chopped into 1/2-inch bite sized chunks
  • 7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 2 Korean green chiles, sliced (can sub seeded jalapeños)
  • 2 whole scallions, white parts chopped, green parts sliced on a bias
  • 1 tablespoon gochugaru
  • 1-1½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 tablespoon mirin (optional)
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1/8 cup dried red chiles (optional)
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds



To a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of potato starch to tofu chunks. Gently toss the tofu to make sure it's all evenly coated. Set aside.


Prep your vegetables by mincing the garlic, dicing the onion, slicing the Korean chiles and chopping up the scallions.


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


To a very large non-stick pan, add 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat. When oil is very hot, add coated tofu chunks in one layer, making sure they are not touching each other. If they touch, they will stick to one another.


Cook the tofu and flip them one by one, until they are brown on all sides (approximately 7 minutes). Remove the tofu chunks from the pan and set them aside on a cooling rack to drain the excess oil. Repeat with the remaining tofu.


When all of the tofu has been fried, in the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Then add the garlic, onions, chiles and scallions, and sauté the vegetables until the garlic starts to brown.


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


Gently add back the fried tofu and stir everything together, so that the tofu chunks 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, to be published on 10/12/2021 by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 Joanne Lee Molinaro.