Walk into any Korean restaurant and you'd think our national food was BBQ, meat cooked on the table family-style. (It's popular because it's delicious. Order it!) But that's not how I eat at home, where vegetables, tofu, and rice are on heavy rotation.
Traditional Korean home cooked meals lean vegetarian and are simple yet bold: easy to find vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, spinach, and squash are transformed into delicious meals using soy sauce, sesame oil, gochujang (Korean chili paste), or gochugaru (Korean chili flakes). Take this spinach banchan.
Similarly, most Asian cuisines put vegetables at the center of weeknight dinners. Below we gathered our favorite vegetarian recipes inspired and beloved by the vastly diverse cultures of Asia. We have traditional dishes like Chana Masala and Kimchi Fried Rice to inspired versions like Eggplant Green Curry and Kimchi Deviled Eggs.
One thing these recipes have in common: They rely on bright, bold, and daring seasonings, which are pantry staples found in each cultures' home kitchens.
To stock your own pantry, read how to stock an Asian pantry by Hetty McKinnon, author of four cookbooks (her latest is called "To Asia with Love").
Slow Cooker Chickpea Curry With Sweet Potatoes and Red Peppers
Most curry powders found in the grocery store have turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, garlic, ginger, black pepper, and cloves. That's a lot of flavor packed into a small spice jar! And it seeps into the chickpeas slowly over six to eight hours.
Easy Vegetable Fried Rice
Speed and riffability are the name of the game. Fresh veggies trump frozen ones, except when you need to get dinner on the table stat. I've used an 11-ounce bag of frozen mixed vegetables (my favorite combo: broccoli, carrots, snap peas, and water chestnuts), adding them straight into the hot wok frozen.
Eggplant Green Curry
Thai green curry paste is a combination of chilis, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, basil, and sometimes fish sauce. If you're strictly vegetarian, check the label. Also, this recipe calls for fish sauce. You can use soy sauce, coconut aminos, or a vegan fish sauce instead.
Potato and Broccoli Curry
Instead of using cream, almonds are blended into the sauce to make it thick and creamy. It's a smart technique traditionally used in India to make masalas (curries), typically with cashews.Continue to 5 of 23 below.
Gochujang Green Beans
Katie Morford, RD is brilliant at coaxing bold and interesting flavors into bright healthy foods like these green beans. Here she uses gochujang, a Korean chili paste that's sweet, salty, tangy, and a little funky, to get a 15-minute side dish you'll make over and over again.
Curried Potato and Vegetable Soup
Elise Bauer, founder of Simply Recipes, picked out all the yellow ingredients from her pantry and fridge to create this vegetarian soup. And it works! I love my soups chunky, so I think it would be okay not to blend the soup, right?
You'll want to put the ginger-garlic paste, recommended by Prerna Singh, the recipe developer, in everything including this quick and easy Indian dish. Canned chickpeas make it as simple as can be.
Asian Zucchini Noodle Salad
A drizzle of dark sesame oil can make anything taste delicious, including these zoodles (i.e. zucchini noodles). It has a deep, rich, nutty, a little sweet and funky flavor that's hard to mimic with any other ingredient.Continue to 9 of 23 below.
Sigeumchi Namul (Spinach Banchan)
Remember the Korean BBQ I mentioned in the introduction? I would bet that Sigeumchi Namul is served as a side dish (called banchan in Korean). It's fresh, nutty, and the best way to enjoy a lot of spinach, Popeye-style.
Hetty McKinnon’s Seaweed Lettuce Salad
Gochugaru comes in many different levels of heat, so try it first. Here it goes into the dressing, which is a perfect balance of spicy, sweet, savory, and nutty. (Hi there sesame!)
Grilled Cabbage with Peanut Sauce
What a lot of Asian cuisines excel at is balancing sweet and savory, just like in the peanut sauce here. There's garlic, shallots, peanuts, sugar, and kecap manis, an Indonesian sweet and savory soy sauce. Using purple cabbage? It will turn a funky blue when cooked, but it's totally fine to eat.
Sesame Ginger Noodle Salad
The world of Asian noodles is vast (and delicious). This recipe calls for chow mein. Any thin round noodles like somen, rice sticks, soba, or rice vermicelli works.Continue to 13 of 23 below.
Korean Spicy Cold Noodles
These are the cold noodles I grew up making without a recipe. That's your permission to use whatever fresh vegetables or noodles you have available, A non-negotiable? The gochujang in the sauce adds a depth a flavor that's unique to this dish. Here is a brand I love.
Stir Fried Japanese Eggplant With Ginger and Miso
Of the many types of eggplants out there, Japanese eggplants can stand up to the assertive flavors of ginger, miso, and chili, all while staying intact (i.e. it won't become mush when cooked). No need to peel the skin—it's tender and not bitter.
Chinese Hot and Sour Soup
Use vegetable broth (or better yet, a mushroom broth) to make this spicy, sour, and earthy soup. The key to feathery ribbons of egg is to keep stirring the soup as you drizzle it in. Resist the urge to stop stirring to check whether it's working. It'll work, as long as you keep stirring.
Hoisin Glazed Brussel Sprouts
We love Brussels sprouts and this version stands out for its use of hoisin, a fragrant, salty, sweet fermented soybean sauce used in Cantonese cooking. The sauce is vegan even though hoisin means seafood in Chinese.Continue to 17 of 23 below.
Kimchi Deviled Eggs
Kimchi is a staple Korean side dish that practically shows up in every meal, including breakfast. That's how good it is—it's crunchy, sour, spicy, and umami. No wonder it works on deviled eggs. The kimchi balances out the creamy yolks and give it a little kick.
Soba Noodle Salad
Soba noodles are magical because they soak up the sauce without becoming mushy. I've tried a dozen brands of soba noodles. They all cook much faster than the instructions call for. If the package says to cook it to five minutes, start checking at the three-minute mark. Six to eight minutes? Check at the five-minute mark. It should be a little chewy, but not hard.
Kimchi Bokkeumbap (Kimchi Fried Rice)
Have you heard? Fried rice is best with day-old rice. That's true here. What's also true: Kimchi Fried Rice is best with old kimchi. It means the kimchi was fermented for longer, it's funkier, more sour, and perfect for fried rice.
Cold Rice Noodle Salad
Cold Rice Noodle Salad is filling but not heavy. They are full of vegetables and wholesome without being virtuous. It's a little spicy, very crunchy, and the noodles are chewy. Basically, the perfect meal.Continue to 21 of 23 below.
Vegetarian Pad Thai with Tofu
This popular takeout noodle dish isn't fussy to make at home. In fact, if you prep all the ingredients and have them ready to go when you heat up the wok, dinner will be ready in less than 15 minutes.
Noodles With Mushrooms and Lemon Ginger Dressing
Adaptable recipes like this are meant to become back pocket recipes. Use any noodle! Use any type of mushrooms! We welcome all fresh herbs! Plus, the flavor combination of ginger, the zest and juice of a lemon, and sesame oil is one you'll crave again and again.
Easy Vegetable Lo Mein
You can have a steaming plate of lo mein in about 30 minutes using whatever vegetables you have and like—not a takeout box in sight! It's okay if you don't own a wok. Use the biggest skillet you have.