Bringing Korean vegan dishes to the Thanksgiving table

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Joanne Lee Molinaro recalls her parents being reluctant to bring American dishes to the table except during the holidays. After turning to a plant-based diet several years ago, she learned to navigate Thanksgiving by incorporating Korean dishes of her childhood into the menu but with a vegan bent. Japchae, a labor-intensive glass noodle, is typically reserved for the holidays. She remembers her elementary school teachers asking for her mother’s egg rolls, which she learned to veganize and are devoured each gathering. A favorite ingredient, Molinaro uses red bean paste in her version of a stuffed challah and pecan pie. Molinaro’s TikTok following resulted in “The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipe from Omma’s Kitchen.”

JAPCHAE (잡채 • Korean Glass Noodles)
Serves 4

I am not ashamed to admit that I ask for this dish every single birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Why? Because it’s so darn delicious. It’s basically a Korean warm pasta salad, with naturally gluten-free pasta (sweet potato vermicelli) and a ton of vegetables. Because the vegetables have to be julienned and separately stir-fried, it can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, which is why I save my requests for only the most special of occasions.


  • 5 ounces (140g) sweet potato vermicelli
  • 4 cups adult raw spinach (do not use baby spinach)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • ¼ cup julienned green bell pepper
  • ¼ cup julienned red bell pepper
  • ¼ cup julienned yellow bell pepper
  • ½ cup julienned red cabbage
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup julienned onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 to 5 mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds


  1. Soak the sweet potato vermicelli in water for about 15 minutes.
  2. In a pot of boiling water, cook the spinach until they turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach and run it under cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible and set it aside.
  3. In a very large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrot and sauté until they start to turn soft, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the carrots and place in a large bowl. Repeat with the red bell pepper, then the yellow bell pepper, and green bell pepper, followed by the red cabbage, seasoning each to taste with salt and pepper and adding to the bowl with the carrots. If necessary, add more oil to the pan as you go. The reason the vegetables are sautéed separately is to ensure that the flavors don’t muddle together.
  4. In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, mushroom, and salt and pepper to taste and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of the maple syrup to deglaze the pan. Transfer the onions, mushrooms, and garlic to the large bowl of vegetables.
  5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soaked vermicelli and cook them for 3 minutes. Add ½ cup cold water to the pot and when the water starts to boil again, add another ½ cup cold water. When the water comes to a boil, check the noodles to see if they are cooked (they should be tender and springy). If not, repeat.
  6. Drain the cooked noodles and rinse them in very cold water. Shake off the excess water and add the noodles to the bowl of vegetables.
  7. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and remaining 1 tablespoon maple syrup along with the sesame oil, a dash of black pepper, and the sesame seeds.
  8. Mix using chopsticks or your hands. Taste and add additional soy sauce, maple syrup (I like mine sweet!), or black pepper, if desired.

PAHT BBANG (팥빵 • Red Bean Paste Bread)
Makes 2 loaves 

This is a delicious braided challah made with a little sweet red bean paste, or paht. Because the red beans are not too sweet, they pair nicely with the stiff, tight crumb of challah. I like to sprinkle the top with a little sea salt and sesame seeds to really highlight the nutty sweetness of the beans.

Similar to a braided challah bread, this paht bbang has sweet red bean paste stuffed inside. Photo by Joanne Lee Molinaro.


  • 1 cup (240g) warm water (between 100° to 110° F) 
  • ½ cup (120g) plant milk, warmed 
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 cups (560g) bread flour
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ⅓ cup (43g) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups (927g) path (sweet red bean paste)
  • 3 tablespoons plant milk (I use nut milk)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • Course sea salt, for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds


  1. In a small bowl, mix together the water, plant milk, sugar, and yeast. Set aside until the mixture begins to foam, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and olive oil. Add the yeast mixture and begin stirring with a wooden spoon until a dough begins to form.
  3. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Knead the dough with your hands for about 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a medium bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap or a lid and set it aside in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets (or one very large baking sheet) with parchment paper.
  5. Punch the dough down to release the gas. Knead the dough for 2 minutes and then shape it into a ball. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Place one portion of the dough back into the covered bowl.
  6. Divide the remaining portion of dough into 3 equal pieces. On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll one piece of the dough into a 10 × 7-inch rectangle. Position the dough so that it is horizontal (i.e., so a long side is facing you).

PECAN PAHT (피칸팥파이 • Sweet Red Bean) PIE
Serves 8 to 10

One Thanksgiving I decided I wanted to make pecan pie that my family would actually eat. We’re not fans of overly sweet desserts, but my father absolutely loves pecans. The answer to creating a less cloyingly sweet filling was simple—paht! Not only is the red bean paste far less sugar-y than the typical custard-like filling of a traditional pecan pie, I knew my family would instantly appreciate the familiar flavor. I presented my little pie that Thanksgiving, and since then, I have been asked to make it every year.

Incorporating red bean paste, Joanne Lee Molinaro marries Korean flavors with her vegan palate for a spin on a beloved Thanksgiving dessert. Photo by Joanne Lee Molinaro.


  • 1½ cups (210g) all-purpose flour (see Note)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup (152g) cold vegan butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
  • ¾ cup (300g) brown rice syrup
  • 6 tablespoons soy or oat milk
  • 1 cup (320g) paht
  • ¼ cup (50g) light brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (57g) vegan butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 cups (220g) chopped pecans
  • 3½ tablespoons (35g) potato starch
  • 1 cup (110g) pecan halves


  1. Make the pie crust: In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse while adding the butter, a few pieces at a time. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a dough starts to form.
  2. Shape the dough into a ball. Do not handle more than necessary. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but best if overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. Make the pie filling and topping: In a medium bowl, combine the brown rice syrup, soy milk, paht, brown sugar, melted butter, salt, vanilla, chopped pecans, and potato starch.
  5. Place the pie dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pie dough gently until it is large enough to line a 9-inch pie pan. Ease the crust into the pan and trim any excess dough at the edges with kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife. Pour in the filling. Top the filling with pecan halves.
  6. Transfer the pie to the oven and bake until the pie filling sets (i.e., doesn’t jiggle too much), 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool the pie on a wire rack for 2 hours before serving.

In “The Korean Vegan Cookbook,” Joanne Lee Molinaro explores her family’s heritage while modernizing recipes for a plant-based diet. Photo courtesy of Avery.



Evan Kleiman