In a less beautiful world, Joanne Lee Molinaro, aka The Korean Vegan, would command a tiny niche on the internet. In reality, Molinaro has a TikTok following of 2.7 million, who throng to hear her soft voice tell hard stories over cozy Korean cooking. Her stunning new book, The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipes from Omma’s Kitchen, is already a bestseller.
Korean cuisine and plant-based eating: not an obvious combination. But everything about The Korean Vegan is unexpected delight. Instead of talking about chopping or frying technique throughout her videos, Molinaro tells exceptionally intimate stories, often about her family. Cooking is her side gig—the rest of the time, she’s a trial lawyer. And she doesn’t stick to one topic, she talks about long distance running, body image, racism, and childhood.
These videos are hypnotic and disarming. For a moment you don’t know what you’re watching, and then it crystallizes—you are in someone’s kitchen, and you are hearing their story. The Korean Vegan came together like unlikely ingredients that combine to make a great dish. “I started cooking for very basic reasons—I wanted to impress my boyfriend, now husband,” Molinaro laughs. “I was like—he likes to eat food, I’m gonna make him a risotto!” After she went vegan, cooking for herself became a necessity. And she was already a good talker. “You’d be surprised by how much storytelling trial lawyers have to do,” she says.
Then, during the 2016 election, when public displays of racism and hatred of immigrants surged, Molinaro felt moved to speak in a new way. “I wanted to open people up to the possibility that there were a lot of areas in which they could relate to me, to my family, and to my parents,” she says. “I think that that is the beginning of empathy and compassion for the immigrant story.” And as a lawyer, she knows that “the best evidence is the kind that you see firsthand.” In her videos, Molinaro litigates immigrants’ humanity by sharing of herself, by making herself vulnerable.
For Glamour’s That Thing I Always Cook, Molinaro contributed her best holiday recipe. “The problem with pecan pie for my family is that they’re always complaining that it’s too sweet,” she says. “I was like, ‘What can I do to not just cut back on the sweetness but provide them with a flavor that their tongues are immediately going to understand?’” She decided add paht, or red bean paste, a popular ingredient in Korean sweets.
“It was so perfect, a custard-like texture and then you’ve got the wonderful crunchiness of the candied pecans,” she says. “If you just buy the premade crust, it takes like five minutes to prepare. You throw it in the oven, forget about it for an hour, and it comes out and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m the Barefoot Contessa.’” Her parents, aunts, uncles, young cousins—they were all obsessed with the pie. “And that’s when I knew I had the perfect recipe,” says Molinaro. “Because it married the Korean-ness in me and the Americanness in me, but it also really brought my entire family together celebrating this one dish.”
“The Korean Vegan Cookbook” by Joanne Lee Molinaro
The Korean Vegan’s Pecan Paht (피칸팥파이 • Sweet Red Bean) Pie
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
Filling and topping:
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
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.
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.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
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.
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.
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.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour