Healthy Korean Beef Bulgogi

A veggie-packed version of a meaty Korean classic, this Healthy Korean Beef Bulgogi features lean ground beef, shredded cabbage, and peas in a sweet and tangy sauce over steamed rice. Topped with quick, pickled cucumbers, tender carrots, and spicy Sriracha crema, this dish is ready in under 30 minutes and will be one the whole family will love.

overhead view of healthy korean bulgogi with beef, rice, carrots, cucumber and sriracha crema in gray ceramic bowl with gray background napkin and fork

I love Asian food. I love it so much I would eat it every day if I could. 

Our kids? Not so much — which is why date nights these days usually incorporate Asian cuisine of some kind. 

That might be changing soon though because —you guys— both our kids pushed their go-to gnocchi aside and devoured this Korean Beef Bulgogi for dinner the other night. 🙌

Sans Sriracha crema, of course.

overhead horizontal photo of ground beef, cabbage, peas, rice, carrots, cucumber and sriracha crema in gray ceramic bowl with gray background

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Which is exactly what our nanny said when she said Inès devoured her beef bulgogi the week before. She handed me the recipe card from HelloFresh which immediately went straight to the top of my New Recipes to Try list on my monthly meal planner.

One glance at the ingredients though and I knew I could tweak it to be a bit healthier for everyone. So that’s what I did — and everyone ate. it. up.

overhead view of healthy korean bulgogi with beef, cabbage, peas, rice, carrots, cucumber and sriracha crema in gray ceramic bowl with gray background

Whenever I’m creating a new recipe, I tend to go heavy on the veggies and lighter on the meat and added sugars. The dietitian in me just can resist.

For these healthy Korean Beef Bulgogi Bowls, I cut back on the ground beef and sweet Bulgogi sauce and bumped up the veggies. Like, by a lot. Here, shredded cabbage and frozen peas make up for the missing meat. They add bulk, protein, and fiber. The best part is, when the cabbage cooks, it practically melts into the beef, becoming almost undetectable. Neither of my two toddlers seemed to notice, and if anyone’s gonna notice, it’d be them. 

In addition to adding more veggies, I used whole milk Greek yogurt in place of sour cream for the Sriracha crema. Y’all, I literally could not tell the difference! Both provide a creamy, tangy taste, but Greek yogurt has a whole lot more protein, and way less fat and calories.

overhead view of korean bulgogi with beef, rice, carrots, cucumber and sriracha crema in gray ceramic bowl with gray background napkin and fork

Oh and just FYI, the quick pickled cucumbers and creamy Sriracha sauce are the exclamation points on this dish. They literally make my tastebuds jump for joy — so whatever you do, don’t skip them.

I promise this Healthy Korean Beef Bulgogi is just as sweet, tangy and satisfying as traditional Bulgogi, but a whole lot better for you and your family! 

3 Time-Saving Tips for a Quick Bulgogi

  • Start cooking the rice first. While the rice cooks, pickle the cucumber, cook the carrots, beef and veggies, and make the crema — in that order. If the rice finishes first, remove it from the heat and leave it covered while everything else comes together.
  • Purchase shredded cabbage and carrots. The “angel hair” shredded cabbage and “matchstick” carrots are my go-tos for this dish.  
  • Substitute store-bought pickles — but if you can spare the five minutes, the fresh ones are WORTH IT.  

How to Make a Healthy Korean Beef Bulgogi Bowl 

  • Make veggies the mainstay. Replace the bulk of the meat with neutral-flavored vegetables, like cabbage, peas or riced cauliflower.
  • Serve it with brown rice or brown rice noodles. I used white rice here because it just photographs better, but we usually eat this with brown rice since it provides more protein, fiber, and vitamins!
  • Use Greek yogurt for the creamy Sriracha sauce. Greek yogurt has less than half the fat, calories and double the protein of sour cream.
  • Don’t add salt. The sauce Bulgogi sauce has all the flavor you need. No need to salt the rice or the meat before adding the sauce.  
  • Skip the butter on the rice. A lot of recipes call for butter on the rice. Totally not necessary once you mix all of those delicious flavors and textures.
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Recipe

Healthy Korean Beef Bulgogi

This Healthy Korean Beef Bulgogi features lean ground beef, cabbage, and peas in a sweet sauce over steamed rice, topped with quick, pickled cucumbers, carrots, and Sriracha crema. Kid-friendly and ready in less than 30 minutes!

  • Prep Time:
    15 minutes
  • Total Time:
    30 minutes
  • Makes:
    4 servings 1x
  • Prep Time:
    15 minutes
  • Total Time:
    30 minutes
  • Makes:
    4 servings 1x
  • Ingredients

    • 1 cup uncooked white or brown rice
    • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, divided
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 large cucumber
    • 2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided (see notes)
    • 8 ounces shredded or matchstick carrots (about 2 cups)
    • 8 ounces 90% lean ground beef
    • 8 ounces finely shredded cabbage (about 5 ½ cups)
    • 1 cup frozen peas
    • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
    • ¾ cup Korean Bulgogi sauce (see notes)
    • ½ cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
    • 2 teaspoons Sriracha, plus more to taste

    Instructions

    1. Make the rice. Place rice in a small saucepan with 2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer until tender and water absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and keep covered to keep warm.
    2. Pickle the cucumber. Combine 2 tablespoons vinegar and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir to dissolve sugar. Trim cucumber ends. Using a peeler, shave cucumbers lengthwise into ribbons, rotating until you get to the seedy core; discard core. Add ribbons to the bowl with vinegar and toss to coat. Set aside.
    3. Saute the carrots. Heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add carrots and cook until tender but still a little crisp, about 2-4 minutes; 2 minutes for thinly shredded carrots and closer to 4 minutes for thicker “matchstick” style. Transfer carrots to a bowl and set aside.
    4. Cook the beef, cabbage and peas. Add the sauce. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cabbage, breaking meat up into pieces. Cook until meat has mostly browned and cabbage has wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sesame seeds and add remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar; cook 30 seconds. Stir in the peas and bulgogi sauce and bring to a rolling simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook another 2-3 minutes until peas are tender. Remove pan from heat.
    5. Make the Sriracha sauce while the beef cooks. While beef cooks, combine the Greek yogurt and Sriracha (to taste) in a small bowl. Stir in water 1-2 teaspoons at a time until the mixture can be easily drizzled.
    6. Portion and serve. Divide the rice between bowls. Top with the beef mixture, carrots, and cucumbers, draining any excess liquid from the cucumbers before adding. Drizzle crema (about 2 tablespoons) over each bowl. Garnish with remaining sesame seeds.

    Notes

    Ingredient Notes

    • Sesame oil: Sesame oil adds a lot of flavor to this dish but other neutral to mild- flavored oils like avocado oil, canola oil, or coconut oil can be substituted.
    • Bulgogi sauce: Korean BBQ sauces vary greatly. Bulgogi sauce is typically sweet and tangy, and not spicy. Look for it in the Asian section of the grocery store, at World Market, or on Amazon (pricey, though).
    • For a dairy-free bulgogi: Omit the crema; add just a little Sriracha for spice
    • For a kid-friendly bulgogi: Serve without the Sriracha crema, unless they love spice!
    • Leftover beef? Ground beef often comes in 16 ounce packages. Freeze the remaining uncooked beef to add to pasta sauce with veggies, or use it up the next time you make this dish. 

    Ingredient Prep

    • Shred cabbage and carrots up to 5 days in advance, if shredding yourself
    • Make the Sriracha crema up to 5 days in advance
    • Pickle the cucumbers up to 5 days in advance.

    Little Helpers

    Involving little ones can decrease picky eating and increase appetite and willingness to try new foods. Here are a few ways they can help:

    • Toddlers: Measure the rice, cabbage, carrots, frozen peas, sauce, etc.; mix vinegar and sugar for pickled cucumber; toss cucumber in the vinegar mixture
    • Little Kids: All of the above plus peel the cucumber; shred the cabbage and carrots (with close supervision); add sauce to the beef; portioning & adding toppings
    • Big Kids: All of the above, plus they can help cook the rice, carrots, and beef-veggie mixture

    Leftovers

    This dish lends well to leftovers and is great for meal-prep. Reheat the rice, carrots, and beef together, adding a little water to the rice if it’s dried out a bit. Top with leftover cucumber, Sriracha crema, and sesame seeds.

    Nutrition Notes

    Nutrition information calculated using long-grain brown rice and includes the Sriracha crema.

    Nutrition

    • Serving Size: 1/4 of recipe
    • Calories: 529
    • Sugar: 28 g
    • Sodium: 1201 mg
    • Fat: 17 g
    • Saturated Fat: 5 g
    • Unsaturated Fat: 12 g
    • Trans Fat: 0 g
    • Carbohydrates: 73 g
    • Fiber: 7 g
    • Protein: 22 g
    • Cholesterol: 42 mg

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