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Today, the hubby and I were craving that something easy, hot and delicious. I have been suffering from a mild but exhausting head cold that is transforming into sinusitis, so I knew I wanted something fiery for dinner. Soup. Spicy soup. Spicy Korean soup. Mraw.

Growing up, some of my favorite Korean foods (before I really embraced my Asian heritage and its culinary inheritance) included Korean soups. Korean cuisine has a lot of soup dishes – some spicy, some more bland, with everything from dried anchovies to beef brisket to slices of radish to chickens stuffed with dates and glutinous rice (aka samgyetang – more on that in a future post!)

Some are very simple broths consisting of a few ingredients (like koongnamul gook), while there are others that border on the highly complex.

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Soondubu jigae is relatively complex, offering spice, meatiness, many types of textures. It feeds the soul, and is the type of soup to really make you feel awake and alive after consuming.

We were out grocery shopping, and were leaving the Asian grocery store.

“Can we do a soondubu jigae?” I asked Steven.

“Sure. What is it?” Steven has grown accustomed to me talking about esoteric Asian dishes (because he is the most patient husband ever when it comes to that).

“It’s a really spicy Korean soup. With kimchi. And tofu.”

“That sounds good.”

So, soondubu jigae was on the menu. Traditionally, it is made with a very very soft tofu that is almost like a milky curd. However, we recently made the discovery for some reason that soft tofu does NOT settle well with us. I’m still not sure if it’s the consistency, or if there is some preservative, but soft tofu is definitely OFF the menu for us. We subbed in a very firm tofu that we found we like, and while it’s not exactly the same, it is still delicious – just in a different way.

I highly recommend you use the soft silken tofu however. It is makes the soup a sort of almost creamy texture, a stark contrast to the spicy, salty, meaty broth and contents.

This soup should be served boiling and bubbling hot, a fresh egg cracked on top of the magma-like contents of the bowl, and with lots of fresh hot white rice.

Soondubu jigae (Korean Spicy Tofu Stew)

Ingredients

1 package soft silken tofu (OR extra firm tofu in our case!)
1 cup kimchi (homemade preferably, but store bought will do)
1 cup kimchi brine (the red liquid the kimchi comes in, this gives the soup a lot of its flavor)
1 tsp Korean red pepper
1 lb beef/pork/chicken/seafood (I personally prefer pork belly or shrimp depending on my mood. Sub shiitake mushrooms for meat if going for a vegetarian version)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp sesame oil
4 cups water or stock
1/4 cup gochujang
3 scallions, chopped finely
Fresh eggs for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat a large pot on medium heat. Combine kimchi, meat/mushrooms, Korean red pepper, minced garlic, and sesame oil in a pot.
  2. Saute all ingredients together over medium heat until meat is starting to brown.
  3. Add water or stock, gochujang, and kimchi juice. Stir well to combine, then bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat and simmer soup for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add tofu. If using firm tofu, just tip into the pot. If using very soft tofu, try to gently float large chunks of the tofu into the soup – you’re going for large delicious pieces of tofu, not an emulsion of tiny tofu globules.
  6. Spoon into a bowl, piping hot.  Sprinkle green onions on top, then crack a fresh egg into each bowl, letting the egg cook in the hot soup. Add extra Korean red pepper and sesame oil as needed. Serve with fresh rice.

Notes:

  • The traditional serving dish for soondubu jigae is an earthenware bowl known as a ttukbaegi. These bowls are awesome since you can actually heat them up in the oven, cook in them over the stove, and they keep the food in them really hot – great for serving a hot and bubbly Korean soup
  • Really ripe kimchi is best for this dish to get the strongest flavor for the soup. Yes, you probably shouldn’t make this for your first date. Unless they really like Korean food.
  • I’m not sure what it is with Koreans cracking eggs over food – they do it on foods like soondubu jigae, ramyun and kimchi fried rice. I’m not mad, especially since we’re getting almost three fresh chicken eggs daily and one can only eat so much aioli and eggs benedict until you have reached your maximum, but I just don’t really understand where the whole “put an egg on it!” comes from.
  • If you want more heat, make sure to add more than one tablespoon of Korean red pepper. Some people say it’s not truly soondubu jigae unless it makes you sweat. I don’t believe in that, but hey – whatever floats your boat.

Written by Kee-ju

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