Cooking Korean: Soondubu jjigae

I had a jar of kimchi that was a little over a month old. At that point it's got a little tang in it and doesn't taste as good as fresh kimchi. It's still edible, though, and is best used for stews and other cooked dishes.So, I decided to make soondubu jjigae, which translates to "soft tofu kimchi stew." A jjigae is a savory, hearty Korean stew. There are many varieties of jjigae using various ingredients.

I've had soondubu jjigae many times in restaurants, but I've never made it at home. I consulted with a Korean friend who assured me it was easy, and I researched online by reading several different recipes. It became apparent to me that there's no one way to make soondubu jjigae; it's one of those "comfort dishes" where everyone has their own recipe and people claim their mother's is the best.

I was feeling particularly nesty that day and didn't feel like leaving the house to shop for new ingredients, so I wanted to use what I had in the house. So, borrowing various elements from different recipes, I devised my very own soondubu jjigae, and it was absolutely delicious. My partner heartily approved.

Here's how I did it:

1 1/2 cups chopped whole baby daikon radish kimchi + the liquid from the kimchi jar
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushroom water
1 tablespoon whole dried shrimp
Fish sauce, to taste (I love fish sauce, so I put a lot in - maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons?)
About 1 cup of soy sauce
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper paste
2 cups sliced Napa kimchi
1 can of tuna
1 box soft tofu, cubed
Hard boiled eggs for garnish

Slice the whole radish kimchi and add it to a soup pot, along with all the pepper juice from the kimchi jar and let that simmer for a while till the sauce gets thick. Meanwhile, boil some water and add the shiitakes. When soft, remove and slice. Do not discard the water; add it to the soup pot. Add fish sauce, soy sauce, and red pepper paste and simmer until broth is blended nicely. Add the tuna and napa kimchi with juices and simmer some more until the stew is nice and bubbly. Lastly, add the soft tofu and stir gently. Cook until just heated, and serve with quartered hard boiled eggs.

(Image: Kathryn Hill)

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