Korean soups and stews are some of my favorite dishes to eat. Like last meal favorite. I used to frequent local restaurants for my fix, but as I became more concerned with the quality of my food and discovered just how bad all the nasties in restaurant food were (MSG, rancid vegetable oils), I set out to learn how to create my own. I hope this recipe satisfies the cravings of fellow Korean soup addicts.
Jump to Recipe
One of the many reasons I love this dish is because I can enjoy it year-round. In the winter and fall, it is comforting and medicinal. In the spring and summer, it replenishes lost minerals. For that reason, this soup is very versatile - no matter the season, you can find vegetables that work. It also works well as an "empty the fridge" soup for any vegetables that haven't gotten used up during the course of the week. (If you participate in CSA or farm share programs, you know exactly what I mean.)
It's excellent served with a variety of side dishes, such as kimchi (either made from cabbage or radishes) as well as steamed rice.
What's in it?
There are just a few must-haves and unfortunately no good substitutions. So get out there and find an Asian grocery store, and for those of you who don't live near a good Asian grocer, you can typically order them online.
Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) - This is a spicy, savory, fermented product that should ideally only have 3 ingredients: red peppers, rice, and salt. Today lots of companies add high fructose corn syrup, maltose, wheat, MSG, and other stuff we don't want. Look for a paste in a glass container and check the ingredients. Some Asian grocery stores have their own homemade versions sold in the refrigerated section that can work.
When you get your paste, take a tiny taste of it, as different brands have different heat levels. The heat level can even vary within brands at certain times of the year. Tasting it before you cook with it will allow you to adjust the heat levels of your final dish. You can find Korean red pepper paste here.
Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru) - Look for a brand made in Korea and store it in the freezer between uses. Please avoid the temptation to replace gochugaru with cayenne powder, Mexican chile powders, or even Thai chile powder. They are all very different flavors and aren't interchangeable in this recipe. You can find Korean red pepper flakes here.
Fish sauce - I'm sure most of you know this ingredient very well. It's a staple of Southeast Asian cooking. You should look for a brand that has simple ingredients. Anchovy, salt, and sugar are the most a fish sauce should have. The small amount of sugar in the Thai fish sauce is of no concern since it's fermented, so the live culture gobbles most of that up. You can find good quality traditionally fermented fish sauce here.