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RECIPE: Doenjang Jjigae (Korean Fermented Soybean Paste Stew)

Let's make a quick pit-stop in Seoul for dinner tonight, shall we?

Doenjang jjigae, or fermented soybean paste stew, is a staple comfort food in Korean cuisine. While I always had it growing up, it's only as I've gotten older that I've come to appreciate its taste. The slightly funky aroma can throw some people off in the beginning, but the comfort it brings once you taste it is incredible. Added bonus for the fact that it's chock-full of vitamins and minerals from the fresh vegetables, with the added, gut-healthy benefits of probiotics due to the fermentation of Korean soybean paste.

Doenjang jjigae isn't the only Korean dish that makes ample use of fermentation. The time-honored technique was borne out of necessity as early as 50BC as the hilly terrains and cold winters presented a formidable challenge for food cultivation in Korea: how to make it last through the winter. The solution? Salt, a mineral that acts as a preservation agent. Just like Doenjang, this is how kimchi was developed thousands of years ago.

Although doenjang jjigae is primarily eaten at home in Korea, you'll also find it as a complimentary side stew at Korean BBQ restaurants—occasionally with seafood (octopus, clams or shrimp) or meat (pork or beef). It can be eaten for any meal, from breakfast to dinner, and even late-night hangover cures!

Some Koreans still make their own fermented bean paste, which requires several months of fermentation and aging in large ceramic containers, in addition to their own gochujang (red pepper paste). But don't worry, this recipe calls for doenjang jjigae mixture, which is fairly easy to find in grocery stores these days.

For almost every Korean, doenjang reminds you of your mom and her home-cooked meals. I've found myself craving it frequently during quarantine, and I hope it'll provide comfort for you as well.

Doejang Jjjigae Recipe 된장찌개

Korean Fermented Soybean Paste Stew

Total time: 10 - 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Zucchini
  • 1 White Onion
  • 4 Shiitake Mushrooms (but can sub any mushrooms you have on hand)
  • 1 Pack Firm Tofu (about 1 cup)
  • 4-5 Garlic Cloves
  • 1-2 Chili Peppers
  • 2 Green Onions (aka scallions)
  • 1 Mixed Seafood / Anchovy Pack (or a dashi bag)
  • 4-5 Tablespoons Fermented Soybean Paste*
  • 2 Tablespoons Korean Red Hot Chili Powder (aka gochugaru)
  • 2 Cups Water
  • Optional: Beef, Pork, Seafood

Instructions:

1. Cut the zucchini, white onion, mushrooms, and tofu into 1/2-inch pieces.

2. Mince garlic. Dice chili peppers and green onions (1/2-inch length).

3. Prepare 3 cups broth by tossing a dried seafood pack into water. Bring to a boil. If you're incorporating meat, add it to the boiling broth.

4. Add roughly 4-5 heaping tablespoons of fermented bean paste.

5. Add the minced garlic, green onion, chili peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and onions to the boiling broth.

6. Boil for 1-2 minutes, then add the tofu.

7. Add red hot chili powder to taste, 2-3 teaspoons (or more!).

8. Cover with lid and boil on high for 5 minutes.

9. Serve with rice, kimchi, seaweed, and other side dishes (banchan).

The soup can be left in the pot overnight to reheat in the morning, or stored in the fridge for 2-3 days.

*There are two common types of fermented bean paste. On the one hand, you'll find soybean paste with things like clam or meat in the paste itself (examples here and here), and on the other hand you can purchase the pure bean paste (example here).


For another recipe that'll transport you to Asia, look no further than this Japanese curry with rice.