Cincinnati is experiencing an unexpected cold snap this week. A few days ago, temperatures rose as high as seventy, leaving most folks around here to conclude that spring wasn’t far off. Now, lows are dropping into the teens, and snow flurries have been on and off for the past couple of days. Such fluctuation is Midwestern weather at its best; instead of preparing the grill, it’s time to dust off the scarves and earmuffs.
Little can be as comforting on cold and windy days as a nice steaming bowl of soup. So, with the last gasp of winter on our doorstep, my wife and I decided to take a culinary trip to South Korea for a delicious and hearty kimchi stew. A nation of mountains and northern elements, Korea is no stranger to the cold, and Korean dishes – with their bold spices and complex flavors – are quintessential comfort food.
Rather than pulling out a frying pan, noodles or meat – staples of many Korean favorites – we went for a pot, rice and tofu and decided to make a classic kimchi stew. With tangy fermented kimchi, tongue-tingling gochujang and delicate silken tofu, this rich and nuanced stew always warms from the inside out and leaves us craving bite after bite.
As with any dish that features rice, I always start by preparing this component first. We used black forbidden rice in our stew, but any hardy grain will do. Simply place one and a half cups of rice and a little less than three cups of low sodium chicken stock in a covered pot and cook on medium-low heat until all the water is absorbed. Usually, I always double the amount of stock per rice, but since this rice will be mixed into the stew later, I cut back just a little on the liquid to keep the grains al dente.
Next, I slice a large yellow onion into half-rings and brown them in olive oil inside a large pot over medium heat. As the onions caramelize, I prepare the other ingredients for the stew, opening the jar of kimchi and the package of tofu, thinly slicing a few scallions and getting together all my spices.
To the onion, I add ginger and black pepper, and when they are fully browned, I pour in a small jar of gochujang, two tablespoons of soy sauce and a tablespoon of mirin. Gochujang – red pepper paste – is the backbone of Korean cuisine, and it packs a mighty punch. My wife and I are well accustomed to the heat, but feel free to use as much or as little as you want depending upon your palate.
The mixture of the red pepper paste, soy sauce and mirin gives the stew heat, umami and tanginess, which brings subtlety to the strong-flavored kimchi. When the sauce is thoroughly mixed with the onion, I add a small jar of kimchi, along with eight cups of water.
While my wife and I add chicken base to the water to create our desired taste, low-sodium stock will work just fine as well. If you opt for stock, I recommend cutting it with water, as this is a traditionally vegetarian stew.
After mixing these ingredients together and bringing the stew to a boil, I lower the temperature to simmering and spoon in one package of silken tofu. It is important to keep the tofu in large pieces so it holds together in the broth. Additionally, don’t stir the stew too much, as this will cause the tofu to fall apart before it’s fully cooked. Finally, add the scallions to the top of the stew and let it cook on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.
When the tofu is cooked and the flavors in the broth come together, spoon in the cooked rice and combine. While this step is optional – especially if you’re a traditionalist that honors the Korean custom of eating rice separately – it makes the stew thicker and heartier, and it makes for easy reheating throughout the week.