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Doenjang Jjiggae

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Out of all Korean food, I miss the stews the most. For whatever reason, stews at home never taste the same. Restaurant doenjang jjiggae is often so aggressively seasoned that the homemade stuff never seems to compare, and that’s probably why I never liked it when I made it in Seoul. The broth seemed weak, the vegetables never cooked evenly, it wasn’t hot enough, etc etc.  A big part of the experience is sensory. Barbecue restaurants clatter with silverware, soju glasses, and KPop, and people cram around charcoal grills that hiss with the sizzle of meat. Every day of the week, these restaurants are busy for dinner. At barbecue restaurants, you can count on at least two standard stews to be present on the menu: kimchi jjiggae, a stew made with mature, sour kimchi, soft tofu, and pork, and doenjang jjiggae, a salty vegetable stew seasoned with fermented soybean paste.

Doenjang (pronounced dwen-johng) is comparable to miso in consistency and function. The process of making doenjang is time-honored and complex, and not many modern households make it from scratch anymore. Hye Rae’s mother-in-law still does, and before I left in June, Hye Rae packed a plastic container with enough to last me the year.

Restaurant doenjang jjiggae always comes in an earthenware bowl big enough to share, and it is always boiling as it hits the table. My doenjang jjiggae at home is different. I don’t have a ddukbaegi, so just before it’s time to eat I heat the soup to a rolling boil and quickly ladle it into bowls. The first taste could burn the tongue, and that’s the way it should be.

doenjang jjiggae

These days, you can find doenjang in any Korean mart and most bigger East Asian marts. It’ll come in a bigger container than you think you’ll need, but it can last a year in the fridge. Sempio makes non-GMO doenjang (and gochujang, a spicy paste made from red chilis) that you can find online. Wholly Doenjang makes a gluten free version.

A note about stock: The baseline of ingredients you use to make your stock is up to you. The simplest way is to dissolve doenjang in water, but you could also use prepared vegetable or chicken stock, and dissolve the doenjang in that. You could make a quick fortified stock by steeping water with two or three dried anchovies, a couple of dried oyster mushrooms, and a piece of dried kelp. The best way to eat this stew is with some sticky white rice, so I soaked one cup of rice in just over two cups of water, and used that starchy rice water for the stock. It worked great.

Doenjang Jjiggae
(makes enough for 2 or 3)

2 cups rice stock (made by soaking 1 cup rice with 2 1/4 cups water)
1 tablespoon doenjang
1 turnip (potato is traditional, but turnip is what I had)
1 green chili
fistful dried oyster mushrooms
1 zucchini
extra firm tofu (buy the smallest container you can for this)
paengi mushrooms (also known as enoki)

Prepare all ingredients first. Cut zucchini into half inch pieces. Peel turnip or potato and cut into half inch pieces. Chop oyster mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Rinse tofu and slice into quarter inch thick rectangles (or whatever shape you prefer-cubed is fine, too). Slice green chili  into thin ovals. Rinse paengi mushrooms and trim the bottoms.

In a small pot, bring stock to a simmer. Add turnip or potato first and cook until soft, about three minutes. Then add one tablespoon of doenjang and stir until it dissolves. Taste. At this point, I added a bit more–about a teaspoon. Then add zucchini and oyster mushrooms and cook for a minute more. Check the vegetables, which should be nice and tender. Ladle into bowls and garnish each with enoki mushrooms and sliced green chili.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I grew up in lots of homes, starting with a modest blue house in Northeast Minneapolis. I’ll call it Benjamin in the name of clarity here. When my parents divorced, my mom, my brother, and I moved in with my great-grandmother Nana. Her house itself wasn’t stately, but she had fancy furniture and expensive lamps, and as she got older and less lucid she grew less amused by our curiosity – especially when we used our hands. She made a killer red jello salad, and the recipe lives on today. We ate it with perogies for Easter yesterday, in fact, even though Nana never cooked Polish food, even though Nana was Polish.

When Nana died, we moved to an apartment in Roseville, and when our mom died, we went back to live with our dad, his basement renters, and a new nanny named Tasha with bleached blonde hair and a spanking new high school diploma. She was as underprepared as the rest of us, but she was honest and generous, and I liked her immediately. A year later we moved to southwestern Ohio to live with our aunt and uncle for two years. I spent a year with my sister and brother-in-law before it was back to good ol’ Benjamin. When I was a senior in high school and the house became too small for both my dad and I, a friend’s family had an empty bedroom waiting.

When I graduated from high school, I chose Florida. It was far and warm, and I was fancy free, never homesick. Once I had a choice, I didn’t stop moving. I lived with strangers who became friends, friends who became strangers, friends who remained friends. I learned how to cohabit and communicate differently than how we’d done it at home, where it was all notes and silence when it wasn’t shouting and slammed doors. Not exactly healthy, but certainly not without expression.

I’m back in Northeast Minneapolis while I’m home, and the neighborhood has evolved into this hip arty district with great food and lots of locally-owned shops. I want to hang out here more than anywhere while I’m home, when before the neighborhood gave me the creeps. My dad still lives in Benjamin, but he’s constantly renovating, so in his way, he’s still making change. I’m staying with his first wife, my siblings’ mother, where she’s lived since 1974 in a house they used to share before I was even a possibility. It’s not a conventional arrangement, but we’ve found a cadence, she and I, and it usually begins with the local paper and butter on toast. She mothers me with small gestures, things like emptying the garbage can in my bathroom, leaving the porch light on at night, and keeping the fridge stocked with soup. We blew the snow from her driveway a few weeks ago, me for the first time and she … for the hundredth? Today her lawn is all mustardy grass and slush, a patchwork of residual winter. She gives me free reign of her kitchen, and that feels like the offer of the year.

Time is, and always has been, a thing of significance and irrelevance at once. Last week when I looked at a calendar so that my dad and I could schedule dinner, I realized I’d been here for three weeks. After a year and a half away, three weeks felt like a blip. It felt like a gift, too.

Whenever I’m back in Minneapolis, it takes time to find a steady pulse and to be comfortable within such close proximity to family again. Sometimes I pass with flying colors. Sometimes I fall ass over teakettle. In a week, I can cook dinner with my brothers, have breakfast with my dad, go through old photos with my aunt, and have pizza and paint a room with my cousins. I can’t believe how grown-up and gorgeous the teenagers in my family have become. The young ones who weren’t talking when I left are more articulate than most adults. Vacationing back home is a refresher crash course in How To Be Around Family. It’s good, even when it’s fucking hard.

I have a car here, and after a week of commuting by bus and foot, I broke down and pulled it out of storage. A nanosecond later, I got a ticket for expired tabs, for which I stewed and cursed time, the car, and every other nonsensical source. When I went straight home and poached some pears, all was instantly well again. I’m not here consistently, so while I am, I try not to waste time, but sometimes I need space to recover. When I do, I hide out and read. Or drive alone with no radio. Or mix a simple drink with whatever we’ve got. At the end of Easter dinner last weekend, I made us a nightcap that we drank from coupes. It was pale pink and feminine and I was surprised when everyone wanted one. My brothers, built like football players, finished theirs first.

Grapefruit Daiquiri (makes 1)

2 ounces good white rum

1 ounce fresh red grapefruit juice

squeeze from half a lemon

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Pour over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into coupe glasses.

for the love of links : October

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Recently I’ve been in a bit of a hazy comedown from five days away in Jeju. What a gorgeous island. While I get some words together about the trip, here are a few links I found to be worth sharing. Have a great week!

Start cooking with anchovies with this iconic recipe. Perfect food for two. Perfect food for a crowd.

My friend Suzi inspires me to make my own almond milk.

French bees produce blue and green honey?

No-bake crumble for folks without an oven, like most of us in Seoul. Genius.

Freelance Whales via my new friend, Ji-Sun.

Love the idea of DIY Custom Camera Straps.

Currently reading this book, and I can barely put it down.

An Everlasting Piece of Pork Belly.

This cafe in Itaewon serves wine smoothies! It’s true.

for the love of links

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sheets of rain are soaking the streets, coaxing people to stay in bed longer today. I would be in Itaewon picking up a book for a new tutoring student, but on account of both the state of the atmosphere and my shoes, I decided to duck into a coffee shop closer to home. The sweet barista just plunked a bonus hot cup of rosehip tea next to my cappuccino. So far, it looks like the rain gods are playing a game of catch-up deliverance in the midst of an extremely hot and dry season. For that, I say bring it on.

I’m working on a recap of my trip to Taiwan with MJ. But until I get the photos together and something down on paper, I thought I’d post a few links of good things I’ve seen around the web recently. Have a wonderful week.

Great ideas for utilizing watermelon rind.

A frightening article on climate change.

MJ and I spent a day at a jimjilbang last weekend, where we were massaged, masked, lubed, and scrubbed of every last dead skin cell by nearly naked older women. It reminded me of this Moth podcast. There is nothing like traveling with your girlfriends.

Kimbra’s got talent, big time.

I can’t wait to finally check out this farmers market.

Make a Blood and Sand cocktail. How-to video here.

Currently reading this. And everywhere I go, I’m hearing this.

Hello in 15 languages.

Spicy lamb salad.

words to live by

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

“Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow will look after itself.”

-Anthony De Mello