real life test kitchen: korean soy bean paste stew

The other weekend, our friends Steve and Elizabeth took us on a culinary adventure to Edgewater, NJ, where a thriving Korean community lives. After stuffing ourselves with Bi Bim Bop and barbeque, we hit a large supermarket. It was filled with things I didn’t know how to use in my kitchen, but Steve persuaded me to buy a tube of Doenjang, or soybean paste. If you’ve ever had Korean barbeque, you’d recognize its flavor as that delicious stuff you spread on lettuce leaves that wrap around your seared meat. It is also the base for one of the most comforting, warming stews I’ve ever had, Doenjang Jjigae. I may not know how to pronounce it properly, but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out how to make it in my own home. Turns out it’s not so difficult. In fact, this bowl of love takes about 20 minutes to whip up — about as long as it takes to make the rice that goes with. I adapted this recipe from I didn’t have all the authentic ingredients, so I had to improvise a bit. For example, the broth is supposed to be made using dried anchovies, but I couldn’t find them locally. I just left them out and added a pinch of salt. Heresy? Probably, but to this non-traditionalist, the results were delicious. I may even make it for Steve the next time he visits us.

Almost Korean Doenjang Jjigae

What You Need:
2 cups of starchy rice water — see step 1 below. This is optional, but was easy to do.
2 pieces (3″ each) dried sea kelp (I used the kind you make sushi with.)
2 generous Tbsp Doenjang (soybean paste)
1/2 package (4 oz) extra firm tofu, cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 onion diced
1/2 zucchini diced
1 tsp red chili flakes (I didn’t have Korean so used what we had)
1 garlic clove chopped
1 green or red chili sliced (I used half of long frying chili pepper)
1/2 package mushrooms (I used shiitaki)
1 green onion sliced

How to Make
1. Make some rice starch water by rinsing a cup of rice once with water and drain. Add a 1/2 cup of water again, toss and swirl around the rice for 30 seconds. The water will get a little milky. Add 2 cups of water and swirl. Drain and save water in a bowl.
2. Cook the rice as usual.
3. Heat a heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Pour in the rice starch water and add the sea kelp. Bring to a boil and simmer and for 5 minutes. Remove kelp with a small strainer. It’s okay if some gets left behind.
4. Push the Doenjang paste through a strainer into the pot. Stir well. Add onion, zucchini, chili flakes and let them boil. Add tofu, garlic, chili and cook for 2 minutes.
5. Lastly add mushrooms and green onion. Simmer on low heat until the rice is done.
6. Remove the pot from heat and serve rice and hot sauce (optional).

From our partners

Oh I’m from that area! And I’m Korean :). Your jjigae looks delish! Another way you can make it is to leave out the kelp and anchovies and use meat instead, chopped into bite-size pieces. Pork belly is amazing in this, if you can find it.