Cook up your own kimchi jjigae

By Whit Altizer

My Korean friend Lucy loves Korean soups. Watching her prepare to eat one is like watching a monk prepare for prayer.
She puts her face in the rising steam above the boiling hot soup, inhales slowly, and closes her eyes seemingly thanking the Korean gods for this bowl in front of her.

Then she begins to eat, slowly, methodically, purring with pleasure at each slurp. It is truly eating at its best. I use to smile, almost laugh, with amusement watching this ritual by this slender Korean female, but now I understand. Korean soups deserve such respect.

Now, two months removed from Korea, my wife and I do our own version of Lucy’s ritual over the kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) we fix at our North Carolina home. Gone, for now, are the days of ordering the delectable stew from a nearby diner.We must fend for ourselves. Slowly, we have come up with a recipe that is comparable to the stew we consumed almost nightly in Korea.You can fix it in the Land of the Morning Calm, or in your home country.


Here is how we do it:

1. Put about 2 cups of kimchi into a frying pan. Cook the kimchi by itself for about 5-10 minutes on medium. You don’t want to burn the kimchi but get it nice and hot. This allows some of the juices to be released from the cabbage.

2. Once you are satisfied with your kimchi, add water. I add enough water to cover the kimchi and then some so I have plenty of broth. Keep the stove on medium.

3. Add your other ingredients:
a. 1⁄2-1 pack of tofu
b. 1-2 stalks of green onions or scallions
c. 1-2 jalapenos
d. 1⁄2 an onion
e. 2 spoonfuls of gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
f. 2 spoonfuls of gochujang (red pepper paste)
g. Several dashes of soy sauce, enough to taste.
h. 2 cloves of garlic
i. I add 1 1⁄2 cups of tuna in oil making it Chamchi Jigae (참치 찌개 or Kimchi Jigae with tuna). But you can also add pork belly chunks.

4. Let it slowly come to a boil. Then serve.
Honestly, I add ingredients based on the taste I am going for. Not spicy enough? Add more gochugaru and gochujang. Too spicy? Add more water. You want a deep red broth for authentic kimchi jjigae.Also, don’t forget to steam some rice and find some bite-sized gim(seaweed paper) to wrap the rice and dip in your stew.

When everything is in place on your dinner table, put your face over the soup, inhale, give thanks and purr with each slurp of delicious stew.