Soybean Paste Soup (Korean variation 1, with sprouts)
by Phillip Koh
I grew up in a Korean household as a little kid in Seoul Korea where Kongnamul gook (Soybean sprout soup) is very prevalent and popular all around. Because it was so popular, the economy behind the sprouts were robust and now I understand why. – it’s cheap and healthy and tasty for the consumers like us, and it’s super easy for the growers to grow and sell. I have laid out how I grow them easily in just a few days in my blog Growing Sprouts at Home the Easy Way. Instead of Korean soybean sprouts which are harder to find, I have been growing mungbean sprouts and use them instead. I used them in this soup too, which is essentially a hybrid of kongnamulgook which is a traditional clear soup in korea, and duenjang gook / jigae or soybean paste soup, which is more dense in body and pungent and strong tasting soup so this is in the middle of the road. I also added a bit of sour kimchi, which was store bought and getting old (thus sour, which isn’t considered going bad really, but it’s the perfect (last) stage for it to be used in soup or other dishes/cooking because it gives a lot of deep kimchi flavor and infuses to the soup or other dishes) I used traditional korean soup broth method with dried anchovies (in metal tea strainer enclosure that I use, which I hand processed by taking out the main entrails part which is black in color and easy to feel out and remove, and using the head back in the strainer along with the body for the broth making – you also may use instead something like the empty bags very similar to regular closed teabags, I bought some at the Korean market I haven’t used them yet) and dried kelp, and I extracted flavors from the locally caught Mayport shrimp with shell on, which I bought from a local fish merchant that explained to me the shrimp I was buying was only pulled into dock (from the local ocean water and boat) 2-3 hours ago. It was hard to post this because I usually never use a set recipe for my soybean paste / sprout soup, which I have been making regularly for the last few months and getting used to and in the process of perfecting my recipe still. I think I got it though, and I will make an honest attempt to explain how to make this or a soup very similar without giving you exact measurements.
4-6 cups of water, depending on how strong / dense you want your soup to be. if you go the lower end like 3 or 4 cups, go easy on the soybean paste and stick with 1/4 cup or 1/8 cup if you try 1/4 and that was too strong for you.
10 oz or 300 grams of mungbean sprouts (homegrown or store bought. korean soybean bean sprouts as substitute which is great in flavor but are not nearly as available to find seeds to grow at home)
4-6 dried LARGE anchovies (buy this at a Korean supermarket or online if available) hand processed – they are small, about size of pinky finger or smaller usually, take off the head from the body, semi-split (or totally split) the body near the stomach area and remove and discard the black entrails/stomach area, you may use the head for broth as well.
dried kelp (korean supermarket or online) use palm sized full or half that size.
1-2 cups of medium / standard strength bonebroth (I used my own homemade, I’ll post a blog about it in the future) store bought or homemade. you may freely substitute this with any type of other meat or seafood based stock as desired/preferred, or skip stock if you want it clearer/lighter or simply don’t have any laying around. I love bonebroth because they have immense nutritional value to them and very nourishing to the body.
1/4 cup (or more) of korean soybean paste (you can buy them at korean store or online)
1 tablespoon (or 2 if you like it spicy like me) korean red pepper powder/ flakes (It’s really a course but pretty fine red powder, not flakes (although sometimes it may be labled as red pepper flakes) like the american red pepper flakes you typically use for pizzas) if you don’t have access to korean one, buy a mild to medium spicy type of pepper flakes/powder, as korean red peppers are actually pretty mild compared to other spicer versions such as jalepenos or thai chilis or cayenne.
1/2 to 1 pound of non-cooked, shell-on shrimp (optional: shell off shrimp) use a sharp knife and take off the legs, end of the tail, and all the really sharp edges in the front and on top and the antenna, be sure to cut off/ trim them using SHARP knife and precision, use cut resistant gloves like I do if you don’t feel confident in it. but it’s not that hard, I just created this method a couple nights ago LOL took me just a moment or two to trim them off so they prevent having undesirable things floating around the soup. it’s important to use shell on shrimp if the ingredients are fresh and/or high quality, and yes in my case it was both 😉 but don’t be deterred if you don’t, just use whatever shrimp you have, as long as they are freshs, or freshly frozen (and maintained well and cleanly in the freezer)
alternative/subtitute for shrimp: you can substitute this with frozen (or fresh) calamari or fresh or freshly frozen clam or mussels even.
Tofu : buy a standard pack of firm or extra firm Tofu and use half the pack and save the other half for later in cold water submerged completely and in the fridge.
1/2 or more of zucchini, chopped roughly
fresh onion: I used a whole one, chopped it roughly and dunked them all in.
potatoes: I used delicious American Idaho (Russet Burbank?) potatoes, a couple of medium to smaller sized potatoes, if you are not so hungry you may want to skip potatoes or just add one instead of more because it’ll add body to the soup for sure. you may or may not need to peel it, I peeled mine but you can just scrub it clean and cut them into rough manageable cubes.
salt to taste : start with 1-2 tablespoon, and as the cooking goes on , after at least 15 minutes of cooking has passed in the pot and water have evaporated enough and ingredients well soaked and cooking add half a teasoon or a teaspoon at a time and taste it each time after stirring it, until it suits your tastebuds.
4-6 cloves of fresh garlic, pressed (as I usually do, using a manual hand garlic press, which I recommend for your kitchen in general) or finely chopped or crushed.
mushroom – I used shitake and other korean mushroom normally, but you can use any type of mushroom, even canned ones I use canned ones sometimes when I don’t have fresh ones. you can use anywhere between 3-5 caps depending on the size of the mushroom
sausage : use mild but high quality / kosher sausage like Nathan’s hotdogs or Sabrett if in doubt. or you can use the American southern style sausages too as long as they are mild and not too dense.
spinach you can use a handful of spinach if you have it, I add these when I have them they are amazing in soybean paste based soups.
kimchi – highly recommended. just use a desired amount, but don’t be afraid to grab a handful of kimchi and put them in the mix, as well as a couple spoonfuls of the kimchi juice in the jar/container. Kimchi will add the type of layer/ complexity that when you taste it or later down the road you may come to appreciate like i do. But adding kimchi is only optional, in some ways keeping it purely soybean paste is good too, and some may prefer that. so try adding kimchi if you know you like kimchi or if it sounds great to you, otherwise try without the kimchi, and add it later if you want the combination of flavors.
fresh ginger: chop it very finely, or I assume you can press it through the manual garlic press. fresh ginger will add tons of flavor, but this isn’t for the novice so proceed cautiously… use maybe a couple of teaspoons of worth of ginger to start out with and increase it as you see fit / as desired.
sesame oil – for finishing touch
add water to the pot with lid, bring it to boil.
put the hand-processed/cleaned dried anchovies in metal straining ball/device or a teabag type of enclosure, plus the piece of dried kelp in the boiling water. both of these will be taken out and discarded toward the end of the cooking.
if there are frozen ingredients (in my case my fresh shrimp was frozen right as I got home, and I portioned them out and deep freezed most of them) i would put them in as soon as the water start boiling. also you may add the bonebroth or any meat based stock (or I imagine fish stock as well if you happen to use them) so if you add 2 cups of broth i’d subtract (beforehand in measuring) corresponding amount of water, not necessarily in exact same portion but you could.
If you did put in frozen shrimp or calamari or whatever ingredients, give it a high heat boost (or higher heat) until and only until it boils again.
once water is boiling again and frozen ingredients are thawed completely and now actively cooking in the broth, Then the rest of the veggies can go in, like sprouts(optional but very highly recommended) zucchini, onions, garlic, ginger(optional), black pepper, etc. you can add tofu here or you can put the tofu closer toward the end of the cooking if you like your tofu to taste pretty fresh and unadulterated and don’t want it saturated with the stronger soup taste too much. Bring it to full boil again after all the veggies and/or tofu are in, then lower heat to low to low-medium and simmer, put lid on and cook it that way for the remainder of 20-25 minutes. you can even slow cook it for about half an hour which I did in this case, its up to you (and up to the size of the potatoes if you don’t want it mushy like you shouldn’t, so just watch the potato cubes and taste one or two if you think they are getting closer to being cooked). Once the whole hodge-podge has been boiling for at least 20 minutes since it started to boil, add salt to taste, (or spread out the salting into different points of cooking if preferred/deem necessary) taste it a few times until just about right. Add korean red pepper (coarse) powder/flakes to taste and stir briefly to mix them in. watch the the potatoes and cook it enough but not overcooked to a point where it is getting too soft. I think it’s important to keep the potato slightly in the firm side at the time of the cutoff of the heat especially since it’ll keep cooking in broth for sometime after you stop the heat on the stove. and after it cooks long enough then you have put salt in you taste the soup and it taste salty enough or flavorful enough at that point (toward the end of the cooking) and you have cooked everything together for at least 20 to 25 minutes since broth started boiling, you are good to turn off the heat and serve. Be sure to remove the metal or mesh infuser with dried anchovies in it still and discard the fish bits from the infuser container (or discard the whole infuser unit into the trash if you are using disposable bags of course)
Turn off the heat remove the pot from the heat source, and add a quick dash of sesame oil to the soup, and give it a quick stir. if you are not sure about what a dash would mean in terms of amount, just use about a teaspoon of sesame oil. it will quickly add a lot of flavor so just go easy on it (sesame oil is powerful stuff but i love it!)
the recipe isn’t rocket science and it’s more of a creative concoction loosely based on Korean traditional cooking than anything. Important to remember is that you will need to get korean soybean paste to get this flavor, thats the most important thing. and second important thing is to get the korean style dried anchovies from korean store or online if available. third important thing is to get the dried kelp. the anchovies and kelp are the base of traditional korean soups appears to be base of a lot of them. and the soybean paste is one of the most sought after or popular and pervasive type of soup / flavor by both the older generation and the new. Sprouts isn’t a requirement but it’s important part of this particular concoction, as growing and eating sprouts have quickly become a regular habit and more than that, a regular means of healthy sustenance.
Try it sometime, if you are curious enough. note that you can skip the sprouts but it will definitely taste different (and somewhat less desirable) if you don’t use the superfood that is fresh mungbean (or soybean) sprouts in the soup. If you don’t have sprouts from the korean or asian store or haven’t grown them yourself then just skip it and replace them with optional items like cabbage (chinese/asian cabbage or american/western types, I have used either types before and both are fine) This makes for a very healthy and satisfying meal that will provide plenty of energy and awesome nutrition for well being. A trip to the Korean grocery should do the trick, but with certain things like soybean paste and a couple of other regular longer term storage ingredients purchased online and kept around the fridge or pantry, you’d be surprised how easily you can pull this at home anytime!
until the next Blog,