Kimchi Soup (and my essential Asian pantry)

Kimchi Jigae

For some reason--the vitamin D, lighter evenings, more kimchi--things are looking up around here. In spite of the unrelenting, almost menacing rain, I'm finding it a little easier to face the day and even dare to dream about summer. Wyatt and Yancey both said to me today, "Don't get your hopes up! It might rain all summer." And then Wyatt quoted me back to me: "Peace ends where expectations begin." Damn that kid. I can't keep up with him. (And yes, Amity, I am totally stealing that awesome gem from you and your uncle. It's already helped me out of a lot of scrapes this week.)

These are the kinds of days when my whole body just wants to be warm. (I know I sound like I'm 80.) If I'm not drinking a hot beverage, I'm scheming about how to get a few minutes in the steam room at the YMCA, stay in bed longer, or make soup. Especially this soup. 

This is a classic Korean soup, and there are more complicated and caloric ways to make it. It's often made with pork belly (yum!), but the point for me is usually to have something quick and healthy. I can make it for myself in 10 minutes for a working lunch at home. It takes that long to make a sandwich, for gracious sake.

Of course, this would be impossible without my pantry. When Armageddon comes, feel free to hole up with us. We might have brown rice and kimchi for months on end, but we won't run out of food. If we're really desperate, we could probably live on Asian condiments for a week or two. 

Here's my dream (Westernized) Asian pantry. Sheepishly, I should admit that this dream is a reality most the time. Even though we've moved out of our Asian-Market-on-Every-Corner Seattle neighborhood, I have my ways: 

  • Sesame oil and sesame seeds (white and black)
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • Toasted seaweed sheets
  • Sriracha (hot sauce)
  • Sambal (hot sauce)
  • Furikake, a few different kinds (Japanese seasoning shakers, usually containing seaweed, sesame seeds, and dashi)
  • Miso paste
  • Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang)
  • Peanut or vegetable oil
  • Fresh ginger and garlic
  • Napa kimchi
  • White and brown rice
  • Rice noodles
  • Coconut milk
  • Red curry paste 
  • Limes
  • Peanuts

Most of these things keep indefinitely at room temp or in the fridge once opened. If you live in the Seattle area, H Mart in Lynnwood will make you lose your mind. They have an entire aisle of Korean hot paper paste, about 10 million kinds of fresh noodles (soba, udon, etc.), and their cooler of braising greens will make you cross-eyed. If you live in an area that doesn't have Asian markets, Cash and Carry is great for pantry items--a big bottle of sweet chili sauce, for instance, at a fraction of the price the "Asian" aisle at the grocery store will charge.

Wherever you are, I hope Spring is advancing. Tell that rascal not to skip over Bellingham.

Kimchi Jigae
Serves 2. Heat 1 Tb. peanut or vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan. Briefly saute 1 minced garlic clove. Add 2 c. coarsely chopped napa kimchi with its juice, 2 Tb. Korean hot pepper paste, 2 Tb. miso paste,  and 2 Tb. rice vinegar. Stir constantly and saute for another minute. Add 12 oz. softest tofu you can find and enough water to barely cover everything. Simmer for 10 minutes until warmed through. If you want to get fancy, you can add lots of fresh veggies--spinach, kale, or chard at the end, or finely sliced zucchini, cabbage, or julienned carrots at the beginning. Garnish with sliced green onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.