Hurricane Irene came and went. It felt so bizzare to think such a strong hurricane would come through New York, I wondered if this is something similar to how Californians feel about snow. The scene outside of my window looked just like the usual heavy rain from other days, if not for so many damage scenes of New York on TV. By 10 this morning, heavy rain turned into light drizzle, then no rain at all in my neighborhood. It’s still quite gray and wet outside with strong wind, but I am grateful for no disruption in electricity and water, and more importantly, relatively little damage to the city.
Learning that the worst has passed, I started craving for the usual rainy day comfort food for lunch. I didn’t have much in the refrigerator since I was away for a few days and didn’t have time to stock up on food (which just means I have enough to feed myself for days). Based on the ingredients I had on hand, I opted for a simple version of kimchi jjigae (찌개; stew).
Kimchi jjigae is known as a no-fail food, because you rely on kimchi for so much of its flavor . Even the simplest cabbage kimchi is already mixed in the seasoning of perfection, with gochugaru (고추가루; red pepper powder), fish sauce, onion, garlic, ginger, and various other ingredients depending on your family recipe or your favorite brand. Plus, usually the kimchi used for jjigae is very tart, tart enough that it’s considered past its prime as a side dish. At this point, kimchi and its seasoning have become strong enough that not much additional seasoning is necessary to turn it into a deep, hearty stew within minutes. I can only imagine kimchi jjigae making more frequent appearances on my dinner table as the days get colder.
The laziest form of kimchi jjigae is just boiling kimchi, whatever kimchi juice you can squeeze out from the kimchi jar, and water to make it soupy enough.
What I made is not too far from it, but an extra step of sautéing kimchi, onion and potato pieces with sesame oil helps bring out the rich flavors in stew without adding pork, which is a common, and usually an important ingredient in kimchi jjigae.
<Sautéing kimchi, onion and potatoes. Ready for stock!>
To make Simple Kimchi Jjigae for two)
1 C ripe, tart Napa cabbage kimchi, cut to bite-size
1 C onion (about 1 small onion), peeled and cut to bite-size dice
1 TBSP + 1 ts sesame oil
1 medium-size potato, peeled and cut to bite-size
1 1/2 C any kind of stock (I used beef stock) or water
1/2 block firm tofu (about 9 oz.), cut to bite-size cubes
2-3 stems scallions or garlic chives, chopped
Optional seasoning ingredients: kimchi juice (water generated from cabbage as it turns into tangy kimchi) for stronger seasoning all around, gochugaru (고추가루; red pepper flakes) for extra heat, soup soy sauce (국간장; guk gan jang, lighter-colored, saltier soy sauce specifically for seasoning soups and stews) or regular soy sauce for added saltiness and sugar for balancing sweetness.
Put sauté kimchi and onion in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a pot over high heat. When the onion pieces turn translucent and the kimchi turns opaque, mix in the potato pieces. Sauté for another minute or so, until the kimchi seasoning starts sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Add stock. Cover and bring up to a boil over high heat. When it comes to a boil, gently add in tofu cubes. Bring up to a boil again then let it simmer until potatoes are completely cooked.
Adjust seasoning to your taste. Remove from heat.
Right before serving, mix in 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and add scallions. Serve with rice.
Variations – Of course the most popular version of kimchi jjigae is to start with pork, to cook vegetables in the flavorful pork fat and have some meaty bites in the jjigae as well.
Another version is chamchi (참치; tuna) kimchi jjigae, in which a canned tuna - with its juice and oil and all – is added and boiled together. Chamchi and kimchi are a surprising match made in heaven.
Other popular additions include glass noodles (당면; dang myeon), soaked for 30 minutes, added after stock comes to a boil and cooked thoroughly. You will need to add more stock or water since glass noodles soak up quite a bit of water. Flat oval rice cakes used for tteokguk (떡국; rice cake soup) can be added for soft chewy bites. Spam, in replacement of pork, is also a popular addition.
Not in the majority, but some also add a small amount of gochujang (고추장; red pepper paste), doenjang (된장; bean paste), even butter. I found this mouthwatering recipe of kimchi jjigae from Marc of norecipes, which I think you’ll also enjoy.
Make Ahead – Stews and soups often taste better the next day, and kimchi jjigae also benefits from some time to rest. While it can be a very quick recipe, you can also make it a couple of hours ahead except the sesame oil and scallion garnish at the end, which can be added right before serving after re-heating the jjigae.
By the way, here is a shot of my clueless preparation for Hurricane Irene. I took some pictures of the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, when people were still out and about but stores were already closed, creating this eerie feeling of not knowing exactly what’s coming. Anyway, I saw some storefronts with taped windows, so I figured it couldn’t hurt for my windows.
I plan to thoroughly enjoy the rest of this uneventful Sunday evening, eating the leftover kimchi jjigae from lunch and catching up on my blog posts.
potato 감자 (gam ja)
tofu 두부 (du bu)