Spicy Korean Soup on a Cold Winter’s Night? (aka the “Riff on Sundubu” Post)

Why should big, bold, beautiful flavors be complicated? The answer is — they don’t have to be. In this simple soup recipe, inspired by sundubu jjigae, a traditional spicy Korean soup made with tofu and kimchi, a few authentic ingredients do the heavy lifting.

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The key to this recipe, which comes together quickly, is to prep all vegetables in advance of cooking. Additionally, homemade stock adds complexity and deliciousness. Choice of add-ins means that this soup can be vegetarian — or not. We used leftover braised leg of lamb and it was absolutely delicious.

Spicy Korean Soup (aka Sundubu)
Serves 4

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili pepper, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 T anchovy paste
6 c. homemade stock (chicken, pork or veg.)
2 T Korean hot pepper paste (also known as kochujang or gochujang)
8 oz kale, chiffonaded
Salt and pepper to taste (alternatively, soy sauce and pepper)

Suggested add-ins: 
Soft or silken tofu, cubed
Kimchee (to taste)
Shredded chicken, pork, or leftover braised leg of lamb — at room temp
Glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles or bean thread noodles)

Optional toppings: 
Thinly sliced Serrano peppers
Sliced scallions
Toasted sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes

Directions: Sauté garlic, serrano pepper and onion in 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stock pot for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant; add anchovy paste and stir until combined. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook until beginning to soften, approx. 5-7 minutes. Add stock, cover and and bring soup to a simmer; stir in Korean hot pepper paste until combined and add kale. Cover and simmer until kale is wilted, approx. 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prep soup bowls with add-ins of choice. Once soup is ready, ladle soup into bowls and add toppings (optional). Enjoy!

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Saturday: Nearly Made It to the Korean Festival (aka the “Cheap Sake Discovery” Post)

Grand plans of gorging at the city’s annual Korean Festival were slightly foiled by the sudden, motivation-sapping (and nap-inducing) downpour — well, that, plus the fact that I thought we had until 9 p.m. to get out there and sample the goods. Instead, vendors in packing-up mode at 5:30 pm, and the couple that were still selling food, well … the food just looked like it should be the last stuff standing.

IMG_0538photoAnd I’d been so looking forward to sampling small tastes, some kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) here, a grilled meat skewer there, some tteokbokki elsewhere.

photo-1Thankfully, Woorijip, that old K-Town standby, was not only open, but seriously bustling at 6pm on a Saturday night.

The hot food buffet, as always, was a treasure trove of Korean comfort-food fare: I wound up with a plate that included everything I’d been looking forward to sampling, and then some.

One of the great discoveries of the night, however, was the 180 ml bottles of “the finest Japanese Sake Gekkeikan,” which retailed for $4.95 and came in a plump, screw-top bottle — with your own sake cup. As far as cheap sake goes, this one is a winner. Smooth and mild, lightly floral, the sake has none of the harshness otherwise associated with cheap sake. And the price can’t be beat — draft pints often cost more in this city.

“Foiled” might have been too harsh a term. The plan wasn’t foiled, more like, successfully revised.

Lunch: Riot of Color at Green Symphony (Good-for-You Food In Midtown Alert!)

I am a little overwhelmed. Korean-style chicken and organic kale salad? Hawaiian-style turkey meatballs and potato samosas? All at the same hot/cold buffet, for only $7/lb? 

photoGreen Symphony, I am so glad I found you. (And all it took was a little desperation.)

Having reached threshold for the paltry healthful food options in Midtown southwest, I decided to open my search in a direction I haven’t really explored yet: North of 42nd Street.

To venture that way from the mid-30s is no joke. The Port Authority and the New York Times building/adjacent construction — which collectively sprawl over several blocks of Eighth Avenue — create a formidable passageway that is both heavily-trafficked, virtually devoid of comforts, and turns you out on the fringes of Times Square. Bleh.

photo(2)But Green Symphony is worth every jostle, every unpleasantness. In part because once you get through those doors, this modest little spot feels worlds away from that mess outside. Sunny, cozy, every nook used purposefully, serving fresh fruit smoothies, healthy sandwiches, some interesting hot Korean entree options and the aforementioned hot/cold buffet, Symphony Green may as well be in the East Village … or San Francisco. (Which makes me all the more grateful for its presence.)

photo(3)On my first, of what is sure to be many, visits, I had to go for the buffet, which had probably about eight hot-food options and about twice as many cold-food options. When eating at a buffet, I try to pick foods that are harmonious, which means I skipped the Mediterranean items and the creamy salad options in favor of light, fresh — and with a kick. Just look at this riot of color!

We have, clockwise from top right:

Soybean sprout salad (sprouts mixed in a tamarind sauce). A little acute in flavor, very acidic. But plays well off stickier, denser flavors, such as the chicken.

Caribbean style cole slaw (red cabbage, mango, onion, raisins, sherry vinegar and umeboshi vinegar). Sweet and refreshing. So much better than its oft-wronged American counterpart.

photo(5)Korean-style chicken (on top of organic brown rice). Chicken legs baked in a heavy Korean-style barbecue sauce. I loved how the rice soaked it up.

Organic kale salad (sesame oil, ginger, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds). So refreshing, with the ginger, sesame oil and lemon flavors … because sometimes all a girl wants is a serving of kale.

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Dinner: Monday, April 27, 2009

Think: Thai lettuce wraps. But with gorgeous, misshapen, market-fresh spinach leaves.

photo-118photo-213And a first-class egg salad (brown hard-boiled eggs, dill, red onion, organic mayonnaise, Gulden’s spicy brown mustard) in the place of some “Asian-inspired” chicken, pork or tofu mixture.

And some pickled vegetables, namely the end of a jar of Sunja’s medium spicy radish kimchee and a couple of Ba-Tempte bread & butter sweet pickle chips — both of which are so, so tasty — in the place of mung bean sprouts.

photo65So really, nothing like Thai lettuce wraps at all, except for the some-assembly-required nature of the meal. Light and delicious, a perfect, simple meal on this unseasonably warm spring night. 

COST: >$5
PREP TIME: Meandering wander home, via USQ greenmarket and Whole Foods