I won't say this soup is authentic, but it did take inspiration from a Korean ramen-style bowl, while I improvised with ingredients already in my kitchen. It also nipped my craving for a healthy, spicy soup on a rainy day. You can see that there are no ramen noodles in the soup -- I had a package of udon noodles ready to use, but the soup was so densely packed with vegetables that I didn't see the need to add them. (Feel free to add them if you wish!)
I did include gochujang and kimchi, two traditional Korean ingredients that are essential to the flavor of this vibrant soup. Gochujang is a fermented soybean and chili pepper paste, which is available in Asian and specialty stores as well as the international section of well-stocked supermarkets. It's a murky, spicy and slightly sweet paste which adds umami-rich depth of flavor to any dish it graces -- think of it as robust miso with a kick of heat. Kimchi, as you may already know, is fermented cabbage and other vegetables such as daikon and scallions. It's like a Korean coleslaw that's boldly flavored with fish sauce, red pepper, ginger and garlic, which contribute heat and a fiery tint to the soup broth. Kimchi is also available in the refrigerator section of well-stocked supermarkets and health food stores.
Finally, shiitake mushrooms are an important addition to this soup, imparting their own deep umami flavor and sultry consistency to the broth. As for the remaining vegetables, I added sturdy kale and sweet carrots. You can improvise and substitute or add other ingredients such as broccoli, spinach and bok choy. If you would like to include udon or ramen noodles, cook them beforehand and add to the soup just before serving.
Kimchi Soup With Shiitakes, Tofu and Kale
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, trimmed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup coarsely chopped kimchi
2 tablespoons kimchi juice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon gochujang (fermented hot pepper paste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small bunch kale, tough ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
8 ounces soft tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a soup pot over medium. Add the mushrooms and cook until they soften, turn golden brown and begin to release their juices, stirring frequently. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot over medium heat and saute until the onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the carrot and saute until bright in color and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kimchi and kimchi juice and saute 1 minute, then add the stock, soy sauce, gochujang, sesame oil and sugar.
Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kale and continue to simmer until the kale wilts, about 2 more minutes, stirring frequently. Return the mushrooms to the soup, gently stir in the tofu, and simmer until just heated through.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the scallions and chili pepper.
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