Spicy beef stew with soft tofu
Updated: Aug 10
What is your favorite dish to order at a Korean restaurant? Last month, I visited one in New York and it took me by surprise how crowded the place was on a weekday evening. This restaurant is known for its spicy tofu soup and most customers, who were not Koreans, were ordering this dish. Given this impressive popularity, it occurred to me that many people would be interested in learning how to make this dish at home.
This soup (순두부 찌개) is a spicy beef stew that is flavored with vegetables and textured by soft tofu. It boasts bold flavors despite its delicate texture from tofu. Tofu creates this amazingly creamy texture of this soup without adding any fat while enriching it with plant-based proteins from soybeans.
If you have enjoyed this dish at a Korean restaurant, try this easy recipe at home. You will appreciate this hearty soup that beats subzero weather!
Ingredients for 4 servings
A small piece of Kombu (washed under running water and cut into pieces)
A clove of garlic (thinly sliced)
Ginger powder (1/2 tsp)
Six root tips of green onions
Small cubes of oven roast beef (100 g)
A small potato (sliced in a half moon shape)
Half a zucchini (sliced in a half moon shape)
A Shtake mushroom soaked in water and sliced thinly.
Four wood ear mushrooms soaked in water.
Salt (2 tsp)
2 tsp of Korean red pepper powder. It is important to use coarsely ground red pepper for this soup. Please see the picture below for an example. You can keep it in the refrigerator for a long time.
0.5 tsp of fermented soy sauce. My favorite is Sempio naturally brewed soy sauce (see its picture below). Fermented soy sauce has layers of deep flavors that chemically produced soy sauce (most soy sauce belong to this category) does not have. Please make sure to read the label before purchasing a bottle of soy sauce. Do you worry about its shelf-life? Because it is too salty, microbes cannot grow in it. I keep it on the shelf for over a year.
A quarter of an onion (sliced)
Soft tofu cut into cubes (12 oz)
Green onions (chopped)
Of note, you can buy Kombu, dried Shtake mushrooms, dried wood ear mushrooms, tofu, and soy sauce at Asian or Korean grocery markets.
Fill a small 2.5 QT saucepan with water until it reaches a half way to its top. Add a couple of small bite-sized Kombu pieces to water and bring the water to the boil over high heat.
Once the water starts to boil vigorously, add the beef cubes to the soup. The surface of beef cubes will become cooked immediately, which locks their juice inside. This is how I "sear" meat in a boiling water, which keeps the slow-cooked meat tender in a stew. Once all the beef cubes are in the soup, reduce the heat to low so that amino acids (a main source of the umami flavor) will be slowly released to the stew.
Toss in garlic, ginger, and tips of green onions to the soup, cover, and simmer it for at least 45 minutes. These ingredients will make this soup irresistably fragrant.
45 minutes later, add potatoes, zucchinis, and Shitake mushrooms to the soup. Now it is time to season the soup with salt, soy sauce, and red pepper. It is important to salt the soup after the beet cubes beome tender. Otherwise, you will end up with a tough meat as the added salt draws the juice out of the meat due to osmosis.
While cooking these vegetables, cut a pack of soft tofu into small cubes. If you have never done it before, you may find this task challenging. Don't worry. You just need some tips. First prick an edge of the tofu package cover with your knife to peel it off. Then, place the open tofu package upside down on a cuttting board. Tap the bottom of the tofu package, which now faces the ceiling, until the tofu block comes out of its package. Cut the tofu block into cubes by running your knife both horizontally and vertically. Move the cutting board close to the pan and gently drop the tofu cubes into the soup in batches so that you won't get splashes of hot soup.
Add onions and wood ear mushrooms to the soup and let it boil again. Check the final taste of the soup and add more salt and/or red pepper powder if necessary. Once the soup boils, add green onions and remove the pot from the heat. Your spicy tofu soup is now ready!
You can serve this soup with a bowl of rice and other side dishes. Seafood (shrimps, mussels, clams) can replace the beef cubes as a souce for the umami flavor of this soup and be added to the soup together with tofu toward the end of cooking.
What other ingredients would you add to this soup? Please share your ideas and pictures of your spicy tofu soup.
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