Although Korean cuisine is usually associated with meaty barbecue, that is an occasional treat in South Korea, not something that is consumed every day. Korean food is in fact healthy because it incorporates a multitude of vegetables, many of which are fermented (and therefore great for digestion) and served as kimchi or as the banchan side dishes essential to Korean meals.
Doenjang chigae (also spelled jigae) is a thick soup that’s chock-full of vegetables. This version takes less than 10 minutes to cook, plus a couple of hours to soak the dried mushrooms. You can start soaking the mushrooms in the morning, before leaving for work, so they’ll be ready when you get home.
This recipe serves one, but to serve more simply increase the quantities of the ingredients or serve the chigae as part of a meal, with other dishes, rice and banchan.
Vegetarian doenjang chigae
This hearty soup uses Korean fermented soybean paste, doenjang, which is pungent and strongly flavoured. In restaurants, doenjang chigae usually incorporates a small amount of meat and/or seafood, but it’s easy to make a vegetarian version. If you’re vegan, omit the egg.
I use several types of mushrooms in this dish for extra umami; you can add or substitute other varieties to the shimeji and enoki called for in the recipe. Yuksu bags are the Korean equivalent of Japanese dashi bags, which make a flavourful instant broth when infused in hot water. Use either the Korean or Japanese bags, but check the ingredients’ label to make sure there’s no seafood or meat listed. Vegetarian yuksu/dashi bags are usually made with dried kelp and mushrooms.
Korean zucchini has pale green, smooth skin, and a mild taste. If you can’t find it, use Italian yellow squash instead.
15 grams (½ oz) dried shiitake mushrooms (2-4, depending on size)
1 vegetarian yuksu or dashi bag
15ml (1 tbsp) sesame oil
50 grams (1 ¾ oz) onion
1 large garlic clove, peeled
125 grams (4 ½ oz) medium bean curd
½ a Korean zucchini, about 150 grams (5 1/3 oz)
50 grams (1 ¾ oz) shimeji mushrooms
50 grams (1 ¾ oz) enoki mushrooms
1 red or green banana chilli
½ tsp gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes), or to taste
50 grams (1 ¾ oz) doenjang
1 spring onion
Steamed Korean or Japanese rice
Banchan of choice
1 Rinse the dried shiitake mushrooms in cool water, then put them in a bowl and add 300ml (1 ¼ cup) of warm water. Leave to soak at room temperature for about two hours, until soft. Squeeze the water out of the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Remove and set aside the mushroom stems and thinly slice the caps.
2 Pour the soaking liquid into a small saucepan, add the reserved mushroom stems, then bring to the boil over a medium flame. Turn off the heat, add the yuksu or dashi bag and leave to infuse while preparing the other ingredients.
3 Mince the onion and slice the garlic. Cut the bean curd into bite-size cubes. Quarter the Korean zucchini lengthways, then slice it thinly. Trim off the woody lower part of the enoki mushroom stems. Break the enoki and shimeji mushrooms into small clumps. Slice the banana chilli on the diagonal into pieces about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick.
4 Over a medium-low flame, heat a pot (preferably a Korean stone pot) that holds about 750ml (3 cups) and add the sesame oil. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until the onion starts to soften, stirring frequently. Sprinkle the chilli flakes into the pot and stir constantly for about 30 seconds.
5 Remove the mushroom stems and yuksu/dashi bag from the soaking liquid and pour 250ml (1 cup) it into the pot, then add the doenjang. Bring to the boil, stirring often, making sure the doenjang is dissolved. Add the sliced shiitake mushroom caps, bean curd and zucchini and simmer until the squash starts to soften. Stir in the shimeji mushrooms and banana chilli and simmer for about two minutes. Add the enoki mushrooms and simmer until they start to soften.
6 Crack the egg into a small dish. Move the ingredients in the pot to the sides to create a deep crater and slide in the egg, making sure to not break the yolk. Simmer for a few minutes until the egg is softly set.