Stews are big in Korean food. They are usually hearty but not thick, made to be mixed with heaping spoonfuls of rices, and served still boiling. They are often served in individual sized pots that go straight from the stove to the table. Usually featured towards the end of the meal, soups and stews aren't sides or starters, they act as the closer to a full and proper Korean dinner.
Soon Tofu felt like a big cross over food growing up Orange County. Korean BBQ had always been popular but in the late nineties I noticed restaurants selling this dish exclusively crop up all over Los Angeles and Southern California. It was an improbable business model, a restaurant that sold only one kind of soup with your choice of meat. Nevertheless the concept stuck and it's probably one of the most recognizable Korean dishes in the United States.
Soon Tofu Jji Geh is simple and adaptable. There's no one way to cook this dish. Each family has their method. Each cook has their opinions on red pepper paste vs red pepper powder or both. In my mind, two things are essential in this stew: a raw egg and good, extra soft tofu. "Soon" means "extra soft", so no other tofu will do. Here's my recipe, but feel free to experiment. In truth, I never really measure when I make this recipe. It's a good catch-all for the ends of vegetables and your last bit of meat.
Soon Tofu Jji Geh
3 tsp sesame oil
3 tsp sugar
12 oz water
6 oz kimchi, chopped (use your riper and more fermented kimchi for this)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 3-4" piece of kombu
1 1/2 tbsp red pepper paste
1 tbsp dried red pepper flake
6-8 oz extra soft tofu
3-4 oz cubed stew beef (you can also substitute for pork or use mushrooms to make vegetarian)
salt for seasoning
Soon Tofu Jji Geh is usually made from beginning to end in it's own pot that doubles as a serving vessel. We sell them here. If you don't have a stew pot you can use any medium sized pot.
1. Soften the onions and garlic in sesame oil over medium-low heat.
2. When the onions have gone translucent, add your beef and increase heat to medium to brown your meat.
3. Add kimchi and lower heat slightly. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned meat bits at the bottom of the pan. When the kimchi has gone limp and most of the liquid has evaporated add the water, kombu, red pepper paste, dried red pepper powder, and sugar.
4. Bring to boil and add tofu. Cover and let boil for another 3-5 minutes.
5. Salt to taste. Take off heat and crack a raw egg in your soup. Don't stir the egg immediately and let it cook in the soup's heat.
6. Serve with rice