A Korean classic, Kimchi jjigae or kimchi stew is a spicy, complex, addictive dish that many Korean families will have at least once or twice a week. It’s common, in restaurants that serve it, to see patrons rapidly scarfing down the stew and calling out for more even as sweat streams off of their faces and into their bowls. And believe it or not, it’s no less popular in the summertime. In her article in Taste, Nara Shin meditates on the Korean obsession with eating hot and spicy soups when the weather is at its hottest; “Sip and swelter, feeling the body recalibrate its internal thermostat,” she writes—“Sweat with purpose.” While Shin’s actually talking about the Korean chicken soup samgyetang, the principle is exactly the same here. The Chinese medicine that is so deeply ingrained in Korean culture dictates that rather than feeling defeated by the oppressive heat of the summer, you should embrace it, become one with it to achieve balance. Shin continues that hot and spicy soup is believed to “invigorate the appetite, get the blood flowing, improve respiration, [and] reduce inflammation.” As Seoul resident Keumyoung Wie attests, “these hot soups are siwonhada,” which literally means “feels cool” but also carries the implication of being satisfying.
So I don’t feel that it’s all that strange that I should post this recipe for kimchi jjigae during the dog days of summer. It’s is one of my favorite ways to consume kimchi. The broth is umami-rich and spicy, and the texture of the tofu and kanikama (imitation crab) are light but satisfying, harmonizing with the mildly crunchy kimchi. It might make you sweat, but it’s worth it!
½ TBSP vegetable oil
1 ½ tsp sesame oil, plus more to top
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
About 16 oz kimchi, chopped
2 TBSP red pepper flakes (if you like it hot), plus more to top
6 cups umami-rich stock
Salt, to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 package soft tofu, cut into cubes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 package kanikama (fake crab), chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 scallions, chopped, plus more to top
1 tsp MSG (optional), to top
Heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat; add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is softened and semi-translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the kimchi, red pepper flakes, and stock; bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 7 minutes.
Add the salt, sugar, and soft tofu. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Turn the heat to low. Add the egg, stirring constantly to create long threads. Add the kanikama and scallions. Serve immediately, sprinkling with MSG if desired.