Coming to Korea three years ago to teach English, I was often asked the question, “what do you eat for breakfast?” (in many grammatically incorrect forms, I might add) by my students. Whenever I told them cereal, or toast, or an omelette, they would collectively gasp in amazement.
“Why, what do you have?” I would ask back.
“Rice and kimchi!” would be the reply. From every single student.
T o me, the combination at breakfast seemed sick and wrong. Who would eat rice for breakfast? Or spicy food? No, no, no. Never. I’ll stick with my cornflakes, thank you very much.
Fast forward in time, and I’m sitting at a breakfast table in a Korean household with my partner and his family, devouring every last bit of food that I can to set me up for the day. Suffice to say I like a little spice with my breakfast now.
To tie in with this week’s theme of breakfasts, I’ve decided to share a recipe for my favourite food that can be eaten either for breakfast, or as a side dish to accompany a more hearty dinner of Korean barbecue.
Sundubu jjigae is a soft tofu stew that is super easy to make and prepare, and will definitely kick-start your morning with its invigorating mix of spice and vegetables, not to mention give you a protein boost with the tofu – and it’s vegan and vegetarian friendly, too.
Some recipes call for baby clams to be included, but personally I don’t include them as I find they add very little to the taste in terms of flavour or food substance – there’s very little inside the shells, and they just take up space which could be occupied by tofu or veggies. The ingredients shouldn’t be too hard to find and, if you have an Asian supermarket handy, then you’re definitely good to go.
- Soft tofu (1 pack – about 300-375g) – leave in a bowl and sprinkle with salt whilst preparing the other ingredients
- Olive oil (1 tbsp.)
- Water (1⅓ cup)
- 1 large spring onion (stem thinly sliced diagonally)
- Young Asian pumpkin, thinly sliced (about 7-8 slices)*
- 1 green chilli pepper
- Garlic (3 small cloves finely chopped and crushed)
- Chilli powder (1 tbsp)
- Salt (a sprinkle)
- Black pepper (a sprinkle)
- Sesame oil (a dash)
- After preparing your ingredients (as indicated in the ingredients list), put your olive oil, garlic and chilli powder in a small pot. The pot I use for this dish measures about 15cm (6 inches) at the top. You can adjust the chilli powder accordingly – use less for less spice, or more if you like your food super spicy! As for the garlic – try not to use more than 3 cloves as the taste can overpower the rest of the dish.
- Stir the ingredients together, and after a minute or so, add your water and young pumpkin. If substituting with another vegetable (like onion or mushrooms), add that vegetable at this point.
- 30 seconds to 1 minute later, put your tofu in. Be careful not to put all the tofu in at the same time. Break it up and put it in individually, or your pot will overflow (believe me). Bring to the boil and leave for one minute.
- Add your chilli pepper, spring onion, sesame oil and black pepper. Bring to the boil and leave for one minute. Be careful with the sesame oil – only use a dash as, like the garlic, too much can be overpowering.
- Taste, and sprinkle with salt if so desired.
- Serve with a bowl of white rice (the liquid from the dish will soak right in to the rice) and, if you want to go all-out Korean, make sure you have some kimchi at the side, too!
Sundubu Jjidae (Soft Tofu Stew) – Photos by Tom Stockwell: