Spicy Dwenjang Guk (Korean Miso Soup)

Unlike So Cal, Korea has seasons. For this transplanted So Cal Korean gal, Korean Spring is mostly lovely, Summer feels hot as Hell and humid as the Deep South, Autumn is beautiful but beyond brisk, and Winter is snowy and COLD.

Having a bowl of piping hot soup with rice inside and kimchi on the side as a quick and easy meal is typical during those cold months.

There are some elaborate soups and stews that take quite a bit more work to make, but Dwenjang Guk (DWENjahng GOOHK) - dwenjang meaning Korean style miso and guk meaning soup - is a super simple and basic recipe to which some kind of greens (usually spinach and or some kind of cruciferous greens) are usually added, and sometimes tofu and/or meat as well.

On the day I took these pictures, I added some extruded greens - Napa Cabbage and turnip - as well as very finely julienned leek tops (this is a great way to use them up other than stock because the very thin pieces get slow cooked to tenderness). Extruding excess liquid from greens with salt and then squeezing it out is a common preservation technique in Korean cuisine borne of necessity due to cold seasons. 

But the resulting intensified flavor and more toothy texture has become an acquired taste in the cuisine such that those of us who don't have to preserve the greens for winter still do it even if we don't have to.

The process is simple enough - you just wash the greens, sprinkle them with salt, and let them sit for a couple of hours, tossing them 2 or 3 times during the process, letting the salt draw the moisture from them. After they've released the excess liquid, just give them a good swish in a big bowl full of clean water, and squeeeeeeeze all that liquid out. You can then freeze the greens for future use, or refrigerate them for 2 to 3 weeks before using.

This works best with leafy green veg like Napa cabbage (specially the outer leaves), bok choy, kale, collards, turnip and radish greens (and probably several more that I can't think of at the moment).

If you do use them this way, remember that you'll need less of the salt element in seasoning your soup.

The recipe I'm going to share with you is super basic and easily adaptable.

Spicy Dwenjang Guk
Serves 4 to 6 (easily halved)
Time: About 75 minutes, most of it inactive.

- 5 cups unsalted stock (chicken, pork, beef, turkey and veg all work fine)
- 5 cups water
- 1/2 an onion, cut into thirds
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1/4 cup dwenjang (or miso if you don't have dwenjang, but dwenjang is usually much more pungent)
- 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 cup gochujang (Korean chili paste), depending on how hot you like things
- 2 teaspoons sugar (to round out the flavors and the salt from the pastes)
- salt and/or fish sauce if needed to adjust the seasoning
- 8 cups of leafy green veg, fresh or extruded (it'll look like a lot, but it will reduce quite a bit after cooking)
- 1 or 2 fresh jalapeños or serranos if you like a little extra heat and chili flavor (optional)

Optional if you'd like protein (you can do one or the other, or half of each):

- 1 pound pork shoulder or beef stew meat cut into 1-inch cubes (optional, but it helps to have a little protein if you're going to make a meal of it)


- 1 package of medium or firm tofu (usually 12 to 14 ounces), drained and cut into 1-inch cubes

1) Put the stock, water, onion, garlic, dwenjang, gochujang, sugar, meat and any extruded veg into a large pot (fresh veg goes in later). Bring to a boil, covered, over medium high heat (should take 15 minutes or so).

2) Once it's come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low and simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes before adding any fresh veg and tofu.

3) Simmer another 10 minutes or so, then adjust the seasoning for salt. If you've added fresh veg and/or tofu, you will almost certainly need to adjust for the water they will release into the soup.

4) Simmer another 15 minutes with the lid askew, adjust seasoning one last time if needed, and that's it!

If you want to have it with rice, you'll want to put the rice on when you leave the soup to simmer the first time.

Always deliciouser with some slightly ripe kimchi on the side. My recipe for kimchi here.





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