It’s been some winter so far. Not content to bury us under successive blankets of snow, the heavens punished us yesterday for some undisclosed sin we’ve collectively committed by raining shards of ice on our heads. Knowing icy vengeance was coming our way, I made a pot of, well, I’m still not sure what to call this soup. It’s very, very loosely based on yuk gae jang, a mind-blowingly spicy Korean beef soup. It was a favorite of mine in my 20s, but the beef was always just a little too chewy for my taste, so I started tinkering with meatless versions sometime in my 30s and landed on this one in my 40s.
So you could say it’s been a long time coming. I’m not done with it yet, but it’s a dish that obviously can handle a fair amount of tweaking.
The secret ingredient in this bowl of bliss is gochujang, a fermented condiment heavy on the red pepper. Looking for an expiration date on the jar that’s been in my refrigerator for a couple of years (at least), I noticed a prominent ingredient was wheat, which I’m really avoiding in earnest these days. So I did what I always do — looked online for a gluten-free recipe, and found one right away. The ingredients were few, the time commitment was minimal and the rewards were great (it’s possibly more delicious than commercial-grade). I really can’t complain. Even though my Korean chili pepper was a little out of date and the gochujang wasn’t Insanity Pepper-hot, it still lit up the pot of soup like a torch.
As insurance against the weather, I added a hefty dash of chili flakes to the pot. You can see them swimming alone around the edges of the bowl, as if the vegetables were crowding together in the center for protection.
recipe after the jump
Spicy Mushroom Soup with Gochujang
I much prefer this soup with a rich beef or even chicken stock, but feel free to use vegetarian if you like. I’d suggest adding reconstituted dried porcinis to the mushroom mix (and the soaking liquid to the pot) if you do, just to beef up the stock a little. Har. Noodles aren’t unwelcome, even though I skipped them this time. Really, this soup can take a LOT of improvisation, so play with it to make it your own.
2 quarts stock
2-3 tablespoons gochujang (or more, if you like it really hot)
1 oz. dried mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water (I used a mix of porcini, shiitake and Chinese black mushrooms), drained and chopped
1/2 lb. button mushrooms, quartered
1/3 lb. oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 block firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 head bok choy, leaves coarsely chopped and stems chopped into 1/2″ pieces
5 green onions, sliced in 3″ lengths
Korean red chili flakes, optional (for even more spice)
salt to taste
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil or more to taste
Bring stock to a simmer and add gochujang, stirring to dissolve it in the stock. Add mushrooms and garlic and continue to simmer for 20 minutes or so, till the mushrooms flavor the stock and vice-versa. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 5-10 minutes more, or until bok choy stems are slightly soft. Adjust seasoning and serve.