Comfort soup

I remember the exact time my love affair with kimchi began. I’d just written a 3-hour exam, all essay questions, and I was ravenous. But on a Sunday afternoon in downtown Vancouver, there wasn’t much choice. Finally I wandered into a Korean internet café that also served some hot dishes. I ordered the bulgogi plate which was served with the ubiquitous small dish of spicy fermented cabbage. You know how when you’re really hungry, anything you eat tastes delicious? I’d had kimchi before, but it had left me cold. Now, I was in love.

Soon after, I moved in with a Japanese friend who also loves kimchi. One cold night, she boiled up a soup pot, adding almost an entire jar of kimchi to the hot water, along with thinly sliced pork.  Sharing that soup with her at her kitchen table is still one of my favourite food memories.

My mom is partial to a Korean tofu soup, so when I found a recipe for Spicy Kimchi Tofu Stew, I knew I had to make it to welcome her home from her Christmas trip to Vancouver. For me, a steaming bowl of this red-gold soup is satisfying, comforting, and evocative of many good memories—the very best kind of food.

Spicy Kimchi Tofu Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 16-oz. package silken tofu, cut into 1” pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups cabbage kimchi, drained and chopped (reserve the liquid)
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
12 pieces thinly sliced pork
8 green onions, cut into 1” pieces (finely chop a handful of them and aside for garnishing)
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce heat and carefully add the tofu. Simmer gently until slightly puffed and firmed up, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tofu to a medium bowl and set aside.

Empty the pot and put it back on medium-high heat. Heat the vegetable oil. Add  the kimchi and gochujang and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, 5–8 minutes. Add the kimchi liquid and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until kimchi is softened and translucent, 35–40 minutes.

Add the pork, scallions, soy sauce, and tofu; simmer gently until tofu has absorbed flavors, 15-20 minutes. Don’t worry if the tofu falls apart a little. Add the sesame oil and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with sesame seeds and remaining green onions.

Serves 6 as a first course.

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