I am a fiend for soup and stews. I have a theory that there are two types of people in this world: those who eat ramen for the noodles and those who eat ramen for the broth. I fall into the latter category. I think there is something deeply, spiritually good about a delicious broth. It’s eye of newt and toe of frog — it’s the closest most of us will ever get to sorcery.
Stews and bone broths are my preferred poison, but I enjoy being forced to pull back and figure it out in the summer. There’s a lot to work with. While heavier soups are about time and technique, in the summer, it’s more about puzzling out combinations and bringing several light flavors into harmony with each other.
Crown daisy greens (ssukgat in Korean, also known as chrysanthemum greens in English) are slightly bitter, peppery, herbal — almost medicinal — in flavor. They are aromatic and full of antioxidants. I find that they play well with the briny flavor of dried shiitake mushrooms, which produce a broth slightly reminiscent of bone broth (the dried mushrooms themselves are strangely meaty), and doenjang (fermented soybean paste), which provides a foundational richness.
Doenjang is, in my opinion and along with gochujang, one of the best things Korea has ever produced. And I’m not being flippant there. Doenjang making is an art form. It can take upwards of a year and a half of constant maintenance to produce a single batch, and unlike kimchi, which can be made and left to ferment, doejang requires dozens of different stages, steps and procedures. Do yourself a favor and never, ever use the crap that comes in those green plastic tubs, if you can at all avoid it. The very best doenjang is sold at the traditional markets or passed between neighbors and often comes to you in a Russian-doll packaging of unmarked plastic bags. Like wine, no two batches ever taste the same, and there are dozens of variations — some is light and sweet, some is thick, dark and salty. If you’re outside of Korea, skip the shelves at your local Korean market and ask the owner if he or she has any real doenjang. The next best thing is anything marked “organic” (유기), “traditional” (전통) or “country” (시골), usually sold in big, squat glass jars.
Dried anchovies, dasima (dried kelp, kombu in Japanese) and shiitake mushrooms form the base broth of this soup, and the broth commands the bulk of the cooking time. Unlike most jjigae (stew), which need to be simmered for about an hour, most guk (soup) come together relatively quickly, once you have the broth ready (this base broth can also be made in large batches and frozen for use in a whole host of other soups). The lighter flavor and consistency are nice in warmer weather, as is the shorter amount of time spent lingering over the stove in the kitchen. The tofu and crown daisy greens and spring onions go in at the last minute, after the other vegetables have cooked through.
Soups like this one are served as a side at most meals in Korea, but they often become the main at breakfast, and, as a chronic breakfast skipper, Korean soups are one of the few things I enjoy first thing in the morning (coffee, cigarettes and quiet being the current reigning champions). The light, bright flavors ease you awake while providing good sustenance to get you up and running without weighing you down from starting line.
At the moment, my fridge is packed to the brim with a mountain of early summer greens from the co-op, but crown daisy greens remain at the top of the pile. Right now I’m focusing on reining myself in, in the kitchen, and paring back to more simple flavors, finding new ways to let ingredients sing for themselves. Crown daisy greens are great practice, because they have their own voice but can easily be drowned out in a crowd. By dialing everything else back a bit in soups like this, I’m teaching myself how to myself how to make food that’s good but that doesn’t necessarily grab you by the throat and shout it in your face. I hope this soup works, there. I think it does, at least.
- 10 cups water
- 12 dried anchovies
- 3 sheets dasima (dried kelp)
- 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 Korean zucchini (aehobak) or Western zucchini, chopped
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup doenjang (fermented soybean paste)
- 1 block of tofu, cubed
- 3 spring onions, chopped
- 1 large bunch crown daisy greens (can substitute other aromatic greens), roughly chopped
- Add the water, anchovies, mushrooms and dasima to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes.
- Strain out the anchovies, dasima and mushrooms. Wash the pot and return the broth to the pot, bringing it to a boil. Whisk in the doenjang and then add the onions and zucchini. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and simmer for until the vegetables are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Bring the soup up to a full rolling boil, turn off the heat and add the spring onion, tofu and green onion. Stir the ingredients through, cover the pot and allow it to sit for about two minutes. Serve the soup while it’s hot.
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