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Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Shall I Do With My Life....Mmm, Kimchi Stew

In our feature film packaging class today, we were meant to write up two futures for ourselves. One being our fantasy version of what we would absolutely love to happen in the next 5 years, and the other what would most likely happen. It was somewhat...depressing. Not because I won't be able to achieve the fantasy version of my life, but even the realistic version seems so daunting. Can I really make a feature film in the next five years? Can I actually scrounge out a living making movies? I feel at any minute someone's going to catch me and realize I'm just having fun. I will then be forced to become an adult and do something responsible. Since it was such a heady day, I decided to go home and make my new absolute favorite one pot dish: kimchi stew.

A friend made a simpler version of this last Sunday evening and it honestly blew my mind. This beautiful spicy, tangy broth mixed with kimchi, some pork belly, hot dogs and tofu, and just underneath the surface a little pile of rice that became its own soupy component. How have I been living so long without this miracle food?!

So I set out to make the dish again, just a day later, however I didn't use fresh kimchi, which I realize is pretty much essential for this stew. Don't use a jar of kimchi you've had sitting around for a month. Go to the Asian supermarket and buy it fresh. I actually spent an extra few bucks and got the kind packaged like at a deli, in a temporary plastic container with the weight and price written out across.

Now, any koreans reading this: I totally realize I am breaking the rules. It's probably blasphemous to add corn and spinach to your kimchi stew, but I wanted a little variety in the vegetation swimming around. I'd highly recommend adding the spinach. It get soft and adds a wonderful texture. 

Korean chili paste. If you can find it, use it. And not just in this stew. 
I'm a big fan of lots of kimchis, not just the cabbage variety, so I decided, right at the very end of cooking, to add a bunch of chopped green onion and daikon radish kimchi. To be honest, I could take or leave the daikon radish in there; it's one of those kimchis better served cold. The green onion, however, added such a nice onion-y flavor, I'll definitely add it again.

For those of you who've never had this dish before and are interested in making it, please be warned: this is NOT for the faint of heart. Koreans are a strong, hearty people and they like their food SPICY. This bowl of soup is going to make you sweat, your nose drip, and you will need at least a gallon of water. I'm Indian, so while I might not be the biggest badass of chili eaters I know, I can take a good whacking. And trust me: this stew will give it to you. Of course, I added a good amount of Korean chili paste. You can use less if you wanna go the milder route. 

Kimchi Stew
Note: It is my belief that there is just no way to make stew for one. Or even for three. This recipe makes a LOT of stew. Enough that I’ll probably be enjoying it for the next week and a half. Also, stews to me have always been the kind of food that you’re able to constantly improvise with, so that’s what I did. The measurements below are approximations, but have fun creating your own version. Really, the only necessity in a kimchi stew is…well that should be obvious.

2 tbsp canola oil
½ cup chopped pork belly
1 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp chopped garlic
½ cup diced sausage/other protein (hotdog, kielbasa, marinated pork, etc.)
1 cup chopped tofu
4 cups chopped (or ripped) raw spinach
3 cups chopped cabbage kimchi
1 cup frozen corn
few splashes of mirin
few splashes of fish sauce
few splashes of soy sauce
close to ¼ cup Korean chili paste (gochugare)
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 cups chicken broth
4-6 cups water
1 cup chopped green onion kimchi (optional)
1 cup chopped daikon radish kimchi (optional)

Prepare this stew in the largest stockpot you have. Turn the heat on medium high and add the oil. Allow to heat slightly, then add the pork belly. Cook for a 3 to 4 minutes, till the pork is almost fully cooked. Add onion and garlic and sauté till onions become translucent and soft. There may be a good deal of fond (brown yummy bits) at the bottom of the pot at this point. If so, add the mirin and stir vigorously, to get all the flavor from the bottom back into the veggies and meat.

Add the chopped sausage and stir, allowing the pieces to sear a bit. After another minute, add tofu. Let tofu cook a couple minutes and add kimchi. Toss mixture with tongs for several minutes. Finally add spinach in batches and toss again, allowing each addition to wilt down before adding any more. Add corn and stir. Finally, add fish sauce, soy sauce, chili paste, and salt and pepper. Cook for several minutes, allowing the mixture to get mind numbingly fragrant. Finally, add broth and water. Stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Cook till reduced by almost half.

If using, add green onion kimchi.  Cook for just another minute or two. Turn off heat and if using, add daikon radish kimchi. Stir and serve immediately.  

Serve with steamed rice in bottom of bowl (traditional) or on top. 

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