Korean Style Spicy Tofu Stew

Dried red chili flakes are quickly fried in oil, lightly seasoned and allowed to cool. The spicy, toasty tasting oil is then served as a condiment alongside the tofu stew.

Shitake mushrooms, onions, carrots and turnips not only provide the bulk of the stew, when simmered together they infuse the broth with deep umami richness.

Spicy Tofu Stew, Chili Sesame Oil, Baby Spinach and Cabbage Salad with Carrot Dressing and Yellow Rice

Our version presented here omits kimchi from the soup. Heresy to many but ours is a rough recreation, vegetarian-ized, of one we used to enjoy at the East Village Korean comfort food mecca Dok Suni. That stew also relied upon dried chilies and chili paste rather than kimchi for its fiery element. 

We'll begin by soaking 1/4 cup dried shitake mushrooms in a bowl of very hot water for 20 minutes. Remove the softened mushrooms and slice into thick strips, reserving the soaking water. Set both aside.

Pour 2 T. coconut or vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 T. dried red chili flakes and cook until they become dark and toasted, less than a minute usually. Remove from heat and add to the pan 1 T. dark sesame oil. Sprinkle with just a dash of salt and allow to cool before transferring to condiment bowl or bowls.

Now heat 2 T. coconut or vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Over a medium flame saute 1 sliced onion, 2 peeled and sliced carrots, 1 peeled and diced turnip and the drained shitake mushrooms. Cook just until the onion has become translucent and then add 3 cups vegetable stock and the reserved mushroom soaking water. Note: the soaking water may have some gritty debris at the bottom so pour carefully to avoid adding to the soup, or pour through a fine mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter.

Bring everything to a boil before adding 2 T. Korean hot pepper paste, 1 heaping t. dried red chili flakes and 1-2 T. tamari or soy sauce. Stir well to dissolve the chili paste. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft but not mushy. Now add 1 box of silken firm or extra-firm tofu (Mori Nu brand), cut into large squares. The tofu will fall apart if even glanced at the wrong way, so just like that one special friend, handle with kid gloves.

Simmer until the tofu is warmed through. Taste for seasoning. Depending on the saltiness of your broth, you may need to add additional tamari or soy sauce. Ladle into wide, shallow soup bowls. Garnish with sliced scallions if desired and serve the hot sesame oil, along with a small bottle of plain rice vinegar, as a table condiment.


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