To me, Korean food is comfort food. My mom always asks what I want her to make for me whenever we go and visit and I almost always respond with the same two Korean dishes: kimchi jjigae, and naengmyun.
Kimchi jjigae is really a very simple stew dish. I’m sure it originates as a way to use up over-ripe or fermented kimchi. If you don’t know, kimchi is pretty much ubiquitious with Korean cuisine, and is most often made with napa cabbage, and spiced with ground red chili peppers. While you can eat freshly made kimchi (my favorite) most people let it ferment or “ripen” so that it has a stronger taste. Kimchi is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods, loaded with vitamins and healthy bacteria, like yogurt.
Kimchi jjigae is actually very easy to make, but I don’t make it very often because I don’t usually have fermented kimchi lying around since I like to eat it before it gets too ripe. So it’s one of those dishes that I always request when I go home to my mom’s house. But on the rare occasion that I do have some kimchi that’s gone a bit too far for my normal consumption, I make a big pot of this stew and literally eat it for days– much to my husband’s chagrin.
kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew)
1/2 pound pork belly (samgyupsal), diced
2 cups fermented/”ripe” kimchi, chopped
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup kimchi juice (see notes below)
2 cups water
7 ounces (1/2 package) firm tofu
2 scallions, diced, for topping (optional)
Heat a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the pork belly, kimchi, and gochugaru and cook until the pork is cooked through, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in 2 teaspoons of sesame oil during the last minute of cooking the pork and kimchi. Add the kimchi juice and water and bring everything to a boil. Let the stew boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tofu and boil for an additional 5 minutes. Top with the scallions, if using and serve with hot cooked rice.
If you do not have any kimchi “juice” from the jar, substitute 1/2 cup water mixed with 2 teaspoons of gochugaru. If you’re not a fan of pork, you can substitute a can of drained tuna– just stir it in with the liquids, after you saute the kimchi. Also, I love tofu, so I used an entire (14 ounce) package in my kimchi jjigae.