Robert and I have fallen into a pretty steadfast routine of dining out every Friday and Saturday and cooking meals at home Sunday through Wednesday. Thursday has always been our “do your own thing” night. Leftovers, frozen dinners, whatever random collection of edible items you can scrounge together are yours for the taking. As much as I enjoy cooking and dining out, I secretly look forward to Thursdays since it is sort of a night off for me. Since I’m not a fan of frozen dinners and I tend to save leftovers for lunch, I usually still end up doing some cooking. The key is finding meals that can be prepared in 20 minutes or less with minimal effort. My favorite Thursday meal is frozen potato pierogies with a side of sautéed cabbage and onions. It’s healthy-ish and quick to make. I can’t eat this every Thursday so I’m always on the lookout for new quick dinners. Enter Doenjang Jjigae.

Doenjang jjigae is a Korean tofu stew made using fermented bean paste. It may not be as well known in this country as bulgogi and bi bim bap, but doenjang jjigae is a staple everyday dish in many Korean homes. The primary ingredient in doenjang jjigae is doenjang paste, a fermented soybean paste similar to miso although with a much coarser texture. In addition jjigae, doenjang paste is used as a general condiment and to make ssamjang, a sauce for Korean lettuce wraps. It is quite pungent and salty and may not be to everyone’s liking. If you love stinky, fermented foods like I do, you will probably enjoy this. Doenjang paste is sold in plastic tubs in Asian markets.

Few people follow a strict recipe for doenjang jjigae—there are as many different ways to make it as there are cooks. The general procedure is simple. You start by making a broth. Koreans usually make their broth by boiling dried anchovies and kelp in water—a small handful of anchovies should be enough to flavor 2 to 3 cups of water. While the broth is going, portion out a spoonful of doenjang paste into a bowl. Start with a small amount and work your way up—it is quite salty so you don’t want to overdo it. If you like, you can also add a dollop of the spicy red chili paste known as gochujang to the bowl along with the doenjang. After the broth has cooked for 10 minutes or so, strain out the anchovies and kelp. Add a small amount of the hot broth to the bowl and mash the doenjang paste with a fork to break it up. Add that mixture back to the pot along with whatever vegetables and proteins you are using and boil until done!

This is such an easy dish to prepare, and it’s so versatile. Most recipes call for potato, onion, zucchini and tofu, but I use this dish as a way to use up whatever ingredients I have leftover in the fridge that week. Doenjang jjigae can be made with anything from shrimp and corn and jalapeños to beef and shiitake mushrooms. I’ve tried it using a broth made from bonito flakes instead of anchovies—it was good but didn’t have the same pungent aroma (much to Robert’s delight, I’m sure). Doenjang jjigae isn’t meant to be served spicy, but I’ve been known to throw in some cayenne pepper when I’m craving something hot. The one ingredient I do always try to include is the tofu just to keep things somewhat traditional and because tofu is so good for you. For a while now, I’ve been saying that Korean food will be the next big thing. Once people discover doenjang jjigae, it’s only a matter of time. This quick, adaptable, comforting dish is perfect for my Thursday night meals!

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