This past week was the Korean holiday, Chuseok. This is the traditional time to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and to honor departed family through offering ceremonies and the dutiful upkeep of family gravesites.
Like our Thanksgiving holiday, this is a big travel holiday in Korea, and the highways and train stations are packed with people departing Seoul to spend the three-day holiday in their familial hometowns. It is common to give gifts of fruit and meat or practical self-care items like soaps, skincare and shampoos. Gifts of cash are also common and symbolize the gift of freedom to make your own choices and do as you will.
Families will often dress in traditional dress, called hanbok, and enjoy games and bond over the long holiday together.
I always like to prepare a special Korean meal for the occasion. In the past I would spend all day cooking elaborate dishes and preparing a multitude of side dishes so we could have an impressive array for our feast, but this year, since it was my first one as a busy working mom, our dinner needed to be simple and come together in about 30 minutes.
Kimchi stew isn’t a traditional Chuseok dish, but it is a beloved comfort food and very representative of Korean cuisine, so I figured it would be a decent choice for our celebration … plus I had some very ripe kimchi (probably a month old) that was begging to be used.
The flavor of the soup is much better when the kimchi is well fermented — fresh just doesn’t taste right — so save this recipe for when you have a forgotten jar tucked into the corner of your fridge. This stew is spicy with a rich broth and fatty bites of pork — perfect for a chilly, clear-skied autumn day.
½ pound pork belly or shoulder — cut into bite sized pieces
½ large white onion — sliced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
4 stalks green onion — sliced
1 ½ cups very fermented kimchi — chopped into small pieces
1 heaping tablespoon gochujang
1-3 teaspoons Korean red pepper powder (optional, to add more spice)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar (optional, to balance the sourness of the kimchi)
½ block of firm tofu — sliced
3 cups rice water (directions below)
To make the rice water, measure out your white rice and rinse once. Cover the rice with more than 3 cups of hot water and let soak for 30 minutes. Pour off the water and reserve 3 cups. Cook your rice as usual.
Cook your pork in a large hot pan until crispy.
Add in the chopped kimchi and stir-fry for 5 minutes. This will add a little smoky flavor to the stew.
Pour the rice water into the pan.
Add the sliced onion, garlic, gochujang, salt and optional sugar and red pepper powder and bring to a boil.
Cook for about 15 minutes or until the onions are soft.
Add in the sesame oil and stir.
Lay your sliced tofu on top of the soup and carefully spoon some broth over it for a few minutes while the soup boils. Do not stir the tofu into the soup— the presentation is prettier this way.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle on the chopped green onion before serving.
This soup is traditionally served family style in the cooking vessel on the table.
Serve with steamed white rice.