When a chilly wind begins to blow and mufflers don't help to keep warm, many Koreans long for a hot spicy tofu soup. And besides being a perfect winter warmer, sundubu jjigae also clocks in at a mere 204 calories per bowl.
But just because it has few calories does not mean it is bland or insufficiently nutritious. On the contrary, sundubu jjigae is a flavorful dish. It is made with soft tofu, which is rich in protein and vitamins. Soft tofu is made from white soy beans that are steamed, peeled and whisked in a large boiling bowl. This base for soft tofu is then put into a cotton cloth bag to squeeze out the water. Afterwards, brine is added to the soybean milk, forming clusters of soft tofu, which has such high protein levels that Koreans call soybeans "meat harvested from the ground."
To make the dish, red pepper powder, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and spring onion are added, finished off with the addition of a raw egg to the piping hot traditional earthen pot. According to taste, other ingredients like seafood, beef, clams, seaweed, sprouts, onions, or mushrooms can be added. Some people add Kimchi, as well as dumplings of various sorts. There is even sundubu jjigae with ham and cheese in specialty restaurants BCD Tofu House, a successful chain not only in Korea but also in the U.S., Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan.
Low in calories, full of nutrients, and varied to match each and every person's taste, no wonder sundubu jjigae has been called by the New York Times "the ideal winter meal."
Cookbook Writer Reveals 'Secrets' of Healthy Korean Food
Her version, "I've travelled to over 30 countries around the world, and bookstores everywhere had cookbooks on Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese food, but very few on Korean cuisine," says Kim Yong-ja, a 64-year-old Korean cooking instructor and cookbook writer based in New York. "I sensed the need for an English-language Korean cookbook so I started writing one about four years ago." The result is the recently published "Korean Cuisine: The Secret to Staying Young and Slim," containing over 100 recipes.
"I included the Korean pronunciation for each ingredient and the English name in parentheses," Kim explains. "When I showed the book to foreign wives living in Korea, they were delighted and said they could use it to go grocery shopping." She wrote the book for foreigners who live in Korea or are passionate about Korean food, and second-generation Korean-Americans who are not proficient in Korean.
After graduating from Sogang University with a bachelor's degree in English literature, Kim moved to the U.S. in 1967 and worked in the fashion industry. It was only after she got married in 1981 that she began to take an interest in cooking. "Before I got married the only thing I could cook was boiled eggs. As a housewife, I thought, 'I have to cook everyday so I want to do it right.' That's how I started learning how to cook seriously," she says.
After completing a course at the New York Restaurant School, Kim came to Korea in the mid-1980s and learned Korean cuisine such as the food that was served in the royal court. She later studied cooking in Florence, Italy and Paris, France. "I thought it was crucial to have field experience, so I took a job making food for a catering company in New York," she says. She developed her skills even further in various New York restaurants. In 1995, she published a Korean book on Western cuisine, explaining how to cook Western food as well as its history and the origins of culinary terminologies. She currently works as a cooking instructor. "I'd like to go to different countries and teach Korean food to local teenagers, because the tastes you get accustomed while you're young last forever," she says.