This comforting Korean soybean paste soup (doenjang guk) is made with beef, watercress, and chives. It’s flavor is light yet robust, appropriate to enjoy any time of the day.
A bowl of good Korean soybean paste soup (doenjang guk, 된장국) is a truly comforting dish to most Korean people. It is eaten all year round with different mixtures of vegetables, meat, and/or seafood.
Doenjang paste is made from fermented Korean soybeans and a saline solution. The robust, sharp flavor of fermented beans is unique to Korean cuisine and is different from the Japanese miso, another similar fermented soybean paste.
Herb-like Vegetables For Korean Soups
Around this time of the year, many Korean home cooks like to prepare a special Korean soybean paste soup or stew (doenjang guk or jjigae) with herb-like vegetables called Nangyi (냉이) and Dalrae (달래). Botanically, they belong to the mustard and chives family. Unfortunately, in Korea, they are available only for a short period of time in early spring.
Each of these vegetables (or herbs) has a distinctive aroma and flavor, as well as herbal health benefits. They are great with doenjang paste and you can turn them into a quick soup to enjoy especially in springtime.
Major Korean stores in the U.S might carry these special herb-like vegetables around this time. Sadly I wasn’t lucky this year. However, it didn’t stop me from enjoying this Spring-worthy doenjang guk, though.
Korean Soybean Paste Soup with Beef, Watercress & Chives
I picked the vegetables that are cousins to Nangyi and Dalrae, and which are easily accessible in United States. They are “Watercress and Asian chives.”
I married this wonderful doenjang soup with beef. Although it might not be the same as the original, this doenajng soup with beef, watercress, and chives is surely a light and comforting soup to beat the chill of early spring.
Here are the watercress, Asian chives, and beef. Trim the hard stems off the watercress, and chop the chives into small pieces.
Any thinly sliced beef with some fat will work. Thinly sliced Bulgogi beef would be a great option as well.
Anchovy Sea Kelp Stock
A good doenjang soup always starts with a good stock. In this case, it is anchovy stock. Just simmer some dried anchovies and sea kelp in water for 5 minutes. Discard them and you have anchovy stock. That’s all!
If you want to learn about Korean soup stocks for Korean cooking, this post will help you create 5 Korean soup stocks.
I used rice water instead of plain water to make the stock. The rice starch water will enrich the soup and results in a slightly thicker broth. You can certainly use plain water and that’s perfectly fine with this recipe.
How to make Doenjang guk
Use a small coarse mesh and a spoon to smear the paste into the stock. You can also use a wooden spoon to do the same. Dump all the chunky soybean remains back into the stock.
Add beef and stir. It should cook in no time since they are very thin.
Skim the foam off the top if you want to get the clear broth, but it is an optional step.
Add the watercress.
Sprinkle in Asian chives and garlic. I also added 2 teaspoon of Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) and fresh chili to give it a little spicy kick.
As soon as you add chives, turn off the heat. The remaining heat in the pot will cook the watercress and chives. You can taste the broth and adjust the seasoning with salt or Korean soup soy sauce, if needed.
All you need is a bowl of rice and kimchi. This is really a quick soup to prepare. Hope you enjoy!
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Korean Soybean Paste Soup with Beef, Watercress, and Chives
- 6-7 large dried anchovy deveined
- 1 large piece dried sea kelp (dashima)
- 4 cups rice water or plain water
- 2 tbsp Korean soybean paste (doenjang)
- 1/3 lb beef sirloin or rib-eye thinly sliced
- 1 bunch watercress hard stems trimmed
- 1/3 cup chopped Asian chives
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tsp Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) optional
- 1 fresh red chili sliced, optional
- To make anchovy stock, combine anchovy, sea kelp and water in a pot. Bring it to boil, then simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Discard the anchovies and sea kelp.
- Add soybean paste into the simmering anchovy stock by smearing on a wooden spoon. I used a small mesh to press down the paste, but you can also use a wooden spoon to smear. Dump all the chunky soybean remains back into the stock.
- Add beef and stir. Skim off the foam on top if you want to get the clear broth, but it is an optional step.
- Add the watercress, Asian chives, and garlic. Sprinkle Korean chili flakes and fresh chili to give a little spicy kick, optional.
- Remove the pot from the heat. The remaining heat in the pot will cook the watercress and chives. You can taste the broth and adjust the seasoning with salt, if needed. Serve hot with rice