Your Fast and Easy Guide to Making Korean Soup

When I haven’t planned for a meal or don’t know what to make, I know I can always quickly make a few bowls of delicious Korean soup. All you need are some basic ingredients and then follow this guide. It should be noted that I am not Korean. I am from Ohio, yet I’ve had two different women both born in Korea tell me that I am more Korean than they are. Must be all that kimchi I’ve made. 🙂

This is a soup template. It is not meant to be complete. This is a starter guide.

#1 Warm up the Stock

The base for soup will likely be determined by two things. First is if you even have any stock on hand and second, what protein will be in the soup. Most of the time I make this soup, I just use water. However, I have used beef stock and fish stock. Beef stock is good for all meat and fish stock is good for all seafood.

  • Water
  • Beef Stock
  • Fish Stock

#2 Add Gochujang and Chopped Kimchi to Soup

Your aspiring Korean kitchen should always have kimchi and gochujang on hand. Gochujang is red chili paste. Add some paste to the soup. I add about 1 tablespoon per bowl. Sometime more. Different gochujangs have different spice levels, so you will need to dial in your ideal spice level. Chop up some kimchi and place that in the soup.

  • kimchi
  • gochujang

#3 Add Korean Rice Cakes

If you are unfamiliar with Korean cooking, you have probably never seen Korean rice cakes. Outside of Korean grocery stores or mail order, they are hard to find. There are many different types of Korean rice cakes, but for soup I like the ones shaped like discs. They behave in many ways like a pasta and add wonderful texture to soup. If you can’t source them, you have three options.

  • Korean rice cakes
  • Side dish of rice
  • More veggie. Seaweed and daikon are two ideas.
  • Make your own Korean rice cakes ahead of time. I’ve never done that, but here is a recipe.

I cook the rice cakes for 3-5 minutes. Check the package though, as there are different cakes that will have different cooking times.

korean rice cake package

korean rice cake

Rice cakes are sold fresh, packaged and frozen. Whatever cakes you don’t use right away can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. A better idea is to just freeze them. This is will prevent mold. 

#4 Add the Protein and Finish Cooking

I’ve made this soup many ways. Shrimp is my favorite. You can also use sliced tofu or SPAM. I tried canned tuna once and it was awful. Don’t do that.

  • Shrimp
  • Tofu
  • SPAM
  • fish (croaker is a popular choice)

Each of these options will only take a few minutes to cook. Taste test if you aren’t sure.

#5 Garnish and Serve

I love adding sliced green onions (scallions) when serving. For additional saltiness, add fish sauce. For additional spiciness, sriracha or additional gochujang works. That is all there is. You now have a simple template for quickly making Korean soup.

  • Green onions
  • fish sauce
  • Sriracha or additional gochujang

korean soup

Korean soup with Shrimp and kimchi

Kimchi Spam Soup

Ready for a super easy Korean soup recipe. Here it is.

  1. Heat water.
  2. Add chopped kimchi.
  3. Add sliced or cubed SPAM.
  4. Serve when warm. I heated mine for 10 minutes.

You can also throw in any cooked rice if you like. Super easy, super fast and tasty.

kimchi-spam-soup

I didn’t measure anything. Old kimchi would be better than fresher, but all should work. In the event you need to dial up the heat more, you can add some gochujang or sriracha sauce. Add fish sauce if more salt is needed. And if you run out of kimchi, top the served soup with chopped scallions.

Commercial Gluten Free Gochujang is Now Available!

UPDATE (September 7, 2014): This product is wheat-free, not necessarily gluten free. 

Good news for my fellow gluten free peeps that wish to cook more Korean dishes at home. You no longer need to make your own gluten-free gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste). There now exists at least one option that does not have added wheat.

That is the good news.

The bad news is it will still be extremely difficult to find. Most Asian grocery stores will not carry it. And of the three Korean grocery stores I visit, I’ve only seen it at one of them. To be honest, I actually needed the help of a Korean friend to spot it.

GF-gochujang

Start your search by looking for containers that look like this one. That will narrow your search. However, MOST of the containers that look like this still have added wheat. So you’ll still need to look at the ingredients.

GF-gochujang-label

Not exactly the most healthy list of ingredients, but as you can see no added wheat. This is to my knowledge, the first and only brand of gochujang that is safe to eat for those trying to avoid gluten.

It tastes fine. Not as good as my homemade gochujang recipe, but far more convenient. Several years ago when I first got into kimchi, all the brands had added crap,. Things like MSG and a few unpronounceable ingredients, which are totally unnecessary for fermented vegetables. Today most brands of kimchi have a clean list of ingredients – even at the Korean grocery stores. This is an encouraging trend. My inner Korean is pleased. 🙂

Gluten Free Korean Bulgogi Tacos

I was reading the book The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, which had the history of Korean tacos in the Los Angeles area. My mind started to wander. I didn’t care about the economic lesson. I just wanted to eat those tacos. 🙂 So I put the book down and drove to the nearest Korean grocery store.

Gluten Free?

For those that are strict gluten free, Korean food can present a problem. Bulgogi is the thinly sliced marinated meat used for grilling and fast cooking. It can be beef, pork or chicken.

The problem comes in the marinade. If the meat is spicy, then it likely has been marinaded in gochujang or red chili paste. I’ve been to almost every Asian market in Seattle, including four Korean grocery stores. I’ve looked at every single brand of gochujang. They all have gluten in them. This means you need to make your own gochujang if you wish your dining experience to be gluten free. I seriously doubt those food trucks are hand making gluten free gochujang. Have no fear, I have made my own gochujang without gluten. See Making Gluten Free Korean Chili Paste (Gochujang) for the recipe. You’ll need it to continue. If gluten doesn’t bother you, buy any brand. You’ll save some time.

In addition to gochujang, most restaurant and food cart marinades will use soy sauce, which also has wheat. Making your own will allow you to swap out soy sauce for Gluten Free Tamari.

gochujang

Homemade Gluten Free Gochujang

Heading to the Korean Grocery Store

I’m no expert in Korean cooking, so I decided the best place to get the bulgogi would be from a Korean grocery store. They are more likely to have the paper-thin sliced meat than your average grocery store. I also trust their butchers are selecting the cuts that work best for what their customers are cooking. If you don’t have access to a Korean grocery store, the post Bulgogi: Korean Fire Meat has a good discussion on the best cuts for the beef variety. For pork, you can use shoulder. Just have the butcher slice it thin.

pork-bulgogi

Pork Bulgogi – Perfectly sliced

Marinade

Here is what I used for my marinade. I had about 2.5 pounds of pork. Adjust accordingly.

  • 1/2 cup of Gluten Free Tamari
  • 2 Tablespoons of gochujang (red chili paste)
  • 1 medium sized onion chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons of ginger finely chopped or grated
  • 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped or grated
  • 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil*
  • 0.5 – 1 Tablespoon of Korean red chili powder
  • toasted sesame seeds (optional)

 * Yeah, I know seed oils are evil, but the taste of sesame oil is so unique and important to Korean cuisine. If you know a way to get that awesome flavor with a healthy fat, please leave a comment below. 

After mixing the bulgogi in the marinade, I put it into the refrigerator for a few hours, but I’m guessing an hour would be fine as well.

Cook It and Serve

For the taco, I used the broiler to heat up some corn tortillas. Keep an eye on them, so they don’t burn. The meat will only need 1-2 minutes per side on a grill or medium-hot on the stove. Place the meat on the taco and then add your toppings. I used cilantro, kimchi and Sriracha sauce. You could use sliced cucumbers or lettuce as well.

bulgogi-tacos

Gluten Free Korean Bulgogi Tacos 

As you can see from the photos above, I didn’t use tiny food truck portions on the meat. 😎