The Paste of Korea

  • Photo by Photo by Myriam Keaton for Seoulist

    The shrimp can be replaced with tofu, pork, mussels or anything your heart desires or your fridge has to offer. Photo by Myriam Keaton for Seoulist

It’s probably been a part of almost every meal you’ve had in Korea, but how well do you know the properties of doenjang (된장)?

Korea’s national paste of fermented soybeans is said to possess five virtues:

1. Devotion (단심): Remaining true to its taste even when mixed with other ingredients.
2. Constancy (항심): Steady, lasting a very long time.
3. Mercy of Buddha (불심): Removes oily and fishy scent.
4. Neutrality (선심): Neutralizes and balances spicy flavors.
5. Harmony (화심): Complements nearly any other food.

Legend has it that doenjang was created with the energy of the earth, heaven, sea, and Buddha to heal the mind, body and soul of those who eat it. How’s that for Super Food? What’s more, doenjang, like miso, is a healthful paste known to have cancer-fighting properties, including a friendly bacteria called probiotic. Look for unpasteurized, naturally fermented ones, as they contain active enzymes. Doenjang is very versatile and can be used as seasoning and marinades for meat, fish or veggies. It’s also a great base for stock, sauces, dressings and dips.

Doenjang Buckwheat Noodle Soup (된장메밀국수)

4 cups of water
20 large shrimps, shelled and de-veined*
4 tablespoon of doenjang
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
Hot chili pepper to taste (optional)
4 ounces of buckwheat noodles (메밀면)
Handful of fresh spinach (or any other greens of your choice)
2 tablespoon of garlic chives (부추), chopped
2 wedges of fresh lemon or lime
Drizzle of sesame oil

Cook the buckwheat noodles as directed on the package and set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to simmer as soon as the water starts to boil. Place the shrimps in the simmering water and cook for approximately 5 minutes.

Place the doenjang in a small bowl and pour a ladle of hot water over it. Whisk until you obtain a smooth sauce and transfer to the saucepan with the shrimps. Add the oyster sauce and the hot chili pepper and season to taste.

Split the noodles in 2-3 bowls and pour doenjang over it. Add spinach and chives. Top off with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and drizzle of sesame oil.

*The shrimp can be replaced with tofu, pork, beef, mussels or anything your heart desires or your fridge has to offer

Myriam Keaton

About Myriam Keaton

Originally from Quebec, Myriam Keaton is a former private chef who has lived and worked in over 10 countries. She draws from her international background to create new recipes inspired by Korea's local produce and national dishes.

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