Not so long ago putting canned tuna into a soup would have never crossed my mind. Yet, together with “scary” tofu and matured, very sour kimchi, it creates one of the most delicious and quickest soups I know. No wonder I now make it sometimes twice a week!
I first heard about this kimchi stew from my friend C.. I must say the first time I read “tuna”, I understood raw fish and found it very surprising its canned version was involved, but my friend was so enthusiastic, I decided to try it as soon as possible. The result has exceeded all my expectations (which, given my friend’s sophisticated taste, were quite high already…). The flavours are so complex, you will find it difficult to believe there is no stock and chilli flakes as the only – moreover optional – seasoning. The canned tuna brings something “meaty” but also slightly fishy (in the positive sense of the word), while the tofu mellows all the flavours and becomes – at least in my opinion – an obligatory ingredient. In short, the mixture of ingredients is just perfect.
If you have never tasted kimchi (김치), it is a Korean preparation of seasoned fermented vegetables, the most popular being Napa (Chinese) cabbage and daikon (white long radish). Apart from the fiery kimchi there is also a mild, chilli-free version, which is however less popular. Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant (my fellow cheese fans, think here about smelly matured cheese!). It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetable preparations, very healthy. High in fiber, low in calories and fat, it is packed with vitamin C (thanks to the fermentation) and carotene. It also contains several other vitamins, helps digestion, is said to prevent certain cancers… In short: it’s wonder food. Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture I know.
Kimchi is not only eaten as a side dish, but also – especially at the mature, “older” stage – put into warm dishes, for example fried rice or… soups. If you have only “young” kimchi, you can also prepare this soup, but older, very sour and strong kimchi will definitely be better here. I have been making kimchi for several years now and – since I prepare the “lazy”, easier version – I consider it one of the easiest things in the world. I no longer weigh or count the ingredients, adding them at random and the result is always delicious, the best flavours being obtained with very fresh and firm vegetables. Here you can see my adventures with Kkakdugi 깍두기, or Cubed Radish Kimchi and Mak Kimchi, or Easy Chinese Cabbage Kimchi).
Going back to the stew, or “kimchi jjigae/chigae”, its traditional version is made with pork and tofu, but of course canned tuna is a perfect emergency, last minute substitution and suits so well this dish, for now I am not tempted yet to try it with pork. Among the numerous sources for this popular recipe I chose the infallible Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song, one of my best buys among cookery books. I have skipped the shiitake mushrooms and adapted the amounts to a dish for one, so I encourage you to check this fantastic book for the original version. As my own – maybe also crazy – touch, I have sprinkled the bowlful of soup with raw red chilli slices for a fresh additional hot kick. I also like a splash (about one teaspoon per person) of toasted sesame oil added just before serving.
I have chosen to use water here, but the author gives also vegetable stock as an alternative. In my opinion kimchi is so rich with flavours, no stock is necessary, but feel free to substitute with good quality stock, if you have it.
Whether you add chilli flakes or not depends on how hot your kimchi is and of course on your preferences. Apart from the heat, chilli flakes add a beautiful hue and more taste too, so if you like fiery dishes, don’t skip them.
Preparation: about 20 minutes
Ingredients (serves 1):
half a can of tuna (about 60g, drained; I prefer by far the white albacore tuna, but any canned tuna is ok)
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon oil (sesame oil is the best here)
250 ml (about 1 cup) loosely packed, matured Chinese cabbage kimchi, cut into bite-sized pieces + some kimchi juice (I have added about 50 ml)
about 50-60 g (about 1.8-2 oz) firm tofu
Korean medium-hot chilli flakes (skip them if your kimchi is very hot or if you don’t like very hot dishes)
300 ml/ about 10 fl oz water
chopped green onion
(fresh red chilli to garnish, sesame oil)
Drain the tuna and cut up into several pieces (don’t shred it).
Stir-fry the tuna and garlic in sesame oil for 30 seconds.
Add the kimchi (and chilli flakes, if using) and stir-fry it for one more minute.
Add the water, the tofu and simmer the stew for 10-15 minutes.
Sprinkle with green onions and serve. (You may also sprinkle it with fresh red chilli slices and with a splash of sesame oil).
Serve either with bread or steamed rice.