On my forays into Korean cuisine, I've noticed a few ingredients cropping up time and again. Dried kelp, a type of seaweed, is frequently added at the beginning of dishes to make a broth with sea-flavours. It is also one half of the common Korean stock dashi. Gochujang and gochugaru, Korean chilli paste and flakes respectively, are both regularly used. And then there's doenjang: a fermented soy-bean paste. It is intensely savoury, and complex enough to flavour a whole soup or stew more or less on its own. Its nearest equivalent would be Chinese bean paste or Japanese red miso.

Doenjang jjigae (jjigae meaning stew) is a comfort food in Korea. Many Korean food writers introduce their recipe by talking about their mum's version, which cannot be beaten in their eyes, but they present a recipe anyway, giving it their best shot. Most claim that their mothers make their own doenjang, too, which apparently is superior to shop-bought, but concede that not everyone has months to ferment kilos of soybeans.

Doenjang jjigae is so comforting and evocative to native Koreans that Holly from extremely popular website Beyond Kimchee introduces her recipe with a brief but heart-breaking story about her father, who loved doenjang jjigae, but sadly never had a chance to try hers before his sudden death in a car accident. So yeah, it's an important dish in Korea.

This dish is remarkably quick to make, and I love how you can throw in whatever vegetables you have to hand. Popular choices are onion, mushroom, daikon radish, courgette and potato. Traditionally, dried and fresh seafood are in the stew, which I've omitted from my recipe, and used dried kelp instead for the sea flavour. Gochugaru also features, but if you can't find it, chilli powder will work too. What's more, and I'm sure what I'm about to say would be deeply frowned upon in Korea, I've found that miso is an adequate substitute if you can't find doenjang.

Doenjang jjigae

Serves 2 (more if served with rice)
Hands-on time:
10 mins
Hands-off time:
20 mins


10 x 10cm/4 x 4" piecedried kelp
5 tbspdoenjang (Korean soybean paste)
1-2 mediumpotatoes, cubed
1 mediumwhite onion, chopped
2 medium-largemushrooms, chopped
1 largegarlic clove, crushed
200g/7ozfirm or extra firm tofu, cubed
ΒΌ-1 tspgochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) (depending on spice preference)
1 largespring onion (aka scallion), sliced diagonally


  1. In a large pot, bring 4 cups (1 litre) water to a simmer and add the dried kelp. Simmer for 5 minutes, then discard the kelp.
  2. Add the doenjang paste and use a potato masher or slotted spoon to crush the paste so it disperses in the water.
  3. Add the potato, mushroom and onion to the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tofu and gochugaru and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  5. Use a ladle to serve into bowls and top with the spring onions and a little more gochugaru. Serve with sticky rice if desired.