One of the greatest things about living in another country is that the time once spent perfecting the dishes of your own country can now be devoted to trying the cuisine of your new surroundings. With the normally hard to find ingredients now readily available and usually local, attempting these new favorite dishes in your home is a must.
Seaweed soup (miyuk gook) holds a special place in Korea. Said to cleanse the blood and promote healthy breast milk production, it is given to women during pregnancy and especially during postpartum. Because of this, it is a tradition to eat seaweed soup on one’s birthday. Before an exam, students in Korea are often served seaweed soup by their parents, as it is believed to encourage brain function.
It’s easy to see how seaweed soup could be considered an elixir of sorts, when you look at all that seaweed provides: B-12, iron, calcium, potassium, and other necessary vitamins and minerals.
Although dried seaweed is often used to make seaweed soup in Korea, I used a thin, fresh kelp in this recipe, and it worked nicely. If you are in Korea and would like to make seaweed soup at home, ask a supermarket clerk in the seaweed section for miyuk or dashima – there are many varieties of dried seaweed, and you don’t want to make it with nori – or give fresh kelp a try. Take care that the clerk stays in the seaweed aisle and does not lead you to the pre-made packaged soups. In the States, visit your local Asian market and also ask for miyuk or dashima or seaweed for soup – who knows, they may even have fresh kelp available!
Korean Seaweed Soup Ingredients (makes 4 servings)
6 – 8 cups of water
2 long pieces of kelp (about 1 cup cut into squares) or two sheets of dried seaweed
4 – 5 cloves of garlic, minced
A small handful of dried anchovies (other stock options available)
3 – 5 teaspoons of soy sauce
Sesame oil to taste
To begin this simple soup, begin by heating the water in a pan on the stove top. Once you have a boil, add the anchovies and allow them to cook for two minutes. They will look as though they are swimming.
If anchovies are difficult to find (or you would prefer to not cook with them), you may add a few teaspoons of high quality fish sauce to the water instead. As another option, you may use chicken or beef stock diluted with water (the broth should be light and savory). For a vegan dish, you may use 6 -8 cups of low-sodium vegetable stock.
After two minutes has passed, strain the fish, reserving the stock. Give the stock a taste. It should have a savory flavor, with a hint of salt. If it is too salty, too many anchovies were used. If this is the case, you may remove some of the stock and add water in its place until you are pleased with the flavor. The removed stock can be refrigerated for later use in other dishes.
Once the stock is to your liking, return it to the stove top to simmer, adding the garlic. Add the soy sauce a couple of teaspoons at a time until you are satisfied with the flavor, taking care to not over-salt your soup.
While the flavors are mingling, cut the fresh kelp into bite-size squares. Add them to the soup and let them simmer for 4 -5 minutes, or until the kelp is tender. If you are using dried seaweed, soak the sheets in a bowl of water until they are tender before cutting them into squares.
Divide the soup into bowls. Add a light drizzle of sesame oil to each bowl and serve the soup hot.
Enjoy this soup with a side of rice for a light lunch, or add beansprouts, silken tofu and thick slices of shiitake mushroom for a hearty dinner soup.