Soon Tubu JJigae (Soft Tofu Stew)

One of the best meals I had in San Francisco (and I had a lot of great meals) was the first one: tofu stew at a Korean tofu house in Japantown. As I promised at the time, I decided to replicate it tonight.

There aren’t many vegan recipes for soon tubu jjigae on the internet, in fact, I didn’t find any. Everyone seems to want to put clam juice, beef, and shrimp in it. And egg. But none of that stuff is necessary. The important features of soon tubu jjigage are 1) tofu and 2) spiciness, both of which I can produce in spades.

The first thing you need to consider is your tofu. I wouldn’t dream of making soon tubu jjigage with anything but homemade tofu. The tofu is just too big a part of the dish and I’m used to homemade. So I have to urge you to try making it yourself. I ordinarily make an extremely firm tofu, using as much coagulant as I can get away with without it turning bitter and pressing it under about 25 pounds. Because I wanted a much softer tofu for the stew, I cut back on the amount of coagulant I used (I used nigari as usual, but if I’d been thinking more clearly, I’d have used the calcium sulfate I have because it makes a softer tofu AND adds calcium), and I used just 1.5 pounds (a new bottle of agave nectar, to be precise) to press it.

If you simply can not be bothered to make your own tofu, buy fresh soft tofu from an Asian market if at all possible. If you can’t find fresh, buy the best soft tofu you can find at an Asian market. Sometimes it comes in tubes and it’s usually in the produce department. If you don’t live near an Asian market, you can resort to using silken tofu in a box.

Soon Tubu Jjigae

3 1/2 cups water
1 4″x4″ square kombu
1/4 cup dulse, snipped into bite-size pieces with kitchen shears (optional)
1 handful arame (optional)
2 tsp vegan chicken bouillon (or enough to flavor 4 cups of water at half-strength)
1 Tbsp Korean red pepper powder
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup cold water
3 Tbsp arrowroot
6 Tbsp gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste) (Susan V of Fat-Free Vegan has a substitute you can make if you don’t live near a Korean grocery store in this post, but get the real deal if at all possible.)
1 cup cabbage kimchi
2 carrots, julienned or shredded
1 pound soft tofu, preferably homemade
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped

Place the seaweed(s) in a soup pot with the 3 1/2 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the kombu. (You can chop it up into bite-sized pieces and put it back in if you wish.) Add the garlic, red pepper powder, soy sauce, sesame oil, and “chicken” bouillon. Simmer for five minutes.

Mix the cold water and arrowroot together in a small bowl, whisking to ensure there are no lumps, then add to the soup. Add the gochujang, whisking to make sure it is dissolved. Simmer for another five minutes.

Add the kimchi and carrots.

Chop the tofu into 8 large pieces.

Add the tofu to the stew.

Stir the tofu into the stew, allowing it to break up a little bit, but mostly maintaining the chunks.

Simmer for 5 more minutes, then add the scallions.

Raise the heat a little and cook for another couple of minutes. In restaurants, soon tubu jjigae arrives to your table very, very hot, so let it get very bubbly.

I served the soon tubu jjigae in individual-sized cast iron pots, which even have lids to keep the stew warm while I run around taking photographs. Here’s one of the pots:

Mark was fascinated by the “little cauldrons”.

Serve with several banchan.

The verdict on this one was very good. Mark commented that he tasted “several layers of flavor, followed by a nice spiciness.” He proceeded to clean his cauldron, then steal tofu from mine. Afterwards he told me to announce it had the Mark Seal of Approval.

Brachtune doesn’t care much for tofu, or stew for that matter, but she does love chopsticks.

Tigger prefers red pepper.

(His fur is wet because he took a little shower in the kitchen sink. He’s very weird.)


  1. Lenora Said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 12:50 am

    looks delish! Yumm! Thanks 😀

  2. ...barbara... Said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 8:15 am

    all of your korean food looks rockin….
    will be giving it a try and i hope to get my camera soon so i can post some korean recipes that may interest you 🙂 ….

  3. Lisa Said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 11:55 am

    I wish I could make this, but I doubt my kids would eat it… and it would be too spicy for the hubs. It really looks great, though!

  4. tofufreak Said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 8:23 pm

    my parents used to make a dish like this when i was younger! welll except for the fact that they were a bit lazier and just simmered the tofu in kimchi haha

  5. Jennifer Said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 2:29 pm

    I’ve just read this post and your banchan post and must say that you amaze me. I easily consider you one of the best vegan cooks on the web! You can recreate practically anything! Great job!

  6. renae Said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

    Barbara, I’d love to see some Korean recipes and photos! I’m also looking to increase my repertoire of Korean food.

    Lisa, I think to be authentic, it’s usually quite spicy, but it’s also very easy to control the heat level by reducing the red pepper powder and gochujang accordingly. I suspect that you are right that it would be approached with great suspicion by most children, though.

    Tofufreak, my parents don’t even know what kimchi is! But you can’t go wrong with tofu and kimchi in my opinion.

    Jennifer, aw shucks – thank you!

  7. Lindsay Said,

    October 15, 2008 @ 9:34 am

    that looks like an incredible meal!

  8. Mali Said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

    that makes me so hungry and those pots are adorable! Can I ask where you got them from? I would love to have a couple of my own!

  9. renae Said,

    August 2, 2009 @ 11:53 am

    Hi Mali, I got the pots from an Asian grocery store, Super H to be exact although I’ve seen them elsewhere as well.

  10. Zoa Said,

    July 18, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

    I made this last night–oh my god, is this fantastic, fiery and full of flavour, and it only takes half an hour from start to finish. It would be perfect for a cold winter evening coming home late in a blizzard from a long day’s work. I followed your recipe exactly except that I did leave out all the seaweed except the kombu–so awesome, and it looked just like yours did (i.e., it was very beautiful ;-). I only wish I had those kewl cast iron soup bowls to serve it in. In fact, it’s going to be hard for me to resist making it again tonight…I served it over a barley-rice mix. Although I was a seaweed coward (again), this is the kind of recipe I can imagine might make it and me better friends.

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