I like to imagine the first time someone looked at a bunch of kelp on a beach and decided to boil a big pot of soup with said clump of seaweed. Maybe someone really hungry. Or someone really creative. Or totally broke. Or all of the above. And rejoicing in its deliciousness and reveling in its health benefits, converting all others to do the same.
Over the years, this soup has taken on different variations (made with fish stock, beef stock, chicken stock, anchovies, with tofu or not, etc), but it’s had a central role in celebrating milestones in Korean lives. And over the years, I’ve often been found eyeing a clump of seaweed on a California beach and thinking about taking it home to eat. Ha.
High in vitamin A, C, iron, and calcium, miyuk gook is served to women after giving birth. It is *the* Korean postpartum food, and you’re supposed to eat it, and only it, for 3-4 straight weeks. So it’s basically your first birthday food, because your birth mom has theoretically had some on your birthday. My mom has always served me noodles for long life on my birthdays, but many other Korean kids eat miyuk gook on their birthday, too.
I’ve always loved this soup; I’ve never needed the excuse of pregnancy or a birthday to down a nice bowl of seaweed and broth. But here I am–cooking up large batches of the stuff now that I’m due anyday.
You can buy the kelp in either dried or fresh format. I usually buy the dried kind (if you buy the wet kind in the refrigerated section, you’ll want to wash and drain it so that it’s not so salty). Pictured here is a bag of dried kelp:
A little seaweed goes a long way. You’ll want to grab a handful and reconstitute it in water, where it will expand and rehydrate into a large mass of seaweed. You’ll also want to cut it up with scissors or chop it with a knife into more wieldy pieces so that when you go to eat the seaweed soup, you won’t have to chew on a seaweed piece the size of your face.
See the bowl of seaweed below? That was about a handful of dried seaweed before soaking in water for about 10-15 minutes. I’m not kidding about how much it expands.
Like I said, there are various meats and stocks you can use. In the past, I’ve used dried anchovies, but my favorite is to use a few short ribs. Because uh, I love short ribs. You’ll see that I’ve scored the short ribs. Better to eat with, my dear!
Also good to add are garlic and green onions. And if you’re so inclined, some sliced tofu.
For the record, my favorite tofu is Pulmuone brand, which I’ve only been able to find in Korean stores. If I can’t find Pulmuone, I tend to pass on the tofu as an ingredient in this soup.
After prepping your ingredients, heat up a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or soup pot. And add the garlic and green onions until they soften. Then add your meat until it browns (if you’re using dried anchovies, no need to brown the anchovies).
Then add water. About 6-9 cups. Or whatever your soup pot’s capacity might be. Add the rehydrated seaweed and optional tofu.
Bring to a boil and then simmer.
Add a teaspoon of sesame oil (if you don’t have it, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s a nice flavor). Add a tablespoon of soy sauce (if you don’t have soy sauce, you can add some salt–but be careful not to over salt the soup).
This is what the soup looks like after about half an hour of simmering:
Add some black pepper. Serve with rice. Live long and prosper.
Recipe after the jump…