SoonDooBoo Jjigae (순두부찌개)

FYI, I have a newer, prettier, updated soondooboo recipe, if you're interested in something a little easier to follow.

Soondooboo jjigae, or silken tofu stew/soup, is one of my favorite staples for dinner when the cold weather hits. It's really easy to make and it's really comforting so I love it. Half of the ingredients are ones that are not readily available in a normal grocery store, but I'll try and offer some semi-decent substitutions. However, to be perfectly frank, it's just not going to taste as good unless you use the real stuff.

1-1/2 tablespoon Korean hot pepper flakes, you could use a mixture of 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (the kind you sprinkle on pizza) with 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper instead; add more or less depending on your spicy-heat tolerance
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil (or canola oil, any taste-less oil is fine)
1-1/2 cups water or stock (vegetable, beef, chicken, seafood, anything you prefer)
3 cloves of garlic
1 hot Korean pepper, you can use a jalepeno or another hot chili you like
1/2 cup mixed seafood, this is available in the freezer section of the grocery store; if you don't want to use seafood, you could just throw in some stewing beef. This is to flavor the stock of the soup.
1/4 cup chopped cabbage kimchi, (we have homemade kimchi at home). Sometimes you can find prepared kimchi in the grocery store but if you don't have access, you can omit this ingredient. Just throw in some roughly chopped onions for that vegetable factor though.
1 teaspoon Korean hot pepper paste, this is just to flavor the broth so you could potentially omit this if you don't have any. But it does add a lot of roundness so if it's not there, the soup will taste like it's missing a little oomph.
1/2 teaspoon dwaenjang (Korean soybean paste, it's like Korean miso), this is another broth flavoring agent. However, the soybean paste has a certain "umami" taste. Miso is a perfectly fine substitution, and I've found it to be readily available.
1 package of silken tofu (I bought the kind that comes in a tube package from the Asian market, but they usually come in a small square container at the regular grocery store)
1 handful of enochi mushrooms, I've only seen these at my grocery store every so often so you could just use regular mini portabello mushrooms
pinch of salt (to taste)
chives (optional)

I poured a bit of oil in the pot (I used a small saucepan) and turned the heat on low.

I put the hot pepper flakes in the oil (while it was still cold) and let it heat up slowly.
I swirled the pot around to make sure all of the flakes were saturated with the oil. This step is to get the oil to turn red and pick up the hot spicy flavor of the pepper flakes.
Once it started to sizzle I poured in the water. If the flakes burn you'll have to start all over.
Then, I added the hot pepper paste and soybean paste and let it dissolve in the liquid.
Then I added in the seafood, hot pepper, garlic, and kimchi to get the soup to start developing some flavor. If you want a beefy broth, this is when you'd add the beef.
Once the pot came to a boil and the seafood was cooked through, I gave it a taste and added as much salt as I thought the soup needed. Then I added in the tofu. I did it really gently so I wouldn't break up the tofu too much. I like big chunks in my soup.
While I waited for the soup to come back up to a boil, I prepared the mushrooms; I used about half a 6 oz. package.
It usually has some ugly looking ends, which I just chopped off.
I threw the mushrooms in just before serving, along with the chives. I like the mushrooms to keep a bit of their texture and not end up overcooked and chewy.
If you want, you can also add an egg. What's really fun (and what they sometimes do in restaurants), is to leave an egg out to come to room temperature. Bring the soup to the table straight off of the stove while it's still bubbling and boiling and crack the egg into the soup at the table and then give it a stir. The soup should be hot enough to cook the egg. It's kind of a fancy way to impress guests.