This minutest of internet corridors is for recipes, and really recipes alone.
I don’t share many personal anecdotes here because my private life is none of the interwebs business. Another reason is that share-all style just isn’t what draws me to a food blog.
I go for the perfected photography, the interesting combination of flavors, the helpful tips. (Not that I claim to have any of those things.) I don’t go to hear about your kids first tooth falling out, how you need to re-do your kitchen, or what your yoga teacher said in class. I want the food, dash-it-all. And so I try to write posts that mean, impatient people like myself would appreciate – to the point, no mush, no extra paragraphs describing how I got an oil change this week.
But sometimes a dish is so directly connected to a recipe that its story must be told…
At about one in the morning, two summers ago, my grandmother died. Quietly, peacefully, in her bed. Although in the preceding weeks the house had been a constant hubbub – of loved ones coming in and out to get one last hug, drop off cookies and pots of stew, to say goodbye and squeeze her hand before heading to the airport – that night there were just two people with her. Myself and my aunt, her youngest of seven.
Grandma Jeanne was feisty, read everything she could get her hands on, washed dishes really badly but insisted on doing it, and was exceptionally kind to the people that needed it the most. When someone is gone can you ever really do them justice in description? Her life fills a book that I am not equipped to write.
There were others in the house that we had to wake up, as promised.
We sat in the kitchen and waited for hospice to come and officially declare her dead, no one said much. Someone might have made tea. Holding a vigil is an exhausting business and I drove home because all I wanted was my pillow and my husbands slumbering frame.
In the morning I remember waking up surprisingly clear-headed and calm, relieved in many ways. I went downstairs to the kitchen and I made soup. This soup.
With a fresh batch of kimchi as the base I added bok choy I’d originally bought for a stir-fry, carrots because we had them, and spoonfuls of miso and gojuchang to make a bracing, spicy broth that would fortify me in more ways than one.
I ate it for the next few nights at work, which I definitely should have called out of, but a part of me needed to be busy. I found myself crying in empty staircases, finding it hard to stay composed in patients rooms that held little old ladies of similar age. Silly and small as it was, the soup helped.
This soup is tied to my memory of that morning and the night that preceded it. But it doesn’t make me sad to be reminded. Rather, it’s a bolster from the grayest of New England winter months, when you’ve had a wreck of a week, when you need to recall the people that matter, when nothing but soup will do.
Kimchi Soup with Ginger-Pork Meatballs
- 1 large onion diced
- 8 cloves garlic diced
- 1 thumb-size piece ginger grated
- 3 heads baby bok choy trimmed and sliced into bite-size pieces
- 4 large carrots peeled and cut on a bias or shaved into ribbons
- 1 cup packed, chopped kimchi plus extra juice if you’ve got it
- 1 5 ounce can water chestnuts drained
- 1/2 cup edamame frozen is fine
- 1 TB white miso
- 1 TB gojuchang if you don’t love spicy, try 2 tsp
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 9-12 ounce package fresh udon noodles optional. If you’re planning on serving this to a table of people I’d double the noodles.
- an abundance of scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, lime, tograshi, soft-boiled eggs for topping
For the Meatballs:
- 1 pound ground pork
- 5 scallions diced
- 1 TB microplaned/grated ginger
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 TB breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Gently mix all the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside to flavor while you get started on the soup.
Heat a large dutch over over medium-high heat with enough oil to coat the bottom.
This soup is mainly just chucking things into a pot so I suggest getting everything chopped ahead of time to make life easier.
Once the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic and ginger, stirring to brown.
Add the miso and gojuchang, letting the pastes melt into the onion mix.
Next tip in the kimchi, and carrots.
Add the broth, cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to a simmer and let cook until carrots are soft but still toothsome, like ten minutes.
Meanwhile set a large skillet over medium high heat, oiled.
Form the pork mix into meatballs and add to the sizzling pan. Brown on all sides and cook through.
Once the carrots are just about done, taste the broth and adjust as needed. Stir in the remaining bok choy, water chestnuts and edamame. Simmer for another few minutes, let the bok choy soften but don’t overdo it or it’ll really fall apart.
When ready to serve, get all your selected toppings ready — cook the noodles (if using) to package instructions, do your eggs, chop herbs, etc.
Spoon generous amounts of soup into shallow bowls with plenty of veg and meatballs per serving. Set out toppings and noodles for people to add themselves.
- Homemade kimchi is so easy and such a fun thing to make from scratch. I use the recipe from “Two Red Bowls” most often, although the seasonal versions from chef Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles are very creative and delicious.
- Miso is a fermented soybean paste and it adds a butterscotchy umami flavor. Found at better grocery stores and Asian markets.
- Gojuchang is a sticky chili paste. There is no substitute for its deep sweet heat and it’s easily found at most grocery stores now so there’s no excuse for not having this flavor explosive in your fridge at all times. If you want other uses for it try Sweet & Spicy Fire Shrimp.
- This makes a big potful and can certainly be made ahead, but I’d caution against making the noodles ahead of time as they will get super gummy and disintegrate into the soup and be gross.