Recipe: Ssuk-guk (mugwort soup)
About a year ago, we took a trip down to Silsang Temple, where we ran into some ladies trimming greens near the kitchen. I started chatting with them and before I knew it, Sonja and I were helping them trim the greens for the monks’ dinner. One lady who worked there invited us to come back for dinner. During the meal, she quietly came over with bowls of a fragrant soup that wasn’t on the menu. “This is my ssuk-guk,” she said shyly. It was so delicious! Usually, in Korea, ssuk (쑥, mugwort) has such a strong herbal flavor that people mix it with bean powder before adding it to the soup. But her ssuk-guk didn’t use any bean powder. “How did you make this without bean powder?” I asked her. “Potatoes!” She said with a smile.
Inspired by her potato ssuk-guk, I came up with this simple spring recipe. Monks don’t normally eat garlic, but I always like to have a little in my soup. Since this recipe calls for fresh ssuk, it’s primarily a spring recipe. You can blanch and freeze fresh ssuk to use all year, but of course fresh tastes best!
2 medium potatoes
1 L of 쌀뜬 물 (water from washing rice)
1 big handful of dried anchovies
1 piece of dashima 4x6cm
70g untrimmed ssuk
4 tbs of doenjang
1 clove of garlic, minced
1. Rinse your rice and toss the water from the first washing, but keep the water from the second rinse for your soup. You can do this the day before and save it in the fridge.
2. Make your stock with the myeolchi and dashima in the rice water. Once it starts to simmer cook it for about 15 minutes.
3. Cut your potatoes and steam them in a steamer basket above your stock until they are fully cooked. If you don’t have a steamer basket you can do this in a separate pot.
4. Meanwhile, trim your ssuk, rinse it, and set it aside.
5. When the stock is ready, take out the myeolchi and dashima.
6. Gently smash the potatoes and add to the soup—don’t aim for a puréed texture, you’ll want to leave some small chunks.
7. Add the doenjang. I like to use a sieve to help disperse the paste evenly.
8. Add the minced garlic.
9. Add the ssuk and cook until it’s soft enough (about 5 more minutes).