Recipe: Tofu Kongguksu 두부 콩국수 (Vegetarian)

Sticky, humid Korean summers are all the more unpleasant when the house you reside in doesn't have AC.

This is my second summer in a row I've spent without the benefits of the almighty AC and when a guy does not have AC, "dinners" get stretched to creative and imaginative ways. Minimalism is the new motto for meals as an alternative to eating out all the time and after thinking I should cut down on the prepackaged nengmyeon packs for meals all the time I came to try a shortcut recipe for kongguksu which I was pleased with the results and adapted for this post's recipe.

Popular opinion of kongguksu tends to be quite divided with most seemingly falling into the "love it" or "hate it" category. For all my love of noodles, kongguksu long remained towards the bottom of my noodles category ranking list. But within the past year I've come to appreciate the innate simplicity of the dish and its subtleties. If all the Korean noodle dishes were together in a room for a party, kongguksu would not only probably be in the outer fringes of the party circle (while dishes like nengmyeon and kimchi mari guksu would be commanding all the attention in the center), but many of kongguksu's fellow noodle buddies would probably leave the party not even knowing kongguksu was even there to begin with. Shucks. Poor guy.

I would argue though a large part kongguksu gets so overlooked is because so many other Korean dishes are so bold and loud in taste (with ingredients like fiery chili powders, spicy garlic, etc) that a non-red dish based on the rather ordinary soybeans can only tend to get lost in the shuffle. It's like having a quiet introverted kid in a mix of all extroverted, boisterous and big personality-possessing kids. But those who get to know kongguksu will learn there's more than meets the eye and that it, as a whole, is greater than the sum of its parts.

Now, the traditional method of making kongguksu is a bit time-consuming with one having to deal with washing soybeans and boiling them, skinning them, mashing them, etc. Ain't nobody got time for that. Especially when you're AC-less.

This is a cheater shortcut way that ingeniously uses tofu and nuts as the "broth" base. Not only is it oh so creamy and nutty but it's \healthy and a nice refreshing way to leave you full without feeling heavy afterwards.

Kongguksu isn't for everyone and if you're looking to satiate your taste buds with some bolder flavors, this might be one to hold off for another day. But if you're ok with hunkering down and getting to know kongguksu, well, you may just be surprised!

Tofu Kongguksu (두부 콩국수)
Makes 4 servings

You'll need:
- 1 package of tofu (firm or soft is up to you)
- 1/2 cup of your favorite nuts roasted but unsalted (cashews, pistachios, almonds, etc)
- 2 cups milk (regular or soybean)
- 8 oz (about 1/2 a pound) of somyeon (소면)
- 1 tbsp of salt and more on hand for personal preference when serving
- 1 tbsp of roasted sesame seeds and more for garnish 
- A bit of julienne cucumber for garnish
- A few cherry tomatoes halved (optional)
- Some ice (optional)

1. Fill a small pot with water and get it to boil. When the water begins to boil, drain and wash once your tofu and then add it, as whole, to the boiling pot and cook for about a minute. Drain and cool.

Minimal stove use is the benefit of this recipe. Just a quick boil for the tofu will do.

Fill another pot with water to boil your noodles. Boil the noodles according to the instructions on its package. When finished cooking, drain the noodles and rinse a few times in cold, running water to cool and set aside.

2. In a blender, add your blend of nuts, the milk, the tablespoon of sesame seeds, salt and the tofu. Breaking up the tofu into chunks will help with the blending.

Add your favorite mix of nuts to your blender...

Then add the milk, tofu, sesame seeds and salt

Blend until everything is mixed and incorporated.

Whirl, whirl, whirl.

3. Taste and adjust taste according to your preference. You can add a bit more salt if you wish and some even choose to add sugar. If you feel like it's not nutty enough, add some more nuts, if you think it's too thick, add a bit more milk. When it's to your liking, pour the mixture into a container and leave in the fridge for an hour or so to chill. In the meanwhile, julienne some cucumber and halve your cherry tomatoes if you want to add them.

Creamy, nutty goodness ready to chill in the fridge

4. To serve, divide the noodles into individual portions and put into serving bowls. Add a bit of the cucumber strips on top of the noodles and sprinkle a bit of toasted sesame on top of the cucumbers. 

Ah, the beauty of simplicity

Pour in some of the chilled kongguksu mixture. If you want it even colder, add a few ice cubes but know this may leave the broth a bit watery tasting so adjust with salt as needed.

Add salt/sugar to taste as needed

Mix it all up and enjoy! Many Koreans enjoy eating it with kimchi to provide a nice contrast of sweet and mellow from the kongguksu and sharp and pungent tastes from the kimchi.

Chill as a cucumber....swimming in kongguksu broth

For the hungry folks, kongguksu alone can leave some feeling something's amiss so I quickly made some fist-sized joomuk bap (주먹밥) with a few chopped veggies and eggs and I was more than happy. 

Can't go wrong with rice balls

Kongguksu isn't for everyone and it can take some getting used to but again, its subtle qualities are vastly under appreciated so give it a shot to help beat the summer heat in a healthy but tasty manner!