Whereas direct heating is popular in the West, Koreans have developed a variety of soup-based cooking methods, along with a vast assortment of guk dishes. The significance of guk, in terms of Korea’s food culture, can be understood from an excerpt of Joseonmussangsinsikyori-jebeop, a cookbook from the Joseon period (1392-1910), which reads: “Guk is second only to steamed rice in terms of its importance at the Korean dinner table, and represents the most essential side dish. A meal without guk is equivalent to a face without eyes. No feast is complete without guk.” Accordingly, while rice is the basic staple of the Korean diet, guk is the most important side dish, and an indispensable item at that. There are numerous types of guk, made with a variety of ingredients, such as vegetables and meat, which can be served as a side dish or a main course, when combined with a generous helping of rice.
Varieties of Guk
The varities of guk can be grouped into four basic types: malgeunguk, clear broth; tojangguk, soup flavored with doenjang (fermented soybean paste); gomguk, thick beef soup; and naengguk, cold soup. In general, malgeunguk refers to a clear broth that is combined with only a limited amount of ingredients, or geondeogi. When a large volume of malgeunguk is prepared, a large piece of beef would usually be boiled for a long time, whereas for regular servings, meat would be sliced into pieces, seasoned, and sautéed, then boiled in water to produce a flavorful broth. Malgeunguk is typically seasoned with salt and soy sauce.
Because of the addition of fermented soybean paste, tojangguk soups feature a hearty taste even when they might contain little or no meat. Koreans will regularly add hot pepper paste or red pepper powder to tojangguk in order to enhance its savory taste. Similar to gomtang, meat/tripe soup, or seolleongtang, bone soup with beef, gomguk is made by boiling tougher cuts of beef, or beef bones, until the fat has dissipated and a desired consistency attained. Although it can be seasoned with salt and soy sauce before the broth thickens, salt is usually added at the table, as is the case with seolleongtang or yeonggye baeksuk, a soup made with spring chicken and ginseng.
Naengguk, which typically consists of such ingredients as cucumber, seaweed, and kelp, is a type of soup served cold, to which a splash of vinegar is added to create a refreshing taste that can help to perk up your appetite during the oppressive heat of summer. For its preparation, the broth should fill about three-quarters of the cooking pot, while the soup to ingredients should approximate a 3:1 ratio.
Since guk is prepared with such a diversity of ingredients, including various meat, fish, and shellfish, along with vegetables and seaweed, there are naturally certain types that are closely associated with the different seasons. For example, tojangguk with wild herbs, such as ssuk (mugwort) and naengi (horseradish), is regularly served in spring, whereas summer tables are routinely graced with such delightful offerings as oi naengguk (cold cucumber soup), miyeok naengguk (cold seaweed soup), kkaetguk (sesame soup), yeonggye baeksuk, and chueotang (loach soup). Autumn is the ideal time to enjoy such fare as toranguk (taro soup), songitang (pine mushroom soup) and baechutguk (Chinese cabbage soup), while popular winter soups include gomguk, seonjitguk (ox-blood soup), tteokguk (sliced rice cake soup), and manduguk (dumpling soup).
Whereas Western-style soups are mainly served as an appetizer or starter course, Korean soup is meant to be eaten together with your meal. Moreover, in many cases, the soup is served as a main course, especially when combined with rice. Examples of main-course soup meals include gomtang, seolleongtang, and samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup).
Guk with Beef
Soegogi miyeokguk and soegogi muguk are good examples of easy-to-make types of guk that are regularly enjoyed by Koreans at home. Even today, tradition calls for soegogi miyeokguk to be served to a mother after childbirth, for the provision of nourishment and to accelerate her recovery process. Seaweed is rich in calcium and iodine, which are both important for your good health. For a new mother, calcium helps to prevent postpartum complications, along with contributing to the sound maintenance of bones and teeth, while iodine is an essential mineral for regulating thyroid activity. It is also customary for people to eat soegogi miyeokguk on their birthday
Soegogi miyeokguk is prepared by slicing beef into small pieces, then sautéing and boiling it together with seaweed. It can also be made by combining seaweed with a broth made with beef-brisket or beef bones. It can be prepared with little or no meat, or with dried mussels.
Soegogi muguk is a dish that Koreans regularly make at home. It is made by chopping a radish into flat pieces, sautéing the radish with meat, and then boiling the two in water. This soup is popular because it is simple and quick to prepare. Although it is enjoyed all year round, it is especially delectable when prepared with freshly harvested radish in the fall.