Korean Army Base stew has a super interesting history (and is also super delicious). It all started during the Korean war when US soldiers brought over familiar food stuffs like hotdogs, baked beans, spam, American cheese; basically things that had never before been available in Korea. Instead of eating these products separately (how the American’s consumed them) they put their own twist on them and served them up ‘Korean style’ by adding them to a big hotpot adding fresh vegetables plus some of their own traditional ingredients such as kimchi and tteok (korean rice cakes). Add in some gochujang paste and a flavourful broth and you got yourself a stew!
It is an easy clean out your fridge type dish, especially if you make up a large batch of the paste in advanced. You can substitute water for the broth if you don’t have time or the inclination, however I would strongly urge you to try this dish with the broth at least once as it does add a depth of flavour you just can’t achieve with water alone.
Cheese may seem like an unusual ingredient for a stew but it adds richness to the sauce, not cheesy flavour. The starch from tteok and the cheese combine to make a thick, rich, spicy gravy. If you are a bit nervous about adding cheese try adding a small amount to a bowl as you serve it to compare the difference.
Makes enough paste for 1 pans worth of stew which serves 3 to 4 people
3 cloves of garlic minced
3/4 tbsp gochujang paste*
1 1/2 tbsp gochugaru*
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
enough water to combine everything into a soft paste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
This makes enough broth for 2 pans worth of stew. You can either save the excess for another time in the fridge or freezer, or keep topping up your stew with more ingredients and cooking as you go for extra hungry people.
6 dry shiitake mushrooms
1 large strip of kelp (kombu) about the size of the palm of your hand
6 cups of water
optional the dried roots of scallions. I collect the the roots I cut off scallions, dry them on the window sill for a day and store in an airtight container to add to stocks and broths. Adds a lovely flavour with something I would otherwise discard.
Add all ingredients in a large pot and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for at least 30 minutes. When you are happy with the broth, strain it into a bowl or container discarding the solid ingredients.
For the stew
There are a few staples that I consider mandatory for this stew, but you know what, you do you. Use this as a guide and add your own family favourites to it just like the Koreans did.
2-3 finely chopped spring onions (don’t forget to save those roots for making broth next time)
1 head of broccolini florets cut off and stems chopped into small 1cm pieces
1 tube of silken tofu (approx 150g) sliced
1 large handful of fresh or frozen tteok*
1 large handful baby corn spears
2-3 vegan hotdogs sliced
4 vegan gyoza/dumplings (frozen is fine)
1/3 tin of baked beans in tomato sauce (vegan)
1/4 to 1/3 cup vegan kimchi **
1 packet of instant ramen (keep the flavour sachets for another time)
optional vegan cheese shreds (I prefer Daiya mozzarella shreds for this as they melt to make a rich broth)
Neatly pile your ingredients (except the ramen and cheese) in a heavy based frying pan off the heat. Dollop your paste in the center then gently pour in your broth or water until the ingredients are almost covered (ie they should all be under or floating on the water, but not completely covered as this will dilute the flavour too much). Bring pan to a boil then add your instant ramen and gently press down to cover it with broth. Simmer for 2-3 minutes more separating your ramen and stirring around the paste to make sure it is evenly distributed in the stew. If using, add in your cheese to taste. Turn off the heat and ladle out into bowls making sure to get a nice mix of everything. Serve with extra kimchi and plain rice.
In restaurants they serve (and cook) the army base stew at your table on a portable gas burner, turning it down low/off when it is done and topping it up with veggies and extra ramen as you get through it. Given most people probably don’t have this set up I have provided steps for making it on the stove top then spooning it out like a soup.
*Gochujang and gochugaru are red pepper paste and red pepper flakes respectively, you can buy these products are most Asian groceries and online, same goes for tteok.
**Traditional kimchi is not vegan as it usually contains some kind of fermented prawns or anchovies. Vegan kimchi can sometimes be found in health stores however it is usually very expensive as it is marketed at people as a probiotic food to “heal” their gut and whatever else. Yes, because it is fermented, kimchi contains a plethora of healthy microbes, but come on, it’s cabbage in a jar – it shouldn’t be $12. Therefore I make it myself. I use Cheap, Lazy Vegan’s recipe and can wholeheartedly endorse it.
© Kat’s Savage Kitchen 2017