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    Recipes: Korean soups with choose-your-adventure spiciness

    Warm up with these easy and delicious dishes featuring kimchi and soft tofu.

    Korean soft tofu stew (soondubu jjigae).
    Photograph by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.
    Korean soft tofu stew (soondubu jjigae).

    Stews and soups figure heavily in the Korean diet, and the three recipes here, featuring soft tofu and kimchi, are true workhorses, popular in home kitchens and in restaurants. Here, the old trope “There are as many recipes as there are cooks” holds true; these recipes skew basic. Once you have the ingredients, both the stews and the kimchi soup come together easily, quickly, and deliciously.

    KOREAN SOFT TOFU STEW (SOONDUBU JJIGAE)

    Serves 3 to 4

    I like plenty of tofu, so I use 2 12-ounce containers, but using 1 pound will certainly suffice.

    1½    tablespoons neutral oil

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    1         large onion, chopped

    2        ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms (about 1½ cups), stems removed and caps quartered, very large ones cut into sixths or eighths

    Salt

    1         tablespoon Asian sesame oil, plus extra for serving

    2        tablespoons Korean red chili powder (gochugaru), or to taste

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    1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

    4        cups low-sodium chicken broth

    1½    tablespoons soy sauce

    6        ounces zucchini (about 1 medium-small), trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and cut into ½-inch pieces

    1 to 1½ pounds extra-soft or soft silken tofu, excess liquid poured off

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    ½      cup thickly sliced (½ inch) scallion whites and greens (about 4 medium)

    Fresh, hot white or brown rice, for serving

    In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the neutral oil until shimmering. Add the onion, mushrooms, and ¾ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium, add the sesame oil, chili powder, and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the broth, soy sauce, and zucchini, adjust the heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.

    Add the tofu, break it into large pieces, and bring to a strong boil. Continue boiling, occasionally swirling the pan, about 2 minutes. Add about half the scallions and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt if necessary. Divide the stew among serving bowls, sprinkle with remaining scallions, and serve at once, with rice on the side and passing sesame oil at the table.

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    KOREAN SOFT TOFU STEW WITH PORK, KIMCHI, AND EGGS

    Serves 3 to 4

    I suggest pork belly — be sure to trim away any bits of bone or cartilage, as well as skin — but pork butt boneless country-style ribs (or Southern-style ribs) work well, too. Use 1 egg for each diner.

    1         tablespoon neutral oil

    12      ounces of pork belly, trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes

    Anthony Tieuli
    TIP: Korean chili powder, called gochugaru, can be fine or coarse — I used the latter in the soft tofu stew. A second popular heat source in Korean cuisine is gochujang (above), a red chili paste, which has roasted and slightly sweet undertones and can vary in hotness.

    1         large onion, chopped

    1½    cups napa cabbage kimchi (about 8 ounces), drained, squeezed, and chopped

    Salt and pepper

    1         tablespoon Asian sesame oil, plus extra for serving

    2        tablespoons Korean red chili powder (gochugaru), or to taste

    1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

    4        cups low-sodium chicken broth

    1½    tablespoons soy sauce

    6        ounces zucchini (1 medium-small), trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and cut into ½-inch pieces (about 1½ cups)

    1 to 1½ pounds extra-soft or soft silken tofu, excess liquid poured off

    ½      cup thickly sliced (½ inch) scallion whites and greens (about 4 medium)

    3 or 4 large eggs

    Fresh, hot white or brown rice, for serving

    In a wide saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the neutral oil until shimmering. Add the pork in a single layer, and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces and cook for 3 minutes longer. Leaving the pork in the pan, pour or spoon off all but 1½ tablespoons of fat.

    Adjust the heat to medium, add the onion, kimchi, and ¾ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 4 minutes. Add the sesame oil, chili powder, and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the broth and soy sauce, adjust the heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer. Adjust the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the pork and kimchi are tender, about 30 minutes. Add the zucchini, tofu, and about half of the scallions and stir to mix. Break the eggs into the mixture, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, cover, adjust the heat to medium, and cook until the whites are just set, about 7 minutes (longer for firmer yolks). Adjust seasoning with salt if necessary. Divide the stew among serving bowls, sprinkle each with a portion of the remaining scallions, and serve at once, with rice on the side and passing sesame oil at the table.

    KOREAN KIMCHI SOUP (KIMCHI-GUK)

    Serves 4

    Pork butt boneless country-style ribs or Southern-style ribs also work well in this recipe in place of pork belly.

    1         tablespoon neutral oil

    12      ounces pork belly, trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes

    2        large onions, chopped

    Salt

    1½    tablespoons Asian sesame oil, plus extra for serving

    4        cups napa cabbage kimchi (about 1¾ pounds), drained, squeezed, and roughly chopped, and ½ cup liquid reserved

    2        tablespoons minced or grated garlic (about 10 medium cloves)

    1½    teaspoons sugar, optional

    2        tablespoons Korean chili paste (gochujang), optional

    4        medium scallions, whites and greens cut into ½-inch-thick slices

    1         14- to 20-ounce block medium to firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes

    Fresh, hot white or brown rice, for serving

    In a wide saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the neutral oil until shimmering. Add the pork in a single layer and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces and cook for 3 minutes longer. With a slotted spoon, remove the pork and discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan.

    Adjust the heat to medium, add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the sesame oil and kimchi and cook, stirring, until fragrant and the kimchi appears drier, about 7 minutes longer. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add 3½ cups water, the reserved ½ cup kimchi liquid, and the browned pork; adjust the heat to medium-high and bring to a strong simmer, stirring and scraping the pan to dissolve the fond.

    Adjust heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pork and kimchi are very tender, about 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and the optional sugar and/or chili paste, and stir to combine, then stir in about half the scallions. Add the tofu, baste it with some of the liquid, cover the pan, and continue to simmer, occasionally swirling the pan, to heat the tofu, about 5 minutes. Divide the stew among serving bowls, sprinkle with the remaining scallions, and serve at once, with rice on the side and passing sesame oil at the table.

    Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.’’ Send comments to cooking@globe.com.