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Kongnamul Guk (Korean Soybean Sprout Soup)

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Soybean sprout soup, or kongnamul guk (콩나물 국), is a warm dish enjoyed year-round in Korea because of its simplicity. At its most basic, it consists of three ingredients: soybean, water, and salt. This light soup makes the perfect side to any Asian meal, and it’s so quick and easy to cook. Vegan, low-carb, and gluten-free.

kongnamul guk (soybean sprout soup)

What You’ll Need

Dried kombu: A lot of non-vegan versions of kongnamul guk use anchovies for the soup base. Kombu is dried seaweed, and helps impart some of that same savoury flavour.

Fish sauce and salt: Right now I use this vegan Fysh Sauce by Tofuna. I’m not very happy with it, it doesn’t have that weird funky flavour that regular fish sauce has. The best veg-friendly fish sauces that I’ve tried so far are from the brands Au Lac and Coconut Tree. Both of these are Vietnamese because I have not found any vegan versions of Korean fish sauce (aekjeot or 액젓), but they work for most Asian dishes that require some kind of umami flavour. Vegan fish sauce in general is pretty hard to come by, though, so instead, you can use soy sauce or just add more salt. I’ve made this soup using just salt before and it tasted just fine.

tofuna fysh (vegan fish sauce)

Garlic: Self-explanatory! Everything tastes better with garlic! Mince it really fine or mash it into a paste so it will melt into the soup.

Soy bean sprouts: Aka kongnamul (콩나물) in Korean, this is the defining ingredient of this soup. Pretty easy to find these days, I see it all the time at places like Superstore and Sobey’s. If you’re really fancy you can even sprout your own, though I can somehow never get my sprouts to be as thick and plump as the storebought ones. If you can’t eat soy or don’t have access to soybeans, well, idk how you even clicked on the recipe and read this far, but mung bean sprouts can be used as a decent replacement(link).

Gochugaru: Aka kochukaru (고추가루), this is a chili powder made from dried Korean chili peppers. It adds a vibrant colour to the soup in addition to the heat factor. Leave it out if you don’t like spice. Aleppo pepper can also be used as a substitute.

Scallion and sesame seeds: not strictly necessary, but a nice garnish!

Step-by-Step Process

If you’re using kombu, start by adding that and the water to a pot and heating it up. The thing with kombu is it gets sticky and slimy if overboiled. So make sure it doesn’t quite reach boiling point; the water should look like it’s on the verge of simmering.

Now remove the kombu (or just eat it, like I do 🤭) and turn the heat up. Add the fish sauce, garlic, beansprouts, and gochugaru flakes.

Cover the pot and bring it to a boil, then let it cook at a steady simmer for 15 minutes. You’re not supposed to lift the lid during this time because sometimes soybean sprouts smell kinda nasty when cooking. I haven’t really experienced this problem, though.

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat. Let the residual heat in the pot continue to cook the sprouts for 10 minutes. Then it’s ready to eat! Add the scallions and sesame seeds if using, and enjoy your warm bowl of kongnamul soup!

kongnamul guk

Make Ahead & Storage Tips

Kongnamul guk is best enjoyed fresh, but can be stored in the fridge for up to three days after cooking. Make sure to let it cool down to room temperature before refrigerating.

(According to this study, eating the soup after five days is still safe, but the taste diminishes after three.)

Diet Substitutions

This recipe uses very minimal ingredients, so it is:

  • Vegan
  • Dairy-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Oil-free
  • WFPB
  • Low carb

However, for people with soy allergens, the main ingredient of soy bean sprout can be substituted with mung bean sprouts. The taste will be a little different, and it’s far from traditional, but if mung bean sprouts are more accessible to you feel free to use it. (Make sure to get ones with long sprouts, not the ones that have barely sprouted.)

Flavour Variations

Here are some ways to dress up your soybean sprout soup and take it beyond the basics:

  • Swap out two cups of the beansprouts for spinach and swap out the fish sauce for doenjang paste to make Sigeumchi Kongnamul Guk. (I first saw this variation in Chang Sun-Young’s cookbook A Korean Mother’s Cooking Notes. It’s really good!)
  • Don’t like spice? Take out the gochugaru.
  • Reduce the fish sauce by 1 tbsp and add 1/2 cup kimchi to make Kimchi Kongnamul Guk. (I got this idea from Korean Bapsang.) Make sure to buy a vegan kimchi because most are fermented with fish sauce or shrimp paste.
kongnamul guk (soybean sprout soup)

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Recipe Card

Kongnamul Guk (Korean Soybean Sprout Soup)

Soybean sprout soup, or kongnamul guk, is enjoyed year-round in Korea because of its simplicity. This light soup makes the perfect side to any Asian meal.
Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 40 mins
Total: 45 mins
Course: Side Dish, Soup
Cuisine: Asian, Korean
Servings: 4 small bowls or 2 large
Calories: 39kcal
Cost: $0.64

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water 720g
  • 1 piece dried kombu 20g *optional
  • 2 tbsp vegan fish sauce 30g; see <a href="">Note 1</a> for substitutions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed 10g
  • 3 cups soy bean sprouts 1/2 lb or 230g
  • 1 tsp gochugaru 3g
  • 1 scallion, diced
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds 3g
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • Add water and kombu to a small stockpot on medium-low heat. Cook for 15 minutes, making sure the water never goes above a bare simmer.
  • Remove the kombu and turn the heat up to high. Add the vegan fish sauce, garlic, soy bean sprouts, and gochugaru.
  • Cover and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium and continue to boil for 15 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and rest for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  • Ladle into bowls and top with scallions and sesame seeds.

Recipe Notes

  1. If you don’t have veggie fish sauce, feel free to substitute with 1 tbsp soy sauce + salt to taste.

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Nutrition, Cost, and Emissions Information

Each bowl of kongnamul guk is 39 cal, costs $0.64, and releases 139 gCO2e of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Calculation for full recipe as written (4 servings):

Feel free to contact me for sources on the nutritional and carbon emissions information presented here. Note that I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.

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