We all could use a little dinner inspiration — even Ali Slagle, who dreams of dinner. In “Dinner Diaries,” she’ll ask colleagues about one night when they somehow transformed ingredients into dinner with all this life going on.
This month’s installment: Growing an equitable and wholly delicious spice trade requires Sana Javeri Kadri, CEO and founder of Diaspora Co., to travel frequently. But even when she’s in Mumbai for a third of the year, her soondubu jjigae comes too.
The honest answer is that I eat soondubu jjigae three times a week. It’s my primary food group. My everyday meal.
I will eat it in the heat of summer and in the middle of winter. I’m in Mumbai four months of the year, and when I’m there I usually defer to whatever my family’s cook is making, but when I get off the long flight I beg her to make it. I voicemail-dictated the recipe to her and she’s gotten really good at making it. Even in the heat of Mumbai I’ve gotten attached to eating soondubu jjigae.
Korean food is much more my comfort food than Indian food. I discovered soondubu jjigae when I was in Korea as an impressionable 13-year-old. I’m in awe of all things Korean cuisine. Soondubu jjigae is spicy, so it appeals to my tastes, but I also have a very finicky stomach so the mix of broth and tofu is very soothing. I’ve made it hundreds of times so I can make it in 20 minutes while I’m on a working phone call.
First, the broth. I make a giant batch of broth every Sunday. My stock bags are a thing of pride. I have two Ziploc bags running in my freezer all the time. They take up, honestly, about a quarter of my freezer. Every time I’m cooking, the stock bag comes out. All my veggie scraps, mushroom stems, any bones, any shrimp peels go in. I also add spent dashi packets too, so the broth is umami central. I usually make the stock with a splash of fish sauce and a big splash of apple cider vinegar and let it simmer for 24 hours on the lowest burner. It goes from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening, when I strain it into Mason jars. There are 6 large Mason jars that are just broth every week in my fridge.
I also bulk-purchased Kettle and Fire beef bone broth and tend to add that in when I know my scraps from that week are a little sad. When there aren’t mushrooms or dashi packets, I’ll double stock. I saw Helen Rosner’s article about double stock but the problem is that I use up those six jars before it’s time to make another, so I double stock with Kettle and Fire broth.
And then I use the broth for all of my rice. People come to my house and always ask why my rice tastes so good and it’s because I only cook it in broth, which is really extra but it tastes amazing. I’m a bit of an abomination as a South Asian because I pretty much exclusively cook with Koda Farms short-grain rice, whereas a lot of the rice that I grew up with in Mumbai was long or medium grain. I just haven’t found a long-grain rice that has the same amount of flavor.
I buy the BCD Tofu Soondubu jjigae ready-made packets — I’m really lucky that I have a Korean deli in my neighborhood. I always get the extra-spicy. It’s a block of silken tofu — the really jiggly type that breaks up into jagged, iceberg-like forms — and a sauce packet that is gochugaru mixed with a couple things.
I use more broth as the base for my soondubu jjigae with the BCD tofu packet. I also add more gochujang from Queens, this amazing Korean superette in San Francisco. Their gochujang is sweetened with jujube and it’s the best gochujang I’ve ever encountered. I take it to India for my family, and it’s perishable so I go to great lengths to take it with me.
Queens also sells a really really wonderful tuna fish sauce and I usually use that instead of salt. I tend to add whatever aromatics and veggies I have on hand and a lot of kimchi always. Recently Asha [Loupy], who’s our recipe editor at Diaspora, came up with a recipe for a smoky kimchi using our Sirārakhong chillies, which are slow-smoked over bamboo for 48 hours. So I have a big batch of this kimchi that’s been making my soondubu jjigae even spicier and smokier.
I try to have homemade kimchi always. Honestly, it’s just because I just enjoy making it, it’s not because I think mine is better. Because I travel so much, I like having grounding rituals. I make broth, I make kimchi, I make curry paste for fish curries. These things are very soothing activities to me.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Ali Slagle is a recipe developer, stylist, and — most important of all — home cook. She’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, and her cookbook is called I Dream of Dinner (so You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes. Daniela Jordan-Villaveces is a creative director and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá and raised between Colombia, Holland, and the U.S. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles with her husband, their son, Lou, two kittens, and a pup.