Korean Soybean Milk Noodles
Author & Photographer: Alyce Oh
If there’s any aspect of my Korean heritage I am utterly devoted to, it’d have to be the food. I’m fortunate to have grown up with my halmoni (grandma) who prepared most of the meals I ate growing up, informing me about the culture and tastes of a country I’ve yet to see with my own eyes. The kinds of dishes she’s made over the years range far and wide, but one that I hold in special regard is her kongguksu, or soybean milk noodles.
Kongguksu is essentially a dish of springy noodles in a broth of freshly-made soy milk— arguably the lesser-known, plant-based counterpart to nengmyun. It sounds rather simple, but to me, kongguksu has always possessed a sacred quality. My halmoni has the tendency to rattle off the numerous health benefits of every dish she prepares (some legitimate, most... well, imaginary), and kongguksu poses no exception. The soy milk will purify your blood, prevent cancer, make your skin and hair glow— you get the idea. While I’ve come to combat these claims with demands for scientific evidence (in jest, of course), I still appreciate the labor of love that goes into preparing it, and therefore make sure to finish each bowl to the very last drop. If anything, I’m getting a good dose of protein.
As I’ve said, kongguksu is rather simple, but there exists more than a few variations. Purists will insist on making the soy milk from actual soybeans, while I’ve seen others make it by blending silken tofu with water (I personally don’t condone such sacrilege). My halmoni prefers to use black soybeans because she believes it has more health benefits than the typical peachy-toned variety. I think it gives the soy milk an interesting tinge of pale green, and a slightly more complex flavor.
Another point of difference in the making of kongguksu comes from the additional ingredients you can add to enhance the milk. These include toasted sesame seeds and nuts, such as pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, and/or walnuts. The add-ins are crucial as they add a rich depth of flavor to the milk that would otherwise be quite bland. The flavor of the milk can vary significantly depending on what you choose to add, so try different combinations and see which you like best.
Finally, the noodles. Though this is technically a noodle dish, the soy milk is really the star of the show and should remain so. Therefore, the noodles typically used for kongguksu are a plain wheat-based noodle. But once again, not to miss any opportunity to health-ify a dish, my halmoni uses soba noodles as they’re made with a blend of wheat and buckwheat (which is noted for its health benefits). An additional perk is the texture of soba noodles, which has more of a bite than that of plain wheat noodles.
To finish off the dish, garnish with julienned cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, and more sesame seeds. If you want the milk cold, slip in some ice cubes. Serve with a side of kimchi, and— lest you desire the disapproval of a Korean granny— be sure to drain your bowl ‘til there’s nothing left.
2 cups soybeans (white or black), soaked overnight
1/3 cup toasted white sesame seeds
optional: toasted walnuts, almonds or pine nuts
4 bundles of somyun (plain wheat) noodles, or soba noodles
1 cucumber, julienned
1 tomato, halved then sliced thinly
1. Put soaked soybeans into a pot and fill with enough water to cover completely. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Boil for ten minutes, or until soybeans are tender, but not fully cooked through.
2. Drain the soybeans and rinse with cold water. Place in a blender with 6 cups of water and sesame seeds (along with any other add-ins), and blend until smooth. Feel free to adjust the amount of water according to how thick or thin you want the consistency of your soymilk.
3. Pour the blended mixture into a nut milk bag and squeeze/wring out the soy milk.
4. Season the soy milk with salt, to taste.
5. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add in your noodles. Cook the noodles according to package instructions.
6. Strain the cooked noodles and rinse with cold water to get rid of excess starch.
7. To serve, place a serving size of noodles into each bowl, then place cucumber and tomato garnishes on top. Pour in soy milk, and add in ice cubes if you would like it cold. Add sesame seeds on top, if desired.