Let Korean Black Beans Lure You Out of Bed in the Morning

Let Korean Black Beans Lure You Out of Bed in the Morning

By Joe Sevier, Joe Sevie, Maggie Hoffman, Kendra Vaculin, Katherine Sacks

I want to start off by saying that black beans cooked in soy sauce and dressed in sugar and sesame oil are not a traditional breakfast dish in Korea. They're more often eaten as an accompaniment to dinner. And also: I've eaten them for breakfast four times this week.

First, I ate the beans cold over hot steamed rice and scrambled eggs with plenty of the brothy, deeply flavored cooking liquid spooned over the whole bowl. Then I ate them scattered over sourdough toast, on top of a smear of smashed avocados. Next it was on a breakfast sweet potato with cottage cheese. And last, it was with rice and eggs again because, honestly, it was the best.

The beans are ideally cooked in dashi, a stock made with seaweed, dried fish, and sometimes mushrooms; but you can boil them in plain water, too, since a hefty pour of soy sauce gives the beans tons of flavor while they cook. Full disclosure: I didn't have the ingredients to make dashi the first time I tried these beans, but I did have mushroom powder, MSG, and anchovy salt, so I faked it.

I've probably already revealed too much about ways I've altered this recipe lately, but it's coronavirus days and that means you've got to do what you've got to do. The second time I made this recipe, I was out of black beans entirely, so I went ahead with red beans and thought they were just as good. The point is, feel free to riff with what you've got.

I've eaten kong jaban (also spelled kongjaban or kongjang) for dinner a few times, too—most notably in a rice bowl with harissa-roasted fish and shaved radishes—but for me, breakfast is where the beans really shine.

Have beans, will wake up. Photo & Food Styling by Joseph De Leo

When I told Hooni Kim, author of My Korea, how much I liked his recipe, and how it had led me to this recent beans-for-breakfast fetish, he was a little reluctant to get on board. He noted that the dish is a common banchan in Korean households; one of any number of small side dishes and condiments that go onto the table at meal times. "A traditional Korean meal always has five, six, seven, sometimes up to 12 of these little side dishes," says Kim. "A family may have 15 different banchan in the fridge, but the mother will only bring the ones to the table that she feels complement the main dish."