H-Mart In Instagram and Dubu Jorim (Korean Braised Tofu)

The new year has brought new things. Otis, my spunky 3-year-old, is now in pre-school for the first time. We got a lucky break because the class had been full, but one little boy had to leave and we slid right into his spot. I was nervous about how Otis would react on his first day (and I was feeling pretty emotional about the change too). But when we walked into the classroom, Otis saw the appropriately-sized tables and chairs, the books and the trains. He turned to me and said, "This room looks great, mommy. It's going to be a wonderful day." He had a serious case of perma-smile when he found out that music, MLK-friendship-hand-painting and swimming was in store for him too. And that was that. No tears, no meltdowns, no drama. 
I chatted with his teachers for a few minutes and when I turned around, Otis was having a very intense discussion with another classmate about train track construction and switching points on the line (he knows a lot about trains). I waved goodbye, picked up Theodore (the 17-month-old), walked outside, and got into the car. Then I did what any mother would do on her son's first day of preschool. I went to H-Mart
The Korean super-store supermarket has everything you could possibly need if you were on the hunt for authentic Asian ingredients. It's also worth noting that they have the best prices on herbs, greens, pomegranates, bitter melon, bok choy and avocados. 
Our local H-Mart also has an amazing organic tofu stand, where tofu is made fresh daily (there's silky sliced, fried, and firm block). I picked up a 2-block tray and it was still warm. Like I said, it's the real deal and it's fresh.
I found a 1 pound bag of Korean red pepper. They didn't seem to stock anything in a smaller size, so I have a lot of it. But it won't go to waste because this is the same red pepper used in kimchi and bibimbap, and I'd like to make both. I picked up a bunch scallions and all the other ingredients I had at home.
It took me under 20 minutes to put the whole dish together, and then I marinated it overnight. The tofu absorbed so much flavor and it was really delicious. I ate it plain and then tried it with some sushi rice. Both were great.
Dubu Jorim is a very popular dish in Korea and often packed for school lunches with a few other side dishes and some rice. And that's kinda perfect since Otis started school this week. I think a Korean-style meal box (dosirak) is definitely in his future.

Dubu Jorim: Traditional Korean Braised Tofu
(Adapted ever-so-slightly from Blogging Over Thyme)
2 lbs. block of tofu will serve 4 (with rice) or 2 very hungry people.

Marinade: Yields roughly 2 cups
Serve chilled

The ingredients are simple and the preparation is straight-forward. This recipe marinates the tofu for 6-8 hours, which allows the flavors to meld together (in the most delicious way). But other methods serve the braised tofu immediately, with the sauce spooned right on top. Be sure to use authentic, finely ground Korean red pepper (which is widely available at Asian supermarkets).

1/2 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder (finely ground)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3/4 cup scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/8 cup toasted sesame seeds

Combine all the ingredients in small bowl and let them sit for 10-15 minutes (while you prepare and braised the tofu).

Pan-Fried Tofu
2 blocks of firm tofu, sliced into thin rectangles (about 1/2- inch in thickness)
vegetable oil

Slice the tofu into thin rectangles and then pat them dry with a paper towel.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat with a few tablespoon of vegetable oil (until there is a layer of oil coating the pan). Once the pan is hot, add the tofu, spreading it out in the pan so that the pieces are not touching each other. (It will take more than one round to get all the tofu braised). The tofu should sizzle when it hits the pan.
Sear tofu on each side for roughly 3-4 minutes, until it's light brown on both sides. Remove the tofu and place it on a paper-towel lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Repeat until all the tofu is seared. Allow the tofu to cool to room temperature.
Place the tofu on a baking dish, or any other container with a large surface area (and relatively high sides)--you can do this in two layers, if necessary. Pour the marinade over the tofu, cover, and refrigerate for roughly 6-8 hours. Turn the tofu once or twice during this time, so that all of the piece get marinated properly.
Best served chilled by itself, or with some sushi rice.