I recently spotted this awesome, overwhelming stack of red tubs at a big grocery store in LA's Koreatown. I can't read Korean, but being even slightly familiar with Korean cooking meant I recognized this staple ingredient: Any guesses? UPDATED with the answer, after the jump!
It's a spicy, savory, and sweet fermented chile paste called gochujang.
The pungent paste adds heat, of course, but because it's made with fermented soy beans, it also adds a deep umami flavor, making it the perfect ingredient for vegetarian dishes. I love to simmer a teaspoon with some vegetable broth, then add noodles, mushrooms, and other veggies for a simple, Asian-inspired soup. It's also wonderful in a soy sauce and sesame oil marinade for beef, or mixed with ketchup or BBQ sauce for extra kick.
Any Korean market is guaranteed to stock it, but you may even spot this national brand of gochujang at your local grocery store. If you haven't tried it, be brave and give it a go! You might just toss your bottle of Sriracha sauce to the side.