My future mother-in-law—my omma, I’m privileged to call her—is a badass. She raised two kids by herself pulling double shifts in a Chinese restaurant, leaving early, coming back after lunch to make dinner before heading out again, often not returning until they’d gone to bed.

She didn’t have much time to cook, much less make ddeonjang, the fermented soybean paste essential to Korean cuisine both as a condiment and soup base. It’s a complicated yearlong process beginning with soybeans soaked for days, then boiled and mashed to form bricks called meju. “Looks like Italian bread,” she says. These are tied up with hay and hung in the air outside to dry. The hay stimulates the reproduction of Bacillus subtilis and it starts to stink. After three months, you soak them in brine for another three months, mash them up like potatoes, and let them ferment further. Two more months and you separate the liquid—now soy sauce—and let it sit for another two months.