Half-Moon Rice Cakes Mean a Lot of Full Bellies

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Half-Moon Rice Cakes Mean a Lot of Full Bellies

Chuseok, one of Korea's four major holidays, arrives Monday, the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. The autumn harvest holiday tradition has its origin in ancient China, and in Korea the celebration dates to the Shilla Dynasty in the sixth century. At the peak of autumn, Koreans mark the yearly harvest by throwing a feast and holding various other festive events. To thank their ancestors for the year's good fortune, families come together and perform rituals at ancestral grave sites. For the ritual, Koreans offer newly harvested rice and fruits. In accord with the Confucian emphasis on family values and ancestor worship, families travel to their hometowns. There they participate in various traditional games and festivals: cow fights, chicken fights, the turtle game, ssireum (wrestling) and nong-ak (percussion band) during the day, and ganggang suwolrae, a dance performed under the full moon, at night.

On the night of Chuseok, families watch the moon, which holds a special shamanistic meaning for Asians, and thank it for many blessings. While the ancient Chinese celebrated the occasion with moon cakes, Koreans make special rice cakes, or songpyeon, shaped like a half-moon. To Koreans, a half moon represents good luck.

Making songpyeon at home means a big family get-together. Traditionally, songpyeon were made the night before Chuseok, and young people thought that the one to make the most beautiful songpyeon would wind up with the best-looking spouse. When the rice cakes are steamed, freshly picked pine needles are placed under the rice cake. The piney aroma adds a reassuring fragrance to the rice cakes, for pine trees were used traditionally as a symbol to ward off evil. Recently, a surprising scientific discovery revealed that pine needles contain substances called phytoncides, which help to kill harmful bacteria in food.

Songpyeon vary in color depending on the ingredients used for the dough. For example, the songpyeon may be green if mugwort juice or powder is added. If omija juice is added instead of water, the songpyeon will be bright pink. If grape or gardenia juice is added, then purple and yellow, respectively. Inside the dough, you can choose your favorite stuffing, or so in Korean.

The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition introduces a classic recipe to make delightful songpyeon using three different so - sesame seeds, red beans and chestnuts:

Ingredients: 5 cups rice powder (mepssal garu) , 1 cup boiling water, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 cup red beans (pat), 2 tablespoons cinnamon powder (gyepi garu), 1/2 cup sesame seeds, 20 peeled chestnuts, 4-5 tablespoons sesame oil, about 500 grams or more of pine needles

1. In the bowl, mix rice powder and salt thoroughly. Add hot water and knead the dough. Keep dough soft by covering bowl with wet cloth. Set aside.

2. Wash pine needles and drain. Set aside.

3. Soak red beans in water for 20 minutes and cook in water until beans become tender. Drain and peel skin.

4. Smash red beans using wooden spatula and add 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon. Mix again.

5. Roast sesame seeds until seeds turn light brown. With seeds still warm, add 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

6. Steam chestnuts until bright yellow and tender. Cut into 1 centimeter cubes. Set aside.

7. Take a large spoonful, the size of a golf ball, from dough. Using thumb, make hole for stuffing.

8. Put stuffing inside, close opening.

9. Shape rice cake into half-moon.

10. Place songpyeon on bed of pine needles, each separated from another.

11. Make several layers of songpyeon by putting pine needles between them.

12. Steam songpyeon over high fire until they are well done.

13. Sprinkle cold water to separate songpyeon from needles. Baste each songpyeon with sesame oil and serve.

by In? Cho

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