Make Your New Year Bright With This Traditional Korean Rice Cake Soup, 'Tteokguk

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Make Your New Year Bright With This Traditional Korean Rice Cake Soup, 'Tteokguk

Along with exchanging the usual salutations during the solar and lunar new year period, Koreans may also ask "Tteokguk meogutseoyo? (Did you eat tteokguk?)." tteokguk, rice cake soup, is a traditional Korean dish which is eaten in celebration of the new year. In Korean history during times of famine, a bowl of white rice was considered a blessing, and hence from the standard greeting "Annyeong-haseyo? (How are you?)" evolved another greeting "Bab meogutseoyo? (Did you eat rice?)" because the answer to the latter directly reflected the health of the person being greeted. So if having a bowl of rice meant being completely satisfied, having rice cakes in addition was considered the height of luxury and the resultant feeling of ultimate satisfaction was expressed as "Bab-wie tteok (a rice cake on top of rice)."

Tteok is made by smashing uncooked rice grains into powder and adding water to the powder. The mixture is then kneaded and finally steamed into tteok. Ingredients to make tteokguk are readily available in Korea and the classic recipe below includes how to make komyeong (a topping) in traditional Korean style. This will not only brighten up but also add a festive taste to your New Year's appetite.

How to make classic tteokguk:

Ingredients to make 4 servings: about 500 grams or more of sliced tteok, about 1 liter of beef stock (prepared beforehand), 5 cloves of fresh garlic, 2 eggs (yolks and whites separated), 1 small stem of green onion, 3 medium-size dried pyogobeoseot (shiitake mushroom softened by immersing in water for more than 3 hours), 100 grams of sliced galbisal (rib meat or ground beef), 2 tablespoons of rice wine (optional), 3 tablespoons of chosunganjang (traditional Korean soy sauce), 5 tablespoons of regular soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of sugar, about 3 tablespoons of roasted sesame seeds, 3 tablespoons of sesame oil, a dash of ground black pepper and a dash of thinly sliced gim (black seaweed - optional).

1. Korean-style beef stock is made from beef joints or ribs, a whole garlic, green onion, radish, whole black pepper, rice wine and a dash of natural salt. Boil the ingredients for 5-12 hours, until the stock is about 60 percent of the original volume. Clear the beef stock by removing impurities and fat.

2. Prepare the komyeong toppings (steps 2, 3 and 4) beforehand to save cooking time. Slice the mushroom into thin strips. Heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a frying pan and stir fry the mushroom with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Cook until mushroom is tender and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds. Set aside.

3. In a large, clean frying pan, cook the egg yolks and whites separately to form them into thin pancakes. Make them as thin as possible using only a little heat. Let them cool for 10 minutes and remove from the pan. Slice into very thin strips and set aside.

4. Wash the green onion and cut it into thin 1 inch strips. Set aside.

5. In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, add about 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic and cook until it is bright yellow. Add sliced or ground beef, sugar, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, a dash of black pepper and optional wine. Cook until the meat is brown. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sesame seeds. Set aside.

6. Boil 1 - 2 liters of water, add sliced tteok to soften and to remove the sticky juice. Cook until the tteok is tender, drain and set aside.

7. In the hot stock, put 2 or 3 tablespoons of chosunganjang and the remaining garlic to taste. Do not put too much soy sauce at this point as the soup will become saltier from the komyeong later. When the soup boils, add the cooked tteok and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring gently, until the soup becomes opaque from the tteok.

8. Immediately before serving, add sesame oil and pepper.

9. Serve tteokguk in a bowl with the various toppings. Garnish with sesame seeds and/or gim.

by Inae Cho

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