To someone who’s never had Korean rice cakes or tteok, it’s hard to describe what they are all about as there are endless varieties and types.

Here is one recipe of a cake-type tteok based on normal Korean rice (not glutinous rice) which is steamed resulting in a crumbly and slightly chewy texture.

I think of Korean rice cakes as a tasty and healthier alternative to wheat-based snacks since they’re essentially fat-free and can be made with very low amount or no added sugar.  But know that most times tteok is bought in a store, first of all, it may not taste good if it’s not really fresh, and secondly, it normally has a lot more sugar added.

Since finishing level 1 & 2 tteok classes at the Institute of Traditional Korean Foods last winter, I’ve been wanting to try some recipes at home.  My excuse of not…  well, it can be a pain in the ass to get rice flour in Korea!!

A bit ironic that you can buy rice flour in shops, in say, Canada or US, but in Korea, it seems that the only way to get rice flour is:

  1. order it on the internet (so I hear), or
  2. have the rice milled at a tteok shop, which is in every single neighborhood in Korea

I went with option 2.  That means buying rice, soaking for 8-12 hours (ok, I only did 5hrs), then drain for 1 hour, and finally, carry the rice to your local tteok shop for milling.

The good news is that you can keep the rice flour for a long time in the freezer.  So with the rice flour I had on hand after entering the tteok competition last Friday, I made this cake-style tteok today using a bamboo steamer as the mold for the cake.

Yum... fresh rice cake is the best. My breakfast today with a cup a coffee.

This recipe is a result of a bit of improvisation based on what my Mom wanted:  baeksargi, which is the name of “white tteok” in Korean, studded with black beans and daechu.  The black beans give a nice texture contrast and flavour to the tteok, and is a common addition to white tteok.  The daechu also adds a different texture, flavour and provides most of the natural sweetness.

I am happy with this recipe because it’s simple, relatively high on healthiness factor due to the black beans and daechu, and most importantly, it was darn tasty.

White Rice Cake with Black Beans and Daechu

Makes 1 round cake, about 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 350g rice flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • about 1/2 cup water
  • 150g black beans, soaked overnight
  • 2 Tbsp organic raw cane sugar
  • 10 dried daechu

special equipments:

  • large steamer (must fit the bamboo steamer tray)
  • 4″ diameter bamboo steamer
  • sieve for sifting rice flour
  • large kitchen towel or kitchen muslin
  • large bowl
  • parchment paper or normal white paper

Preparation:

1.  In a small pot, add soaked beans and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, and simmer for about 25-30 minutes until cooked.  Drain, and mix in sugar.

2.  While cooking the beans, prepare the bamboo steamer.   Take a piece of paper, and fold into quarter, then fold over twice again to make a skinny wedge shape.  Then, place the tip of the wedge in the center of the steamer and fold the paper to mark the edge of the steamer.  Cut that mark with scissors, and make 4-5 slits along both sides of the wedge.  Now, open up the paper and you’ll see a round paper with lots of slits throughout (which allow for the steam to enter).   Line the bottom of the bamboo steamer with the cut paper.  With a brush or with your fingers, coat the bottom and sides very lightly with vegetable oil.

2.  Remove the seeds from each daechu, and then slice thinly, about 0.2mm.

3.  Measure the rice flour and salt in a bowl.  Then, into a large bowl, sieve the rice flour/salt mix.  Add water bit at a time, mixing with fingers and rubbing the flour with the palms of your hands.   Sieve the mix again and set aside.

4.  Add the cooked beans and sliced daechu to the rice flour mix.  Gently toss with fingers to incorporate evenly.

5.  Pour the rice cake mix to the prepared bamboo steamer.  Level the top flat.

6.  Add water to the large steamer.  When it starts to boil, add the rice cake in bamboo to the steamer.  When it starts to boil again (you should see some steam escaping on the side), start timing 15 minutes for steaming.

7.  Turn off heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Take the cake out of the steamer and let it cool for another 5 minutes.  Then place a flat plate or tray on top, and flip.  Remove the bamboo and peel off the paper gently.

8.  Enjoy right away!  If not, let it cool completely and wrap in plastic wrap.  Otherwise, it will go dry very quickly.  To keep it for more than 1 day, wrap it well and keep in the freezer.

Rice flour with black beans and daechu

Rice cake going in the steamer.

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Yesterday I came down with yet another cold of the month. Feeling defeated after an exhausting afternoon of running errands, I decided to follow my Mom home instead of going to my cooking class in the evening.  There was just one stop before going home: to my Aunts, where luckily it was Wednesday Market day.  Literally, as we hopped out of the cab, there was fresh ginseng staring at me.

The guy gave me a little piece to try.  I took a bite and gave a little squint at the bitter, medicinal taste – yup I guess it’s the right stuff.  Really, I had no idea as it was my first time buying ginseng, but my Aunt gave it an ok – we bought about 350g for 12,000 won of 5 yr old ginseng.

Down a couple of tents, there was a guy selling free-range chicken.  8,000 won for a small chicken, maybe 1.5kg.  He gave it a nice little trim, quickly bagged it, and we were almost on our way out of cold, wet snow misery.

Just a quick stop by the fruit and vegetable tent, a place we frequent a lot.  Though you pay a little bit more, they have great fresh produce.


Here’s the guy peeling the chestnuts on this nifty machine, it has an abrasive wall inside that tumbles the chestnuts until it is peeled down to your liking in about 30 seconds. Great tool as it’s a pain to peel raw chestnuts!

Finally home, I searched online for a samgyetang recipe.  There are just a few recipes, and in fact most are quite straightforward – stuffed chicken with sweet rice, ginseng, daechu and garlic, boiled in water for a couple of hours.  But I found a great blog by myepikorean.com with a post on Super Natural Samgyetang Recipe, a souped up version of the classic.  Besides some different ingredients, what makes it better I think is the herbal broth preparation prior to boiling the chicken, and using a slow cooker to get good extraction from the medicinal herbs and chicken to make a deep, rich broth.

Unfortunately our slow cooker was too small for the chicken we bought, so I started with the herbal broth with daechu and ginseng in a large pot, simmered on low for 1.5hrs.  And no gogi berries today, instead a chunk of fresh ginger went in.

Meanwhile I prepared the soaked rice with garlic cloves, shelled ginkgo nuts, chopped chestnuts and more daechu for the stuffing, and wrestled with the chicken as I tried to sew up the ends with a small needle and thread.

I added about a quart more of cold water with the chicken, brought it to a boil, then added the strained herbal broth to cover the entire chicken.  Then rest was easy, just simmer for… well I didn’t know how long.  It definitely needed at least 2-2.5 hrs for good extraction and to cook the chicken until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender. And this was key IMO, about half way into simmering, not being sure about the watery broth, I added rest of the rice that didn’t fit inside the chicken to the broth and threw in another ginseng root for good measure.

The hot broth was comforting, but my taste buds were shot from the cold so I didn’t know what I was tasting…just knew it was good for me.  Before going to bed, I had the entire inside stuffing filled with rice, garlic cloves, ginkgo and chestnuts, like it was my medicine.

The next morning, though the cold was still there, I felt surprisingly better considering I felt like a truck ran over me before going to bed.  It felt as if  the cold was reversed on its tracks (I swear!).  And the soup was 100x better.  Maybe I got my taste buds back, but certainly this is one of those dishes better the next day.  The aroma wafted of bitter-sweet ginseng that was not off-putting, the broth was rich, fatty and soothing, and the chicken and broken rice were oh-so-tender and nourishing.  So with LOTS of leftover still, I now have the goodness to fight off this cold to never return again^^!

When I came to Seoul last fall, I was introduced to one of the modern rice cake (tteok) cafe chains.  I was so intrigued….I have never seen such beautifully packaged rice cakes in such variety of shapes and flavours. And I love the rice cakes that look like real baked cake.

Last Saturday in cooking class, we learned to make jujube rice cake which demystified how these lovely cakes are made.  I was really surprised how easy it is!  All it takes is a few essentials on knowing when you have the right dough consistency (like slightly moist sandy crumbs) and preparing the steamer properly as you don’t want condensed water from the lid dropping on your cake.  15 minutes in the steamer, and presto, you have a cake ready to be decorated.

This recipe is a medicinal rice cake due to the jujubes, called daechu in Korean.  I must say the obvious: the word “medicinal” to describe a cake does not sound very tasty, and truth be told I was never fond of jujubes growing up.  My palate has developed I guess because now I can appreciate the complex sweetness of these dried red dates, and this recipe has plenty it as it’s cooked down to a paste so the aroma and flavour really shines through.

Not a fan of jujubes?  I think this recipe can be adapted to so many different flavours, shapes, applications that my mind was spinning… amongst  many ideas, how about peanut butter + banana, or sun-dried tomatoes + olive oil to make something savoury.  Yum!  Don’t know if it’ll work, but I’ll have to try it one day.

Anyway, I digress… back to the recipe.  You’ll notice the cake has no fat, it is purely carb and the presence of jujubes makes it quite healthy as it’s nutritious magic is believed to have medicinal properties.

DAECHU PYEUN (KOREAN JUJUBE RICE CAKE)

Notes:  Rice flour can be bought frozen, or you can take soaked (8-12hrs) glutinous rice to a rice cake house and they will ground it for you.  Any excess flour not used must be stored frozen.

  • 5 cups glutinous rice flour*
  • 400g daechu, cooked soft, with liquid (100g dried daechu plus 3 cups water)
  • 1/4 cup makgeolli
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I think brown sugar is better for this recipe)
  • 1 Tbsp coarse sea salt

1.  Press the cooked daechu through a strainer into a pot to remove the seeds and skin.  Cook the daechu puree on medium heat until most of the water is evaporated and until it turns into a thick paste, about 10 mintues.  Cool the paste by putting the pot immediately in bowl of cold water.

2.  In a large bowl, mix salt and sugar into the rice flour.  Add the daechu paste.  Rub the paste with your fingers into the rice flour until it is incorporated evenly.

3.  Add makgeolli, a bit at a time, while mixing it in with your fingers.  It’s important to add a little bit at a time as the amount will vary depending on how much moisture is added from the daechu paste.  The mix may look dry, but it is just right when you squeeze some with your hands and the mix just comes together then easily breaks into coarse powder.

4.  Pass the rice flour mix through fine sieve (about 1-2mm) pressing lightly with your fingers.  Repeat 2-3 times to get a light, sandy powder consistency.

5.  In a medium dim-sum bamboo steamer (about 25cm diameter) with the bottom lined with mesh or cloth, sprinkle the rice powder evenly until the bamboo steamer is filled.  Level the top with a knife or ruler to even the surface.  Dust off excess powder off the edges of the bamboo steamer.

6.  Prepare a large steamer with boiling water.  Line the steamer with kitchen cloth (like a cheese cloth) on the bottom.  When the cake is ready to be put in the steamer, wipe off excess water from the lid and wrap the lid with a large cloth and tied at the handle in the center.  Place the cake in the steamer, close the lid tightly, and steam for 15 minutes (starting from when water is boiling again).

7.  Carefully remove the bamboo steamer from the steamer.  To remove the cake, place a plate on top bamboo steamer and flip.  Then take a plate on top of the cake and flip again.

8.  Decorate the cake with cut dae-chu and pumpkin seeds.

Jujube cake the next day. Note that rice cake is best fresh. If not eaten within 24hrs, it is best to store in the freezer.  Thaw at room temperature, and reheat briefly in microwave or steamer.

Rice cake the next day. Note that it should be eaten fresh, within 24 hrs is best. Otherwise, store in freezer. To serve, thaw at room temperature, and reheat gently in the steamer or microwave.