Friday, January 20, 2012

KOREAN RECIPE: Grilled Deodeok

더덕구이 (Deodeok Gui)                                                                      by RaOn
                                                                                                                                         trans./ed. by Onsemiro 

Grilled Codonopsis lanceolata (Deodeok Gui)

The root of deodeok (더덕, “Codonopsis lanceolata” (CL)) is one of the most cherished healthy root foods among Korean people, along with insam (인삼, “ginseng”), chik (, “arrowroot”), doraji (도라지, “Korean bellflower root”), ueong (우엉, “burdock root”), and yeongeun (연근, “lotus root”).   About 70 % of the Korean peninsula is covered by low and tall mountains where mushrooms, wild root plants, and wild ferns have naturally grown for ages.  Korean people have collected and used them in dishes since you don’t know when until now.  I don’t know whether ancient Koreans started eating these nature’s foods knowing their health benefits or they came to the realization, as they ate these foods, that they were beneficial.  Whatever, the fact is that the ancient Koreans left records to show these natural foods are as valuable and beneficial as other expensive medicines (i.e. herbal medicines back then).  And I’m amazed at how wise they were - just think about all the processes they must have undergone over ages of trial and error to select only the beneficial wild plants, ferns, and roots, and also to create ideal recipes for the dishes.

RaOn’s Korean root dish of the day is “grilled deodeok.”  I used gaeul deodeok roots (가을 더덕, “fall CL roots,” gathered in fall as indicated in its name) which are considered the best – the most beneficial and flavorful of all the wild deodeok roots.  In traditional Korean herbal medicine, deodeok roots are known to (1) protect the bronchial tubes, (2) soothe the phlegmy coughs, (3) cleanse the lungs, (4) detoxify the body, (5) prevent and fight cancer, (6) boost your appetite by strengthening the spleen and stomach, and (7) reduce swelling by rejuvenating the kidneys. The antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antimutagenic activities of deodeok roots are quite a known fact in medical circles nowadays.

No matter how healthy foods are, you won’t eat them too often if they are not tasty. But trust me on this:  deodeok has the most outstanding combinations in taste, flavor, texture, and nutritional value of all other root plants.  This is why this food is so popular among Korean people and there are so many famous Korean dishes that have deodeok roots in them:  deodeok gui (더덕구이, “grilled CL roots”),  deodeok jangajji (더덕장아찌, “pickled CL roots” ), deodeok muchim (더덕무침, “seasoned CL roots”), deodeok gimchi/kimchi  (더덕김치, “CL root kimchi”),  deodeok jeon (더덕전, “CL root pancakes”), and deodeok saengchae (더덕생채, “Korean-style CL root salad”).

● 500 g deodeok roots* (approx. 1.1 lbs or 15 roots)

● 4 TBSP gochujang* (Korean hot pepper paste)
● 1 TBSP gochugaru* (Korean hot pepper powder)
● 2 TBSP ganjang (soy sauce)
● 2 TBSP maesil cheong** (Korean plum syrup)
    →Substitute: 2 TBSP squeezed apple/pear juice
● 3 TBSP jocheong or ssalyeot* (Korean rice syrup)
    →Substitute: 3 TBSP honey or Oligo syrup*
● 1 ½ TBSP sesame oil
● 1 green onion, chopped

● sesame oil and grapeseed (or canola) oil mixture (1:1)

● 2 TBSP sesame seeds, toasted

*You can find the ingredients in your local Korean markets.
**You can find maesil cheong or maesil extract at

 Step 1.  Peel Deodeok Roots

(You can jump to step 2 if you choose to buy already peeled deodeok roots, which are available at your local Korean markets.)

Wash the roots thoroughly and put them in water.  Draw a 1/2 inch-long vertical line with a knife on a root and then peel off the rest by hand.  Feeling challenged?  Just think of the way Robert De Niro peeled off an egg in the movie “Angel Heart.” (NDR/NDT:  Click HERE to watch the scene that starts at 1:38; and click HERE to see the detailed pictures of the peeling process.)  Or peel it just as if you tear it off.

The sap that comes from the root when you peel it has anti-inflammatory benefits thanks to its sap-onin content. The study found that deodeok improves the inflammatory response of some immune system cells and suppresses nitric oxide and tumor necrosis factor.  So remember sappier is better.  Make sure to wear disposable gloves when you peel it lest your hands get sticky and dirty.

deodeok roots:  (left) unpeeled; (right) peeled

You can also buy already peeled deodeok roots, which are available at your local Korean markets.

Step 2.  Spread and Tenderize Deodeok Roots.

Make a deep vertical slit through the root and split it open.  Put the root in a zipper bag – remember the sap?  It’s to keep your hands and other kitchen utensils from getting all sticky and colored.  Place the ziplocked root on a wooden cutting board and beat it with a stick or wooden rolling pin until it is widened and flattened.

When you beat the root, do it gently, starting from its thickest middle part.  If you smash it with all your might, then the root will break into pieces.  Do it just a little bit harder than tapping your parents’ shoulders to give them a massage. 

 (left) tapping a deodeok root; (right) tenderized root rectangles

This laborious tenderizing job will give the root “meaty” texture when it’s grilled so that even a veggie-hater could love it.  (NDR/NDT: My son, Caleb, loves it when it’s flattened as thinly as possible and grilled as toasty as possible.  And he still thinks it’s a kind of grilled meat, not a veggie.)

Cut each flattened root horizontally into two, yielding two 3-inch-long rectangles, and soak in cold water for about 30 minutes.  Drain the roots through a strainer.

Step 3.  Prepare Marinade.

(clockwise from top left) maesil cheong or maesil extract,
jocheong or ssalyeot, gochujang and gochugaru, and soy sauce

Combine Korean hot pepper paste, Korean hot pepper powder, soy sauce, maesil extract (or squeezed apple/pear juice), Korean rice syrup (or Oligo syrup or honey), and sesame oil in a big mixing bowl.

Maesil cheong is a Korean plum extract which is combined with brown sugar and aged in a jar.  When used in a dish, it adds a kick to the taste of whatever you got – an MSG-free gamchil mat (감칠 , “a fifth basic taste together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty”).  This extract has antibacterial properties, protects the stomach, and aids digestion.  When you have a stomach upset, heartburn, or acid indigestion, drop a teaspoonful or two of this extract in a cup of warm or cold water and drink it slowly.  It will relieve nausea and other symptoms.

Jocheong or ssalyeot is fermented Korean rice syrup which is made from steamed rice and frequently used in Korean dishes instead of sugar.  (Beware mulyeot is corn syrup.)  As Korean rice syrup does not affect your blood sugar levels, it can be a healthier substitute for sugar or corn syrup.

Step 4.  Marinate Deodeok Roots.

Brush marinade generously and very gently over root rectangles lest they be easily torn apart.  Still, if you feel too lazy, then pour prepared marinade over the root rectangles and mix very gently until well coated.

Stack up marinated roots in a bowl and sprinkle chopped green onions on top of each layer.

A layer of marinated deodeok rectangles
sprinkled with chopped green onions

Step 5.  Grill Deodeok Roots.

If you’re worried about environmental estrogens, you may want to use a diamond-coated or marble-coated grill pan.  If it’s nonstick, it means you can use less oil.

Heat 2 tsp sesame oil and grape oil mixture in a grill (or frying) pan over medium heat.  Cook root rectangles until both sides are toasty brown. You may cook the roots on a charcoal grill if you prefer.

Nothing smells better than the mouthwatering aroma of deodeok grilling in a pan or on a barbecue mixed with the fragrance of sesame oil.  So, how’s it taste?  You’ll never know until you taste it.  Just give yourself a chance to savor this flavorful, healthy Korean food.   

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve with cooked rice as banchan (반찬, “side dish”).  The typical Korean table setting for an ordinary family meal usually consists of bap (, “cooked rice”),  guk (, “soup”) or jjigae (찌개, “stew”), several banchan (반찬, “side dish”), and gimchi (김치, “kimchi”).  

When you have a get-together with family and friends over a barbeque party, think about grilling both deodeok roots and meat.  This will help reduce the absorption of cholesterol and saturated fat contained in meat and also prevent cancer with its antioxidant, anticancer, and antimutagenic properties.

 My sister, RaOn, will be a contributing blog writer on this blog.  She currently lives in Seoul, Korea, and will write about what real Korean people eat at home or at Korean-style diners, not at fancy restaurants – it’s just simple yet healthy comfort foods that happen to be very delicious!


  1. WOW!! Just finished eating this and it was awesome! Nice recipe, thank you so much...Someone sent us a big box of deodok today as a gift and I had no idea what to do with it. Will definitely be making this in the future :-)

  2. GREAT RECIPE! We had a box of deodok arrive today as a gift and I had no idea what to do with it! Thank you so much...just made my first batch and we loved it! THANKS AGAIN!

  3. Amanda, great to know you enjoyed your dish! Deodeok is one of the best meat alternatives. :)

  4. This was truly awesome . My 3 year old daughter loved it too . I had eaten it at Hangawi in New York and couldn't find it on any of the restaurant menus in Los Angeles. I stuck the marinated Todok under the grill in oven and turned it when the top started getting crisp.

    1. Did you mean you had used my sister's recipe? If so, that's awesome. And here's one more tip: finely chop deokdeok, u-eong (burdock), pyogo beoseot (shitake mushroom), onion, and green onion and mix all these ingredients with pressed/drained dubu (tofu). Add salt, soy sauce and pepper to taste. Make hamburger patties and grill them. This will be an awesome vegetarian substitute for beef burgers


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