Friday, January 27, 2012

KOREAN RECIPE: Hot and Spicy Korean Rice Cake Sticks

떡볶이 (Ddeokboggi)   

Hot and Spicy Korean Rice Cake Sticks (Ddeokboggi)

Click HERE for the Royal Rice Cake Sticks, or 궁중 떡볶이 (Gungjung Ddeokboggi 

Until the 1950s, gungjung ddeokboggi had been consumed only by the wealthy and privileged.  But when the Korean War was over in 1953, there were no crops available to people for the war had made agriculture impossible in most of the areas.  After the war, South Korea became one of the largest recipients of US food aid in the 1950s and 1960s; items such as sugar and wheat flour were supplied at bargain prices.  Even though rice is its most favored staple food, post-war Korea had to rely on foods made using US wheat flour. One day in 1953, an ordinary Korean mom, Ma Boknim (마복림), went to a Chinese diner with her family and there she ate ddeok made of wheat flour, not rice.  It was when she dipped her ddeok in chunjang (춘장), a Chinese black bean paste, that one clever recipe idea crossed her mind.  Soon after, she started selling flour ddeok with mixed vegetables marinated in gochujang (고추장, Korean hot pepper paste) in a street of Sindangdong.  This is how hot and spicy ddeokboggi was invented and a royal and noble food morphed into a crowd favorite. 

Nowadays, ddeokboggi is the most popular street food and homemade snack food in Korea.  I had my first ddeokboggi at the age of five and it was Mom’s first time cooking it, too.  It was hot and spicy (of course!), chewy, and very delicious.  Oh, how I love ddeokboggi! And thank God, my family loves it, too!  For there’s nothing better than sitting down with my family to enjoy a hearty healthy food that we all love.  Whenever I cook ddeokboggi, I use plenty of different colored vegetables such as carrots, onion, green onion, celery sticks, cabbage leaves, or mushrooms. Did you know eating a rainbow of vegetables or fruits makes you healthier, fitter, and more energetic?

The standard Romanization of ddeokboggi is “tteokbokki,” but in an attempt to promote Korean foods globally, the Korean government renamed it toppoki to make it easier for foreigners to pronounce it.  Well, I’m not sure about that.  The new name just reminds me of “the” street junk food of my childhood – ttoppopki, or ddobbopgi (또뽑기).

INGREDIENTS (2 Servings): 

● 17 oz rice cake sticks,* soaked in water at least for an hour
● 2 oz fresh pyogo (shiitake) mushrooms, halved lengthwise if too big
● 1 cup baby carrots, halved lengthwise, or 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips
● 2 celery sticks, cut into diagonal slices
● ½ medium size onions, thinly sliced
● 2 green onions, cut into diagonal slices
● a squid, blanched (optional)
● 1 TBSP grape seed oil or canola oil
● 1 TBSP sesame oil
● 1 TBSP sesame seeds, toasted
● 1 TBSP perilla seed powder**
 1~2 TBSP jocheong (aka ssalyeot, fermented Korean rice syrup),** or cane sugar (optional)

Hot and Spicy Sauce
[Almost Vegetarian]
● 3 cups water
● 1 TBSP dried Korean anchovy powder**
● 1 TBSP dried pyogo (shitake) powder**
● 1 TBSP dried dasima (sea tangle) powder**
● 2 tsp garlic, minced
● 1 TBSP gukganjang* (Korean soy sauce for soup)
● 4 TBSP gochujang * (Korean hot pepper paste)
● 4 TBSP ketchup
● 2 TBSP red or white wine

If you prefer clean sauce, use the ingredients with double asterisk as is. 
For this recipe, you’ll need 3 degutted and/or boned dried anchovies, two
dried pyogo, and two 2x2 inch dasima.  Just don’t forget to remove these
ingredients from the broth after simmering for 10~15 minutes until it
makes 3 cups of broth.

● If you want to make vegetarian hot and spicy rice cake sticks, minus
the anchovies and add 1~2 more 2x2 inch dasima squares and add ½
medium size onion for the broth instead.

[Meat Lovers]
● If you prefer, you can substitute beef or chicken stock for anchovy-
pyogo-dasima mixture stock.  In this case, add two more cups of water
in the pot and simmer ½ lb chicken breast or beef tenderloin for an hour
over medium heat, and remove the meat from the broth. 

*You can find rice cake sticks, gukganjang, and gochujang in your local Korean markets.  Brown rice cake sticks can be substituted for white ones as brown rice is a delicious and healthy alternative to white rice.

**You can find dried Korean anchovies, dried pyogo, and dried dasima in your local Korean markets.  I always have these ingredients handy in my freezer to make MSG-free soup anytime I want.  Most of the anchovies, pyogo, and dasima are ground separately in a blender and stored separately in a jar.  Some are stored in zipper bags as is. (Picture)

1. Soak rice cake ovals in water overnight or at least for an hour before cooking.  Otherwise, your soup will turn out super sticky and thick.  Drain the rice cake sticks through a strainer.

Dried and frozen rice sticks need reconstituting.

2.  Blanch a squid in boiling water until it just turns opaque (for about 1 or 1½ minutes).  Try not to overcook otherwise it will become rubbery.  Cut the blanched squid into 2-inch long strips, and set aside.

Blanched and cut-up squid tentacles.  
Only the tentacles, not the mantle, were available
in my freezer on lunar New Year's Day.

3. Mix all ingredients together for hot and spicy sauce in a bowl.  If you choose to use anchovies, pyogo, and dasima as is, not powdered, or to use meat, make a broth and substitute for water.

4. Heat grape seed and sesame oil (1TBSP each) in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add minced garlic and then rice cake sticks into the pan and stir fry about a minute.  Pour the hot and spicy sauce over the pan and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.  Sauté until the rice cake sticks are softened.  

Step 3-4

5. Add vegetables into the pan.  (If you have a sweet tooth, feel free to add in 1~2 TBSP jocheong (aka ssalyeot) or cane sugar.)  Stir with a wooden spoon until the vegetables are tender but still crunchy and crispy.  Mix in blanched squid strips.

6. Remove from the heat immediately and mix in the Korean perilla powder and sesame seeds thoroughly.

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