Canadian Doenjang Ep. 14 – Tteokguk

Doesn't it look pretty? It's delicious too!
Doesn’t it look pretty? It’s delicious too!

For February’s recipe, we thought we’d make tteokguk (떡국, Korean rice cake soup) as it’s a traditional Korean dish eaten on Seollal (설날, also known as Lunar New Year) which is Thursday, February 19th this year. And it’s more than just a soup, eating it makes you a year older according to the Korean way of reckoning age. So, you might hear a Korean ask “Have you eaten tteokguk yet?” this time of year.

I’ve also heard that it’s a tradition to ask “How many bowls of tteokguk have you eaten?” in order to ask a person’s age (instead of straight up asking), I’ve never had it happen to me… maybe because I’m not Korean. But my friends did get me to eat tteokguk on Seollal so I could gain another year. Lol, not necessarily something I wanted as it appeared like I gained 3 years in 5 months when I moved to Korea. My actual birthday happened; then two weeks later I arrived in Korea and gained another year because Koreans start life at one year, not zero; and then a few months later I gained another year on Seollal. Wow! Luckily I lost a year when I moved back to Canada. ^^

But don’t worry, even though we’re making it in time for Seollal, you can eat it anytime as it’s actually quite easy to make and it won’t really make you a year older when you eat it… that only happens on Seollal. It’s a soup (국, guk), usually made from a beef broth but you can make it with any broths (fish broths are also common) with thinly sliced rice cakes (떡, tteok). It is usually garnished with thin julienned cooked eggs, shredded and sometimes marinated meat, and kim (김, seaweed laver).

The Recipe: Tteokguk

The ingredients of Korean rice cake soup
The ingredients of Korean rice cake soup

Ingredients (3-4 servings)

  • 1 pound sliced tteok (떡, rice cakes)

Broth:

  • 10 cups water
  • 1 lb beef (flank steak or brisket – I use brisket because it’s easier to shred)
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 green onions, the white part
  • 1 small onion, chopped in quarters
  • 1 tablespoon soup soy sauce (or fish sauce)

Soup Toppings

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 green onions, the green part sliced diagonally
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 sheet of kim (black seaweed paper)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Making the broth for the rice cake soup
Making the broth for the rice cake soup

Directions:

  • Soak rice cake in cold water for about 30 minutes. Drain.
  • In a large pot, add broth ingredients (water, meat, onion, white part of green onion and garlic) and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender enough for shredding, 1 to 1 hour, 20 minutes. Skim off the scum as necessary.
  • Remove the meat and cool. Discard the veggies.
  • Shred the cooled beef into bite-sized strips. The easiest way to do this is by holding the beef with one hand and using a fork with the other to pull the beef apart. Please make sure to let the beef cool first, not only is it a little easier but then you won’t burn yourself. ^^
shredding the beef brisket
Shredding the beef brisket

Quick Version: If you don’t have time to cook the beef for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, you can cut it up into small pieces prior to cooking which will reduce the cooking time for the beef broth to 25 minutes. You don’t need to remove it in this case, just the other broth ingredients (using a tea bag makes this easy).

  • Stir in soup soy sauce (or fish sauce), salt and pepper to taste. (I tend to do this to individual bowls as I find everyone’s salt scale is a little different but it’s up to you.)
  • While the broth is boiling, beat each – egg yolks and egg whites – separately and season with a pinch of salt. With the burner on low, add a little vegetable oil to a non-stick pan (using a paper towel helps to ensure you don’t use too much) and add the egg whites, spreading as thin as possible (think crepes). Flip once. When cooked, remove it from the pan and let cool. Repeat process for egg yolks.
  • Return the broth to a boil. Add the rice cake slices and boil until soft, usually about 7-10 minutes.
  • While rice cakes are boiling, slice cooked egg whites and egg yolks into matchstick sized slices.
  • Ladle the steaming soup into individual bowls and garnish with the shredded beef, egg, green onion and shredded kim. Season with salt, pepper and a little sesame oil to taste.

Egg Garnish Tip: If you want to make the soup using only one pot, skip frying the egg to make the garnish. Instead beat the two eggs, no need to separate, and pour beaten eggs into the soup while stirring a minute or two before you serve. It doesn’t look quite as pretty and will give you a slightly different flavour to your soup but it’s still good.

And there you have tteokguk. It’s a subtle, yet delicious, soup that will warm you up on a winter night and which looks lovely enough to serve for company. Enjoy!

Happy Lunar New Year everyone!  새해 복 많이 받으세요!
Happy Lunar New Year everyone! 새해 복 많이 받으세요!

Happy Lunar New Year everyone! 새해 복 많이 받으세요! 

And as always, please let us know if you tried our recipe! We love hearing from you!!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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