16 August 2011

From a Korean kitchen: Gungjung ddeokbokki (궁중떡볶이)

If you were to ask me what ddeokbokki is, my first reaction would be to describe a dish of wonderfully chewy rice cakes coated with red, spicy gochujang sauce.  However, this kind of ddeokbokki, now a delicious and popular street snack in Korea, is actually a newer version of the original gungjung ddeokbokki.

While I was in Korea this summer, I had the opportunity to learn how to make gungjung ddeokbokki from a friend in Seoul.  Gungjung ddeokbokki, or "Palace ddeokbokki," is a non-spicy dish of chewy rice cakes cooked with assorted vegetables and beef, originating from the royal court cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty.


Rice cakes (떡, ddeok) come in various shapes and sizes, and on this day my friend Ashley introduced me to 조랭이떡 (joraengi ddeok), cute little rice cakes shaped liked unshelled peanuts or twisted cocoons, a specialty of the Kaesong region in present-day North Korea.  Another ingredient I learned about for the first time was 부추 (buchu), which translates to "Korean leek."  It looks like chives, but after sampling some raw stems, I found the onion flavor is actually quite faint.  I'm still pondering what might be a suitable substitution for buchu, now that I'm back in California and don't have ready access to fresh Korean produce!  I suppose spring onions or chives would be a good alternative, but given their stronger flavor, you may want to cut back on the amount you use.

If you are curious about Korean cuisine but are not a fan of spicy food, this would be a great dish to try.  Ashley shared that this gungjung ddeokbokki is a popular snack (or even a meal) for little kids since they're not as comfortable with the spicy version.  Plus, it is a great way to feed kids their vegetables!  You'll notice that this is a vegetarian version (we didn't have beef in the house on the day we made this), but I've included directions for how to easily incorporate the beef if you like.  Using leftover 불고기 (bulgogi) would be delicious here!

Palace ddeokbokki (궁중떡볶이, gungjung ddeokbokki)
Recipe courtesy Ashley Seo
Makes about 8 snack portions

500g Korean rice cake (떡, ddeok)  (조랭이 or other shape)
1-2 Tbs. minced garlic
4 Tbs. soy sauce (양조간장, yangjo kanjang) plus more
2 Tbs. sugar or corn syrup
freshly-ground black pepper
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 medium onion (양파, yangpa), sliced into strips
2 sweet bell peppers (paprika), cut into strips
2 whole king oyster mushrooms (새송이버섯, saesongi beoseot), sliced
2 cups Korean leeks (부추, buchu), cut into 3-inch pieces
2 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds

If using frozen ddeok, rinse it a couple times and let it sit submerged in water to thaw.  Meanwhile, mix together the garlic, soy sauce, sugar, black pepper, and sesame oil in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and saute onion for a few minutes.  Add bell pepper slices and continue to saute a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 1/2 cup water and cook until vegetables are soft.

Next, add drained ddeok to the pan along with 1-2 cups water and the prepared sauce.  (If you like, at this point you could also add about 1/2 cup of cooked ground beef as well.)  Cook until ddeok is soft and chewy (cooking time will depend on your ddeok).  A few minutes before ddeok is done, stir in mushrooms.  Check seasoning and add more soy sauce and freshly-ground black pepper as needed.  Stir in 1 tablespoon sesame seeds and remove from heat.

Divide ddeokbokki among plates and sprinkle each serving with a little of the remaining sesame seeds.


Trisha said...

I love your blog, and am glad you are back! My mom is Korean (I have only visited once) and she uses Chinese Chives which seem to be fairly accessible in Southern CA and are super easy to grow in your garden. I love anything with rice cakes. They are my favorite thing. I hope you had a chance to have some hand-pulled fresh noodles. SO good! Welcome back, looking forward to more recipes.

erica said...

Hi Trisha, thanks for the warm welcome back! And thanks for the awesome tip about using Chinese Chives! That is so great--I will look around for them next time I go shopping in LA, and maybe even get some seeds to plant in my garden!

I just did a little research based on your tip, and for any readers looking for them at Chinese markets, they are 韭菜 or "jiǔcài," and they seem to be the same species as the 부추 (Allium tuberosum). So glad to learn more about these herbs!

Unfortunately I didn't get any hand-pulled noodles this time in Korea, but I am already compiling a good list of things that I want to eat and do for the next time! :)

Anonymous said...

Looks so good! I love ddeok... I've never made this, I make ddeok boekem... like stir-fry ddeok and I add veggies and bulgoi if I have some on hand similar to this but I guess without the corn syrup/sugar.

The Church Cook said...

Hi,Erica! Finally catching up with you. So glad you had a good trip to Korea. And I LOVE this dish! Reminds me of my childhood when I would get this from the street food vendors (the simpler recipe, of course):)

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