Friday, February 10, 2012

Alien Ingredient #12: Tteok

There's a whole lot I don't know about Korean food, and unfortunately, I don't have anyone to teach me about it. Volunteers? Email me. Twenty or so years ago, there was a Korean restaurant here run by two old grandmothers with some interesting dishes that they never put on the menu. Sadly, I was just getting to know them when they pulled up stakes and returned to Hawaii where it was easier to sell Korean food. A couple of fairly worthless Korean restaurants have come and gone very quickly since, for lack of any Korean base here in Winchester and honestly for lack of skill in the kitchen. What's more, all the Koreans I know around here are busy running Japanese restaurants which is decidedly not helpful in increasing my knowledge of Korean food, which I find to be utterly delicious.

My working Korean food vocabulary is limited to the dozens of kinds of kimchee that I have made, a few soups of which kimchee jigae is one of my favorites, and a few other standards of Americanized Korean restaurant menus. Korean staples such as tteok are really foreign to me.

Tteok (as I understand it pronounced somewhere between duck and dock) is a rice cake made from ground glutinous rice. They come in all shapes: balls, logs, and the sliced logs that you see here. As this package says, this particular sliced tteok often ends up in the celebratory New Year's soup called tteokguk.

I tried a piece uncooked and as I expected, it tastes like uncooked Thai sen yai rice noodle. Simmering the tteok bits in water for 30-60 seconds rendered them softer and chewier, a pretty neat texture. Aside from their natural affinity for soup, they'd be perfect sauced or tossed with stir fries of any kind. And for giggles, I fried some of them. Just like rice noodles, they puff up when fried. The fried ones would be pretty sick drizzled with honey as a riff on funnel cakes or Greek loukoumades.

Vote: Cheap and delicious, tteok are a useful addition to my repertoire.

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