Recipe: Ssuk gae-tteok, mugwort rice cake

Gae-tteok (개떡) is an easy rice cake made with fragrant green herbs. It’s more rustic than fancy and more aromatic than sweet. My grandmother used to make gae-tteok with ssuk (쑥, mugwort), which has a wonderful herbal scent that smells just like spring.

One tip I learned from my mom for the final step: Most people rub some sesame oil onto each rice cake so they don’t stick, but she taught me to dip them into a mixture of oil and water so they cool more quickly for the perfect chewiness (plus, they’re nice and shiny!).

 

ingredients:

300g white (non-sticky) rice

A few pinches of salt

100g blanched and squeezed ssuk (mugwort)

50cc boiling hot water

1 cup of water + 1 tbsp sesame oil for coating

 

1. Soak rice in cold or lukewarm water for at least 5–6 hours. Put it on a wicker tray or strainer and let it drain completely over several hours. Mix with salt and grind in a food processor until you get a fine powder.

2. You can also grind the blanched ssuk with the rice in the food processor (many Koreans do this at their local mill), but if you want a more rustic texture with lots of ssuk fibers and juice, then you can pound the ssuk with a mortar and pestle and add it to the rice flour.

3. Gradually add hot water to the dough, checking the texture as you go along. Be careful not to burn your hands—try to cool it down with a spatula as you mix. Depending on the the dryness of the flour and the moisture content of the blanched ssuk, the amount of water will vary. The dough should feel about as moist as Play-Doh.

4. Line the basket with a cheesecloth, and bring the steamer to a boil. While it’s heating, shape the dough into small, flat circles a little smaller than your palm. Arrange the circles on the cheesecloth and cover with the lid.

5. When the tteok goes from pale green to shiny vivid green (about 15 minutes), turn off the heat and let it sit for another 5 minutes.

6. Remove from the steamer and quickly dip into the water-oil mixture.

7. This rice cake gets a lot chewier as it cools, so serve when it’s just cooled (not cold!).

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