When you want to cook something special on a whim, try this dish. It is a popular, savory snack in Korea. Koreans enjoy the chewy texture of rice cake and fiery spiciness of this dish "떡볶이".
Having a chewy texture, rice cakes can be regarded as somewhat exotic, cooking materials for non-Koreans. Rice cakes represent a big departure from noodles and I cannot think of anything that can replace rice cakes.
Like Korean sweet potato noodle dish "잡채", stir-fried rice cakes first appeared as a royal court cuisine in the 19th century. This original version was a soy sauce-based savory dish. In the 1950s, its modern version, a spicy one, came about by a mistake, when rice cakes were dropped into a hot sauce. Ever since this happy accident, spicy stir-fried rice cakes have become one of the most popular street food. In Korea, there are even restaurants dedicated to these stir-fried rice cake dishes.
Would you like to venture to make this toothsome snack at home? Like Bibimbap, you can mix and match whatever ingredients you desire, which makes endless combinations possible. Your leftover vegetables will be put into a great use for this dish. So let's begin...
Ingredients for 4 servings
One sweet onion (thinly sliced)
One medium carrot (julienned)
Half a head of green cabbage (thinly sliced)
Ten dry Shitake mushrooms* (soaked in water overnight and thinly sliced)
Six dry wood ear mushrooms* (soaked in water for at least an hour and torn into small pieces)
A quarter pound of seafood mixture* (uncooked, snap-frozen squid, chopped octopus, scallops, mussels, and shrimps)
Fermented soy sauce* 1 tsp. My favorite is Sempio naturally brewed soy sauce (see its picture below). Fermented soy sauce has layers of deep flavors that chemically produced soy sauce (most soy sauce belong to this category) does not have. Please make sure to read the label before purchasing a bottle of soy sauce. Do you worry about its shelf-life? Because it is too salty, microbes cannot grow in it. I keep it on the shelf for over a year.
Coarse red pepper powder* 2 tsp (optional if you don't want spiciness)
Sesame oil* (optional)
One clove of garlic
A pinch of ginger powder
Freshly ground black pepper
One pound of rice cake* (soaked in water for at least an hour if kept frozen)
*Available at any Asian grocery market.
Depending on the size of the dry Shitake mushrooms, it may take several hours to soften them. So it is a good idea to soak them in water the night before you plan to use them. If you use frozen rice cakes and seafood, you need to defrost them in water as well. While waiting for them to get defrosted, you can prepare for the other ingredients.
If you are done with chopping and slicing vegetables, you are ready to roll now. Heat up a stir-fry pan over a medium high heat with one teaspoon of oil on the pan. While heating up the pan, you can rinse the rice cakes under cold water and drain them.
Once the pan is hot enough, stir-fry the sliced onion first. When they become somewhat translucent, add the julienned carrots to the pan and sprinkle a pinch of salt to them. Stir-fry them for a minute or so. Now add the sliced green cabbages to the pan. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of salt over the vegetable mixture, mix everything well, and cover the pan. Lower the heat to the medium level and let the water coming out of vegetables to steam them for a minute.
While steaming the vegetables in the pan, rinse and drain the seafood mixture.
Open the lid and raise the heat to the medium high level. Add the sliced Shitake mushrooms, rice cakes, red pepper powder, and soy sauce to the pan. Stir-fry the mixture for a minute and add the seafood mixture to the pan (if you are vegetarian, you can skip the seafood). Continue to stir-fry everything for one or two minutes until shrimps turn pink. Add green peas and sesame oil. Turn off the heat, add chopped garlic, ginger powder, freshly ground black peppers to the pan, and mix everything well. Season the final dish with salt to your taste.
Voila! You got yourself one of the most popular Korean snack, 떡볶이. What other ingredients have you paired with rice cakes?
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