September 08, 2014 08:03
One of the highlights of Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving is making songpyeon, glutinous rice cakes with various different fillings.
Families traditionally gather in the living room to make these crescent-shaped cakes over friendly chat.
Here are some tips from experts for making the experience even more enjoyable.
Jeong Gil-ja, who heads the Institute of Royal Korean Dessert, said, "Our ancestors believed that by eating songpyeon, we will develop virtues such as patience, chastity, fidelity and good health like the pine trees. That's why five-colored songpyeon were always on the table for the first birthday and the 100th day of birth."
There are many myths related to songpyeon, for example that women who make good-looking songpyeon will marry well or have good-looking children, and that a pregnant woman will have a girl if she eats undercooked songpyeon and a boy if she has a very well-cooked one.
"This goes to show how close this particular rice cake was in everyday lives of ordinary people for a long time," Jeong added.
According to a traditional recipe, rice flour is kneaded into dough with hot water, which in turn is filled with different kinds of fillings such as sesame seeds, red beans and chestnuts, and made into a crescent-moon shape. The cake is steamed on a layer of pine needles, which increases the aroma and taste.
Anything cooked with freshly harvested ingredients will taste great without other additives, but knowing a few secrets can make a big difference.
Choi Sun-ja (74), a rice cake master, suggests mixing steamed pumpkin with sesame seeds. "One of the most common fillings is a mixture of sesame seeds and sugar. If you heat up steamed pumpkin with sugar, and mix it with sesame seeds, this will give the filling a much smoother and lighter flavor," she added.
Her recommendation is to break away from the traditional crescent shape and get more creative. "For children, it’s fun to make different shapes or even making a popular animation character by using a cookie cutter," she said.
Seo Myung-hwan, who runs a rice cake store in Yeonhui-dong, Seoul, recommends adding more fragrance to songpyeon.
"Songpyeon has a pine scent because we use pine needles when steaming. But if you dare to be more adventurous, add some dried herbs to the filling."
He also suggests experimenting with jam made with yuzu, quince, and ginger for added sweetness and tanginess.
Pumpkins, strawberries, mugwort, or black rice are great natural ingredients for variations in colors. Small flowers, thin slices of date, and black sesame seeds make other attractive decorations.
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