Meet Stella, my middle child. She’s a key player in this blog, and at the end of October, she turned four. At first, I was feeling stressed and depressed about not being able to give her an appropriate celebration. We hadn’t been back in Germany long enough for me to identify who her real friends were, even if I wanted to throw a party this year; my husband was scheduled to attend a training session which would require him to leave the house early and not be able to come home earlier; and my sister-in-law who lives about 1.5 hours away would be on holiday and not able to join any celebration.
In the end, I realised that even though my husband had to leave the house early, 7 AM was still a feasible time for this house full of early risers to join together for a celebratory breakfast. I decided to bake banana walnut muffins (based on the best banana walnut bread recipe out there – The Silver Palette’s) and serve fresh local strawberries (one of our market stands here was still selling their own harvest) for breakfast. We sang happy birthday together, blew out candles and opened the many presents that had been showing up on our doorstep for Stella. The delight on Stella’s face as she blew out those candles, tore into those gifts and enjoy a special breakfast was all I needed to know that this was all we needed. Look at the pleasure on this little face as she munches on those muffins!
And as any good Korean mother would do, I made miyeokgook, seaweed soup, for lunch. It is a staple dish in our family’s repertoire thank goodness. It’s rich in nutrients – magnesium, calcium, iron and supposedly also helps with breast milk production. The old wives’ tale is that you should eat miyeokgook non-stop after you give birth until the baby reaches her or his Baek-il (100th day birthday). (As the mother of three children, you can imagine how much of this soup I have eaten in my life.) As a result, it is the traditional dish Koreans eat to celebrate a birthday.
All three of my kids love it. The soothing broth, the silky seaweed with the flavor of washed out saltiness of the sea, the bits of beef, warm in the tummy. The smell of miyeok and beef boiling together in the pot with a hint of sesame oil is a comforting one for me, but I have been trying to move us away from eating so much beef regularly. Recently I made a discovery at Aldi, the German chain discounter. They are now selling fresh mussels from Holland! Since they are already cleaned, all you have to do is give them a good rinse and then steam them in three or four inches of water in a big pot just until they open. I strain the broth which is very rich in flavor, and for Stella’s birthday, I used the cooking liquid as the broth of her birthday soup. It was so concentrated that I easily added a cup and a half of water to augment the broth. The flavor was pleasantly diluted but not weakened. I added my soaked miyeok (1 cup dry) and then boiled for about 30 minutes. If for whatever reason, I could have added some salt to enhance flavor, but it wasn’t necessary. You could also add clam juice if you have it. I have yet to find it in Germany – maybe at the local Italian grocery store? I added some of the shelled mussels too knowing that my kids wouldn’t really eat it, but I just wanted to give them the opportunity to try them again. For this recipe, to maintain the dignity of the clean flavor and milky white broth, I didn’t add any sesame oil.
I suggest taking a look at Maangchi’s video to get the step by step on how to handle the miyeok and then follow my recipe for this version with mussels.
You won’t need the entire kilo for the soup so the remaining mussels can be chopped and used in various jeon recipes which I will post later.
Miyeokgook with Mussels
- 1 cup dried miyeok
- 1 kilo cleaned mussels in shells
- Salt as needed
- Soak one cup of dry miyeok (this will grow into four cups worth) for about 30 mins. (Please resist the urge to soak more because you think it doesn’t look like enough. You will then have too much.) Rinse until that smell of the sea is gone, usually about 3-4 times.
- Chop the miyeok into 3-4 inch pieces and set aside in a strainer.
- Meanwhile, clean your mussels and put them in a large pot until they are covered with water.
- Cover and bring to a boil. After a few minutes of boiling time, the mussels should start to open. Remove from heat immediately and uncover.
- Strain the broth and return to the pot with your prepared miyeok. Depending on how thick you like your soup, add 1.5 – 2.5 cups of water gradually and monitor the taste to ensure that the broth doesn’t become too diluted. Add salt to taste.
- Boil at medium heat for about 30 minutes.
- Gently pull about 10 – 12 of the mussels from their shell (sorry, if you now have that Squeeze song stuck in your head) and add to the soup pot right before serving.
Enjoy. This is a really lovely version of such an inherently soothing soup.