There are lots of excellent rice cake soup (ddeokguk) recipes out there. For the new year, you are supposed to put mandu, Korean dumplings usually filled with minced meat and vegetables or kimchi – Korean Maultaschen – to make ddeokmanduguk, but since my kids are not that into these, I left them out this year. The unique ingredient that my family traditionally puts in our version of this soup is tofu. Apparently this is particular to the city where my mother is from which is Taegu, Korea’s fourth largest city. I love it and so do my kids.
There is something really pleasing about the chewiness of this white ovals. The rest of the soup is filled with easy favorites too: eggs dropped in soup, tofu slices and gim. While one of my kids fishes the green onions out, the other two eat them without complaint, enjoying the mild, oniony bite.
In Germany, you will have to get the ddeok at a Korean grocery store or you can order it from Kmall. When I lived in London, the foreign students from Korea showed me where to find dry ddeok in the Chinese grocery stores in Chinatown. If anyone knows if you can find something similar in Chinese grocery stores in Germany, please let me know.
Here is my fuss free child-friendly recipe that I learned from my mother, the queen of shortcuts. (Remember my new year’s resolution: simplify.) A vegan version will come in the future. There is no long broth making process or separating the egg yolk and white and cooking each component as an omelet and slicing evenly for extra garnish. I even get the kids to crumble their own gim rather than cutting it with a knife or scissors.
Start by soaking your ddeok. The total length of time depends on whether or not the rice cakes were frozen, but not by much. 5-15 minutes is enough or you could do it ahead of time and leave in the refrigerator. The time you are preparing the broth is often enough.
This is the brand that I bought recently in Frankfurt. It’s good. Not too soft.
Chop up your meat and pound with the back of your knife to tenderise.
Heat your sunflower seed oil and sesame oil over medium-high heat in a medium size pot and brown the meat.
Add garlic and soy sauce. Then add your warm water and rice wine. To be honest, I was concerned that I put too much soy sauce in making the broth too dark. But watch and see what happened. (You could use Korean soup soy sauce if you have it for a lighter broth color.)
After approximately 15 minutes, you will have a tasty, quick broth. You will have skipped the separate step of marinating your chopped meat ahead of time or using the whole piece of meat for the beef broth and shredding it later. Add the drained ddeok that you soaked at the beginning. Note that the color is already whiter. You can also skim the white foam.
Give your ddeok about five minutes to cook on a medium heat or until they float to the surface. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of your pot. Then add the tofu. The color will become even whiter. Here is a picture of my sliced block of tofu which was 220 grams.
At this point, taste. Add one teaspoon of salt more or less as you think is necessary. Alternatively, you could add Korean soup soy sauce. Adding normal soy sauce will darken the color of the broth more. After three minutes, swirl in the beaten egg. Don’t stir immediately – you have to give the egg a chance to cook. If any beaten egg pools on top of a piece of tofu, make sure it is submerged in the hot broth. I then add my sliced scallions/green onion and turn off the heat.
Put a lid on the pot and remove it from the heat. At this point, I leave it for one minute to prepare everything else I need to serve the soup (such as toasting the gim, serving the kimchi, setting the table, etc.). Wait till you serve the soup in a bowl before crumbling the toasted gim in. If you put the gim in the pot directly, you will have a purple-brown mess.
My kids astound me by how much of this soup they eat. I think the rice cake doesn’t have many nutrients in them, but the tofu, seaweed and spring onions sure do. My 21-month old son and my six-year old daughter often eat three portions. No joke. Even if they might not like meat in all dishes, they like the tender, flavorful beef here. Kimchi is the perfect side dish. You can serve this in less than 30 minutes!
RECIPE FOR DDEOKGUK
- 250 grams Suppenfleisch/lean soup meat
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sunflower oil (or similar plant oil)
- 1-2 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 7 cups hot water
- 1 Tablespoon rice wine (I use sake or mirin)
- 3 cups of ddeokguk ddeok
- 1 block firm tofu (OK, I know the size of the block varies but you can decide how much you want to put in. Proportion can be anywhere between half the amount to nearly equal the amount of ddeok.)
- 1 teaspoon Salt or 1 teaspoon Korean soup soy sauce optional. You can substitute with regular soy sauce but it will darken the broth.
- 1-2 beaten eggs
- 1 sliced spring onion
- 1-2 sheets of unseasoned, toasted gim.
- Soak the ddeok in cold water.
- Chop up the Suppenfleisch into bite size pieces trimming any fat. Pound with the back of your knife to soften.
- Saute the beef in medium soup pot with the sesame oil and sunflower oil.
- Add minced garlic and a tablespoon of soy sauce to season.
- Add the water and a tablespoon of rice wine.
- Boil for about 15 minutes. Skim any brown foam.
- Drain your ddeok and add to the boiling water. Skim white foam. Wait till rice cakes float to the top or five minutes.
- Add your sliced tofu.
- Taste. Add a teaspoon of salt as needed. If you have Korean soup soy sauce, you can add a tablespoon of that as well.
- Everything should be heated through. Depending on how soft or chewy and hard you like your ddeok, boil for 5-10 minutes.
- Drop in one or two beaten eggs and sliced green onion. Wait one minute then stir.
- Serve in deep soup bowls and give your kids half or a quarter sheet of unseasoned, toasted gim. Let them tear and crumble into their soup. Most kids like feeling the texture of their food and making a bit of a mess. To avoid the mess, put the gim in a plastic bag and crumble in that.
Serve with kimchi and enjoy for any new year’s celebration, Western or lunar, or on any other day.