With a mere week left till the nation celebrates one of South Korea’s biggest annual holidays, the time has come to start gathering the necessary ingredients needed to prepare traditional dishes for the ancestral “jesa” table next Sunday morning.
By now, Chuseok gifts have begun to trickle in. Generally food-related and seasonal, these packages range from precious rows of pine mushrooms redolent of early autumn to neatly arranged slabs of much-coveted hanwoo (Korean beef) to near-translucent orbs of dried persimmons covered in a white, sweet frost.
Most of these delectable offerings will be used to whip up those Chuseok goodies. Yet, what to do with the remaining bits and pieces?
Haap owner-chef Sin Yong-il and Lotte Hotel Seoul’s Korean restaurant Mugunghwa provide simple recipes for those precious leftover ingredients, while Ujeon Green Tea master Kim Dong-gon pairs teas with Chuseok delicacies.
In Korea, tea generally refers to the green version of the brew made from Camellia sinensis leaves.
The cultivation of tea first began when it arrived from Tang Dynasty China around 1,000 years ago, during the Unified Silla Period, and Hadong County in South Gyeongsang Province, was one of the first regions where tea was planted.
Ssanggye Tea Company CEO Kim Dong-gon ― appointed the 28th Korean Food Grand Master by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries ― hails from the region, where he grows and produces around 50 varieties of tea and tisanes.
Kim is most famous for his mastery of ujeon green tea. Ujeoncha (“cha” means “tea” in Korean) is made from the first flush (earliest leaves of the tea plant) and is traditionally roasted in a cauldron over an oak wood fire. The tradition of making ujeoncha has been passed down to Kim and it is his expertise in the precious brew that has earned him the Grand Master title.
“This is the earliest, when tea leaves are their most fragrant and delicious,” said Kim, 64, in a phone interview, adding that the resulting ujeoncha is “soft, aromatic and lingers long on the palate.”
|Ssanggye Tea Company CEO Kim Dong-gon conducts a tea ceremony. (Ssanggye Tea Company)|
For pairing with dried persimmons, Kim recommends jakseolcha as a reasonably-priced match. Harvested when still tender, after ujeoncha during the same period as “sejak” tea, the leaves of jakseolcha are believed to resemble the shape of a sparrow’s tongue.
Kim suggests pairing jookro with songpyeon (filled rice cakes served during Chuseok). Jookro, according to Kim, is made from leaves that have been raised on the dew of bamboo and harvested in mid-May.
For meat and jeon (Korean pancakes), Sejak tea ― which is harvested and made after Ujeon ― is a recommended accompaniment.
‘Haap’-style tteok galbi
Owner-chef Sin Yong-il of tteok cafe Haap says tteok galbi is a good way to use up leftover chestnuts, jujubes and meat from Chuseok. Even if the peeled, raw chestnuts served during the holiday have browned a bit, it is okay, says Sin, because everything gets minced and mixed together and spiced up with some tasty seasonings.
Ingredients for tteok galbi:
- 400 g beef from the ribs (or any kind of leftover beef)
― 25 g Asian pear juice
― 4 finely chopped chestnuts
― 4 finely chopped jujubes
― 5 g sticky rice powder
― Tteok for the center
Ingredients for seasoning:
― 2 tbsp soy sauce
― 1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
― 2 tbsp finely chopped green onions
― 2 tbsp sugar
― Honey to coat the tteok galbi
1. Finely chop the chestnuts and jujubes.
2. Prepare the Asian pear juice.
3. Make the seasoning by finely chopping the garlic and green onions and mixing it with soy sauce and sugar.
4. Trim about 80 percent of the fat off the rib meat and mince.
5. Mix together with seasoning sauce, kneading it like dough.
6. Make globe-shaped patties, putting nubs of rice cake in the center and then molding it over, ideally so that the tteok sticks out of the side of each patty a little bit; 400 grams should make approximately 8 patties.
7. Coat each patty with a little bit of honey.
8. First cook the outside of the patties over medium heat in a frying pan before transferring to the oven and baking at 170 degrees Celsius for about 7 to 8 minutes, adjusting as needed depending on the size of the patties.
9. Coat patties in remaining honey and serve.
Pine mushroom rice in stone pot
Lotte Hotel Seoul’s Korean restaurant Mugunghwa serves up rice cooked in stone pot, topped with fragrant slices of the autumnal delicacy ― pine mushrooms. The rice is paired with a special pine mushroom soy-based sauce that is meant to be mixed in with the rice and enjoyed.
Ingredients for the pine mushroom rice:
― 200 g soaked white rice
― 170 g water
― 2 g pine nuts
― 4 g peeled gingko biloba nuts
― 5 g cleaned pine mushrooms
― A little sesame seed oil
1. First make the pine mushroom sauce by mixing four parts water to two parts soy sauce and one part sugar. Ratio-wise, you will need one stalk of large green onion, one peeled onion and black pepper to taste for approximately three liters of the sauce (should you choose to make that much). Bring all ingredients to boil in a pot and then lower to medium heat and let cook for about five minutes. After the sauce cools, strain out the onion and green onion, and add finely chopped stems of pine mushrooms. Allow the sauce to pickle for a day in the refrigerator.
2. Put all ingredients for the pine mushroom rice, except for the pine mushrooms, in a stone pot and then boil at high heat for 12 minutes. Then cook at low heat for five more minutes. Turn off heat, add chopped pine mushrooms, close lid again and let the mushrooms steam for an additional five minutes.
How to pick prepare pine mushrooms:
Mugunghwa chef de cuisine Chun Duk-sang provides tips on selecting and washing pine mushrooms.
Chun recommends looking for mushrooms with small, closed caps, a sign that it has retained its moisture, he says.
When prepping the mushrooms, Chun says to gently trim off the outside of the lower two-thirds of the stalk, which have been in the dirt, and then to chop off a bit of the bottom of the stem. Then he says to take a kitchen towel and gently wipe the top of the mushroom and the remaining upper, untrimmed part of the stem. Finally, rinse the pine mushroom lightly in running water.
Haap, which opened a new cafe near the Grand Hyatt Seoul in Itaewon-dong, is selling boxed tteok. Owner-chef Sin Yong-il says tteok packaged in boxes made with wood from the royal foxglove are popular Chuseok gifts. A new addition to the menu is injeolmi, which Sin makes super-soft, then cuts and coats it in various flavors to order.
Haap Namsan Cafe; 2F, 231-36 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul; (070) 7532-4819; www.haap01.com; open noon to 9 p.m. daily (call in advance)
Mugunghwa will be open during Chuseok and is currently serving special pine mushroom dishes.
Mugunghwa; 38F, Lotte Hotel Seoul, 30, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul; (02) 317-7061; open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org)