Before leaving a Korean friend’s home earlier last week, she handed me a bag of medallion-cut rice cakes. I found it both cute and touching that she would assume that I, too, made tteokguk, the traditional Korean food for Lunar New Year’s Day. Being that it’s our last year in Korea, I decided to celebrate the holiday and try my hand at making the soup. Every Korean family celebrates the Lunar New Year a little bit different — some travel to their oldest male relative’s home, some to their father’s home, and some to their husband’s father’s home. But no matter where the gathering takes place, it always includes this beef bone broth-based soup for breakfast to hail in a prosperous new year (the tteok is medallion-cut to represent coins). I celebrated in my own way, by serving the soup along with some simple Korean sides for a light lunch with friends.
To be honest, I find traditional tteokguk a bit lacking in the flavor department, as if someone boiled the ghost of a cow.* Because my husband and I eat little meat, when we do eat it, we want it to taste exceptional. My version of the soup strays a little from its roots, but packs much flavor. Having every intention of boiling beef bones to make my own broth as in the traditional version, my plans were foiled when I discovered the prices of beef still on the bone at my local supermarket. Too late to visit a butcher and ask for bones, I purchased some cuts of boneless Korean beef and used a bouillon based beef stock for added flavor.
*To be fair, New Year’s food in the Southern U.S. does little to excite me, too. Though cornbread is heaven sent, I would have no trouble leaving ham-flavored greens and black-eyed peas off the menu (I don’t like pork).
Ingredients (serves four)
1.5 liters beef stock For Garnish
250 grams beef Egg ribbons
300 grams tteok, medallion-cut Chopped scallions
4-6 garlic cloves, minced Fried scallion strips
2 Tbsp sesame oil Dried seaweed
Begin by soaking the tteok medallions in a bowl of warm water for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. While the tteok soaks, add the beef stock to a large soup pot and bring it to a simmer. Add the cuts of beef to the pot and simmer until the beef is just cooked (the outside should appear as a gray-brown, pink inside is fine), about 1-2 minutes. Remove the cuts of beef with tongs, and set aside on a plate to rest. Add the drained tteok to the pot and simmer. Meanwhile, slice the beef into strips. Heat the sesame oil in a pan over medium heat, and add the minced garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the strips of beef and cook just until any pink color is removed, and the edges begin to brown. Remove from the heat, and set aside on a plate.
Divide the soup into bowls, taking care to give each person plenty of tteok. Top with garnishes of scallions, fresh and fried, dried seaweed, and egg ribbons (fried egg sliced into strips). Just before serving, add equal portions of the beef atop each bowl. Eat together for a prosperous year.