Songpyeon: Traditional Chuseok Rice Cake

by M.L. Lee, 07/09/2016

Koreans refer to the full moon as borum. The two major borum days are Daeborum which is the first full moon after lunar new year while the other, Hangawee, occurs around 15 August of the lunar calendar.  Hangawee is also more commonly know as Chuseok and is one of Korea’s major holiday periods.  Chuseok is a harvest celebration as well and seongpyeon its representative food.

Songpyeon is a rice cake made of rice flour dough and various fillings such as black bean, chestnut, jujube, mung beans, pumpkin, sesame seed paste, sweet potato that is then steamed with pine leaves/needles. ‘Song’ means ‘pine trees’ while ‘pyeon’ means ‘steamed rice cake’.  Songpyeon can be plain (white) or coloured (pink, yellow, orange, green).

Songpyeon can be bought quite easily in many locations, including your local supermarket. However, it can fun to get together with friends, as women did in the past, to make Songpyeon together. Here is a sample recipe. 

Ingredients: (makes enough for 2 to 4 people)
Rice Cakes
2 cups Rice Flour (low glutinous best)
4 tbsp. Boiling Water
Handful of pine leaves
1 tbsp.  Sesame Oil
1 tbsp. Cooking Oil

Fillings Ingredients
1.  Sweet Potato filling: 1 sweet potato, ½ tsp cinnamon power, 1 tbsp. honey, pinch salt
     Wash sweet potato thoroughly, steam in a microwave for about 10 min ‘till completely cooked,
     mash thoroughly. Add honey and salt. Mix well.
2.  Chestnut filling: 3 chestnuts
     Peel chestnuts and chop finely
3.  Sesame Seed Paste filling: 1 tbsp. sesame seeds, 1 tbsp. honey, pinch salt
      Grind sesame seeds. Mix with honey and salt. (also possible to buy sesame seed paste).

• After preparing the fillings, make the rice cakes

1. To make rice cakes, add boiling water to the rice flour and mix together, beating hard until the dough becomes soft.
Note: With the above ingredients, you will have white songpyeon but if you’d like pink, yellow, purple ones divide the dough into the number of colours you want and then add one of the following (one each to a section)
Brown: 2 tbsp. of cinnamon powder
Green:  2 tbsp. of mugwort powder or 2 tbsp. green tea powder + 1-1 ½ tbsp. boiling water
Pink:  4 tbsp. raspberry juice (1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries finely pureed with ½ cup water, strained and boiled)
Purple: 4 tbsp. boiling blueberry juice + ½ tbsp. boiling water
Yellow: 1/3 cup steamed/boiled/mashed pumpkin + 1-1 ½ tbsp. boiling water
2. Take a small amount of dough, roll it on your palm into until it’s about the size of a walnut. Press your thumb in the middle and put in the filling. Fold in half and seal.

3. Lay pine leaves on the bottom of a steamer, place the cakes on the leaves, leaving plenty of space between each one. Cover the cakes with pine leaves.

4. Steam for 25-30 minutes.

5. Plunge cooked rice cakes into cold water and discard the pine leaves. Drain thoroughly, glaze with a mixture of cooking and sesame oil.

Songpyeon recipes vary from region to region and even from family to family. The half-moon shape is the most popular around the peninsula, however different areas may favour other shapes – shellfish, dumpling, flower, etc. The fillings tend to reflect the crop that is most abundant in a given area so Chungcheon Province songpyeon tend to not only have a pumpkin filling but also be a bring orange-yellow colour because of the pumpkin power added to the dough. Gangwon Province is known for its potato and acorn songpyeon.  People in the Goheung area enjoy mosi songpyeon or songpyeon made with ramie leaves while other areas of Jeolla Province favour chik/arrowroot songpyeon.  In Seoul, the osaek or five color songpyeon is the most common. The five colors are said to represent the harmony of nature.



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