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A confession: as a child, I never really ate Korean food.

Of course, there is a ton of sticky white rice in my past, and I have a passing familiarity with the various banchan that are scattered around the table at any Korean barbecue joint. But my parents, first generation immigrants who wanted to assimilate their American-born daughter to American culture, raised me on burgers and hot dogs and coke. My parents ate Korean food, of course, but I, with my only-child stubbornness, usually refused it.

So I was surprised when, upon entering college and the vast but flavorless wastes of dorm cafeterias, I began to crave Korean food. It started simply, with sticky white rice — the dorm restaurants only ever had fluffy Mexican or brown rice — but developed into cravings for things that my parents would eat all the time, but in which I never partook. Soondubu Jjigae, spicy fermented bean soup with tofu. Soondae, pork blood sausage. Naengmyeon, cold soba noodles in sweet and vinegary broth.

Most of all, dduk.

Dduk was one of the three Korean foods (the other two being Korean barbecue in its many forms and seolleongtang, glowing white ox bone soup) that I loved with my whole heart. It’s the chewy texture. It’s a bit like Japanese mochi, but I’ve always found mochi to be a bit softer and more pillowy. Dduk is more toothsome, sticky, glutinous.

And so, when I found a Korean grocery store in Paris, I brought home three packages of dduk, red pepper paste, and thinly-sliced beef and made dduk bok-ki over and over and over. Enough to disturb the delicate Parisian stomach-lining of the boyfriend.

Dduk Bok-Ki
Adapted from The Delicious Life

Dduk usually comes in little cylinders or flat ovalettes. You can use either for this recipe, but I like the texture of the cylinders better. If you’re a spicy food wimp, start with only 1 tbsp of gohchoojang and no gohchoo garoo, taste, and adjust from there.

2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp gohchoojang (Korean red pepper paste)
½ tsp gohchoo garoo (Korean red chili pepper powder)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
vegetable oil
1 large leek or 2 small leeks
1 lb package of dduk (thawed if frozen)
4 oz firm tofu, cut into 1-cm cubes (I used smoked tofu)
½ lb. any thinly sliced beef, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used brisket)
toasted sesame seeds

In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, gohchoojang, gohchoo garoo, sugar, sesame oil and garlic.

Cut the majority of the green part of the leeks off and discard — I find these leaves are usually too tough. Slice the leek in half down the stalk to the root, keeping the root intact on both halves. Rise the leek under running water, making sure to get water between all the layers. There’s usually a lot of dirt in there. Slice the leek into 1-cm slices.

Put a pot of water on to boil. Once boiling, add your dduk and cook until they float. After that, you can just turn the heat off and let them rest in the hot water — it’s not like pasta, they don’t really get waterlogged.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat with 1 tbsp or so of vegetable oil. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Turn heat up to medium-high, add  the tofu and beef and cook until browned.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the sauce ingredients and about 1 cup of the hot water from the dduk. Stir until a loose sauce forms.

Drain the dduk and add it to the sauce. Let it bubble for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and coats the dduk. Taste for seasoning and add more gohchoojang, sugar, or soy sauce to your taste. Serve sprinkled with a handful of toasted sesame seeds.

Music to cook by: Goodbye, I! [MeWithoutYou // It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright]

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