Although the exact origin of Chuseok is unclear, it’s origin can be traced back to an ancient religious rite relating to the moon. The full moon that came once a month to brighten the dark night was seen as an aspect of the fall harvest, cause for celebration for an already agrarian society. Regardless of how exactly Chuseok came about, it is clear that much like “Thanksgiving” celebrations in Western countries, in Korea it has become a holiday for spending quality time with family and food.
Songpyeon, a Korean rice cake filled with sesame powder and steamed with pine needles, is arguably the most traditional Chuseok food. Unfortunately, the making of Songpyeon is rather involved, but you can further educate yourself here. Other popular Chuseok foods include rice, soup, fish, meat, fruit (such as apples pears, oranges or persimmons) and greens (bean sprouts and spinach).
This post will a few easy and delicious (and even fairly healthy) recipes for Chuseok-themed food: Sesame Cookies, Squash Jeon, Seasoned Spinach, Korean Meatballs, and Chap-Chae.
Korean Sesame Cookies:
- 3/4 Cup sesame seeds toasted sesame seeds
- 1 cup real butter (no substitutions)
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp hot water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
Rinse sesame seeds in bowl: drain. In frying pan or wok, toast sesame seeds over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. When seeds are slightly browned and puffed remove from heat and cool. Cream butter with brown and white sugars. Add eggs and beat well. Add baking soda, hot water and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in flour and sesame seeds to make a stiff dough. Cover and refrigerate until dough is firm. Roll heaping teaspoonfuls into ball; place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
Flatten slightly. Bake 325 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 5 dozen.
Squash Pancake (Hobak Jeon):
*Ingredients (makes about 2 pancakes,7 inch diameter)
Oil:About 2 Tbsp
Unbleached white flour : 1/2 Cup
Large egg: 1
Water: 2/3 Cup
In a bowl, combine flour, egg, salt, and water. Whisk well. Peel the skin off squash and cut into strips about 2 inches by 1/4 inch. Mix batter and squash. Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan and put in half of the batter mix. Spread well. When the edge of pancake gets white, flip it over (Flip only once). Wait until bottom is cooked about 1 minute.
Seasoned spinach (Shigumchi Namul)
- 200g spinach (about 1 large bunch)
- 1 Tbs chopped spring onions
- 1/2 Tbs minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 2 tsp sesame seed oil
- 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Wash and rinse the spinach well to get rid of any dirt. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a bit of salt, and then add the spinach leaves for about 2 minutes, just until the greens are wilted but not mushy- you do not want the spinach to start breaking down and dissolving. Drain everything into a colander and rinse with cold water to preserve the bright green color and prevent further cooking. Next, gently squeeze the water out of the spinach with your hands. If your spinach stems are too long, you can chop them into slightly more manageable pieces.
Place the spinach in a mixing bowl and add the rest of your ingredients.
Korean Meat Balls (Donggeurang Ttaeng)
A favorite jeon (Korean pancake) for Chuseok is the meatball pancake. Normally, traditional pajeon is served after the ancestor memorial ceremony, the beef meatball version is a great dish.
Ingredients Serves 5-6
300g minced beef
1/3 spring onion
2 cups cheongju (clear rice wine)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/3 tbsp spoon salt
1/4 tbsp ginger powder
2 eggs (beaten)
1. Marinate beef with cheongju (clear rice wine), then squeeze gently with kitchen towel. Stand for a few minutes.
2. Shred onions, carrots, capsicum, and spring onions.
3. Add minced garlic, salt, pepper, ginger powder, and sesame oil together with the marinated beef and shredded vegetables. Mix with hands and make into small bun shapes.
4. Roll buns in a generous amount of flour, and brush off extra flour to prevent chunks
5. Marinate with beaten eggs.
6. Heat up a pan with oil, and fry for around 1 min on medium heat until the bottom side turns yellow. Flip and repeat 3~4 times until the whole bun is fully cooked. Cut in half to check if meat has turned brown.
7. Serve with soy sauce for dipping, and enjoy!
Vegan Chap- Chae
Chap-Chae isn’t necessarily a Chuseok recipe, but it’s definitely one of my favorite Korean foods, so I thought I’d include an easy variation of the dish here in my list-o-dishes:
- 8 oz Korean vermicelli noodles
- 1 sweet onion, sliced into thin strips
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 lb baby spinach, parboiled
- 2 carrots, Julienned
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 5 mushrooms, sliced 1/2 cup zucchini (or Korean green veggie equivalent), sliced 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt to taste
- Sesame seeds (optional)
- Cook noodles according to package directions
- In a large pan or wok over medium heat, heat olive oil and 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- Add onion slices and garlic and sauté for about 1 min
- Add rest of vegetables and cook for 4-5 min, until the vegetables are half-cooked and still a bit crispy
- Turn heat to low and add cooked noodles, soy sauce, sugar, and the remaining sesame oil
- Mix to combine and cook for another 2 min
- Add salt or more soy sauce if needed (or if you want it a bit sweeter, add a touch more sugar)
- If using sesame seeds, add them at finish
Enjoy some quality time with loved ones and home-made food this Sunday.