Tteok are Korean rice cakes that are eaten in both savory and sweet applications. They are quite similar to mochi, and have a delicious chewy texture to them. One of the more common savory applications of tteok is tteokbokki, which literally translates to stewed rice cakes. The cakes are usually stewed in a spicy, kimchi-gochujang based sauce, and sometimes served with meat or fish cakes. Honestly one of my favorite Korean dishes to eat! In this case, I wanted to make the tteok into the shape of Dratini. Why? Because Dratini are adorable. I still have fond memories of playing Pokemon Go during the summer it came out, and my friend Tiffany affectionately calling them “Dragon-tini”. The tteok are dyed blue naturally using butterfly pea powder, although blue spirulina powder works just as well here with getting that job done. I’m serving the tteok with a clear dashi broth, since I wanted the dish to better resemble what a Dratini’s natural habitat looks like. I also added some fresh nasturtiums for color and freshness, though you can also go down the cheese route instead and doing a heartier chili sauce. I find that the soft texture of these tteok go well with a variety of things, although I would recommend serving them in savory over sweet dishes.
Ironically, I initially intended to make a sweet tang yuan(round poached Chinese rice dumplings that are usually sweet) with these tteok, but after tasting the cooked dough, and realizing how savory the butterfly pea tea made the dough, it just felt right to pair these with something more aromatic and savory. When I was doing some more testing on how to cook these dumplings, I realized that the method I used to make these little guys was identical to Korean tteok, which was when I shifted the idea of calling these tang yuan to tteok. While tang yuan is cooked by poaching the rice dumplings in water, tteok are made by steaming the dough instead. In the case of this recipe, I had to steam the Dratini, since poaching them in water caused the eyes made from edible paint to disintegrate and some of the fins and features actually fell off the rice cakes. Surprisingly, steaming the eyes really seal them into the tteok, so even tossing the cooked tteok into a wet sauce will not wash the eyes away, unlike boiling them! When assembling these little guys, I recommend brushing the tteok with water to help apply on the fins, mouths/snout-things, and head beads a little easier. I will be honest, doing the little features is probably the most time-consuming part of this recipe, but it is the commitment you have to make if you want Dratini instead of blue and white squiggle-worms!
Now for some technical jargon about making the tteok dough. If you have ever made boba from scratch before, the method of making these tteok will be a tad similar to that. You will need to par-cook a mixture of tapioca flour and water, just to gel the starches and turn the tapioca a malleable dough instead of a weird Newtonian fluid. I have seen recipes where people just pour boiling water over tapioca starch, but depending on the brand of tapioca you use, that does not always work, whereas exposing the wetted tapioca to direct heat tends to give a more consistent result, and a chewier rice cake! I do use mostly tapioca starch in this recipe, but it can be subbed with more rice flour if you would like. I just found that tapioca holds moisture in better, so the tteok can be twice cooked(once being steamed and again being tossed through a sauce) a lot easier this way. For that reason though, the most I recommend doing if you want more rice flour to tapioca is a 4:3 ratio. I used Japanese joshinko rice flour, but literally any and every kind of rice flour, be it glutinous or not, works just fine in this recipe, as the tapioca starch is the main binder! I did use a little bit of sugar too, to bring out the natural sweetness in the rice(and because these were originally meant to be a sweet dumpling), but you can also omit it if you like! I personally like the sugar, since if you toss the tteok in something spicy, the sweetness of the dumplings help to mellow that out a little bit better.
Makes 20 Dratini tteok:
For the tapioca dough:
1 1/4 cups tapioca Flour
1/3 cup rice flour(I used jonshinko flour)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2/3 cups water
1 tsp blue spirulina/butterfly pea powder
In a bowl, pour the boiling water over the flours and sugar. Stir the mixture together to form a smooth batter. Pour the batter into a pan and cook on low heat until the mixture becomes sticky and firm. Allow the dough to cool down before kneading the dough on a tapioca flour-lined surface until it is smooth.
Split the dough in half, and dye half of it blue with the blue spirulina/butterfly pea powder.
Form the bodies by pressing about 60% of each dough together and cutting them into 1/4-inch strips. Roll out balls of the blue dough to form the heads. For the mouths, roll out 1g balls of the white dough. For the forehead beads, divide 4g of dough into 20 balls. For the head fins, roll out the remaining dough as thinly as possible, cut out 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch squares, cut those diagonally into triangles, and fold them in the middle to form a crease. To assemble your Dratinis, brush the blue balls of dough with water and press the other features onto them first. Then brush the bodies with more water and add the head on as well. Using a chopstick, press the edible paint onto the heads to form your eyes.
Steam the Dratini for 10 minutes on parchment.
For the edible paint:
1 tsp clear alcohol(I used silver rum)
1 tsp activated charcoal powder
Mix together to form your paint.
For the dashi:
1oz ginger root, sliced thinly
2 tbsp hondashi powder
2 tbsp mirin
1/4 cup chicken stock
a pinch of salt
1 egg white
In a pot, heat up everything besides the egg white, bringing everything to a simmer for 15 minutes. Whisk the egg white until frothy and pour into the stock. Allow everything to simmer for another 2 minutes before pouring through a cheesecloth to remove all of the solids, leaving behind a crystal-clear broth.
Shaved rainbow carrots or radishes
2 tbsp rice vinegar
a pinch of salt
Toss the shaved root veggies with rice vinegar and salt first. This will help to tenderize them. To plate, start with a shallow bowl and place down your dashi. Then place on the Dratini tteok, and finally, the shaved vegetables, nasturtium leaves, and/or flowers.