Four Uses for Pumpkin that You Never Knew

  1. As the ultimate insult to a Korean woman.
  2. In an enticing pumpkin soup recipe so healthy it might well qualify as a diet recipe.  It’s also vegetarian.
  3. To change the colour of a baby’s skin.
  4. For throwing at me if none of the above is relevant to you.

Hobakjuk (Korean pumpkin porridge)PumpkinsAdding honey

The Curse of the Yellow Hands

The doctor asked me evenly: “Have you been feeding this baby a lot of orange food?”

He scrutinised the baby’s hands.  Apparently they were yellower than Chinese babies’ hands should ever be.

That fist doesn’t look unnaturally yellow to you, does it?

BabyBut OK.  I was guilty as charged.  B…but it wasn’t intentional, Your Honour.

In my defence, freezing a big batch of pumpkin soup into one-serve portions was so convenient!  Besides, the baby liked nothing better than mushy persimmons and mashed rockmelon.

New season autumn fuji fruithalloween pumpkin 1Pumpkinssweet potatorockmelonHow big is my $4 rockmelon

These days, however, the biggest consumer of blended pumpkin in our house would be yours truly.  Because I’ve discovered the Korean version that is unctuous and sweet.  The deal-maker?  There’s no added fat, so it’s healthy too.

But first, some light entertainment.

Korean Pumpkin Sayings

1.  “She is a pumpkin.”

“Pumpkin” can be an affectionate term in Western culture, eg: “Time for bed, pumpkin!”   But call a Korean woman “pumpkin” and you’ll never hear from her again. You’ve just called her ugly.

Example of Korean use: “She must have Photoshopped her Facebook picture.  I work with her and she’s a pumpkin!”

2.  “You can paint lines on a pumpkin, but that doesn’t make it a watermelon.” 

Meaning: You must make fundamental changes.  Don’t just tinker around the edges.

I dare you to use it the next time management comes up with yet another new name for everyone’s departments/groups/teams/units/clusters.

Hobakjuk 호박죽

Hobakjuk (Korean pumpkin porridge)Pumpkins

Hobakjuk is Korean pumpkin porridge.  It’s a delicious, satisfying, low-fat solution to pumpkins that become large and irresistably cheap when in season in autumn.

autumn leaves 2autumn leaves 1autumn leaves 4

A breakfast food

With the addition of honey and glutinous rice, Korean pumpkin porridge is sweet, with a slightly and pleasingly viscous mouth feel.

What more comforting way to start the day as the mornings become cooler?

Hobakjuk is a traditional Korean breakfast food.  Hobak = pumpkin.  Juk = porridge or congee (sounds similar in Cantonese).  Below: Abalone porridge and pumpkin porridge for breakfast.

Korean abalone porridge for breakfast. Korean pumpkin porridge hobakjuk for breakfast.

I was delighted to find specialty porridge restaurants in Seoul.  Like juice bars, they do a brisk breakfast trade, with blenders busily buzzing away.  Blending is the Koreans’ secret to making a smooth porridge.

That’s where the similarities end, though, as juice bars don’t serve kimchi on the side.  Nor do they list abalone on the menu.  Below: Menu at porridge restaurant, Seoul.

Korean breakfast juk menu.

Recipe for Hobakjuk

  • 1 kg pumpkin (whichever type you can find)
  • half tsp salt
  • half cup glutinous rice flour (a.k.a. sweet rice flour)
  • half cup water at room temperature
  • Honey to taste
  1. Slice pumpkin.  Discard seeds and skin.
  2. Boil pumpkin slices in a little water and the salt, covered.  Don’t entirely submerge the pumpkin, or else you’ll get insipid, watery hobakjuk.
  3. Cook until the pumpkin is very soft.

Boiling the pumpkin4.  While the pumpkin is cooking, combine glutinous rice flour and water to make a slurry.

Glutinous rice flour + water Slurry of glutinous rice flour and water

5.  Transfer cooked pumpkin and rice flour slurry into a blender.  Blend till smooth.  (Do you like the faithful 30-year-old retro blender in a 70s shade of brown?)

Cooked mixture to be blended Blended mixture close-up Blend till smooth

6.  Now for the most time-consuming bit (but it’s still faster than risotto).  Return the blended mixture to the pot.  If the mixture is too thick, add water.

7.  Heat on low to medium heat.  Stir constantly to avoid burning.

8.  Be careful: when the mixture starts to boil, lava-like bubbles will rise and pop explosively.  At this point, turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and let it bubble away for a few minutes, cooking off the raw taste of the rice flour.

Keep stirring9.  Finally, add honey to taste.  There should be just a touch of sweetness, not enough to make it taste like a dessert.

Adding honey10.  Transfer to a bowl and top with artfully arranged pumpkin seeds or pine nuts, like so:

Hobakjuk (Korean pumpkin porridge)Tips to get The Real Deal

Authentic hobakjuk contains sweetened red beans and chewy Korean rice cakes (tteok).  These add accents of flavour and texture, but I omit them on my lazier days.

If you want to go the whole hog when making hobakjuk, then do this:

Tip #1.  Add sweetened red beans

  • These are available in ready-to-use, vacuum-sealed packs from Chinese grocery shops.
  • Add a teaspoonful straight from the packet, to each bowl of warm hobakjuk.
  • If you’re using this, be sure to add less honey to your hobakjuk, as the instant red beans are VERY sweet.

sweet red beansTip #2: Add Korean rice cakes (tteok)

  • Look for cylindrical Korean rice cakes, available at Korean or some Chinese grocery shops.
  • The vacuum-packed ones are easy to use: just boil till soft, cut into bite-sized pieces, and add to warm hobakjuk.

rice cakes

As for the hapless yellow-handed baby? 

In the years gone by, she has grown like a weed, and now shuns mashed pumpkin.  With a more mature palate, the orange food she now consumes looks like this:

But she retains a soft spot for persimmons and rockmelons.

autumn leaves 3 autumn leaves 3 autumn leaves 3 autumn leaves 3

Korean Adventure

For all upcoming events, click here.

To hear more Korean sayings and to feast on Korean food and products, come on the Korean Adventure (click here to book).

Gomtang (Korean beef broth) with noodlesRestaurant nearly as old as the United NationsNaeng myeon (chilled noodles)

You’ll get all these and more:

  1. An indulgent, mainly non-spicy, wholesome banquet at an institution of a Korean restaurant.
    ~ This is interspersed with Amazing Facts About Korean Culture You Can Show Off To Your Friends Later.
    ~ For instance, do you know how Chinese and Korean languages are connected?
  2. A shopping trip to a huge, well-stocked, Kpop-blasting Korean grocer, where we ponder burning questions such as:
    (a) What are the top 3 Korean tidbits?  Exactly why are they so popular?
    (b) What Korean ingredients qualify as FITK’s Secret Kitchen Weapons?
  3. A sweet surprise.

Chengpan Gooksu - Korean "platter noodle" saladKorean saucesDak galbi being cooked

Or have your own private event of a Korean Seriously Good Banquet of authentic eats and entertaining cultural immersion.
~ What better way for weekday team-building in the city, than an authentic multi-course lunch (no Powerpoint slides, promise)?
~ Discover the varied Korean cuisine beyond your typical Korean barbecue, and learn the intricacies of Korean dining decorum.

Other Korean food-related posts you might like

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