Recipe: Grandma Lee’s Hobak Jook (Kabocha Squash Porridge with Mochi)

Grandma Lee's Kabocha Squash Soup

Grandma Lee’s Kabocha Squash Soup

Jook, otherwise known as Korean porridge or congee, is a major staple in Korean cuisine. It is often served for breakfast or when someone is sick and needs something comforting and easy to digest. Because of the labor involved in its preparation—between the chopping, stirring, and constant attention to make sure things don’t burn—one can consider it a food of love.

Hobak jook, or kabocha squash porridge, is an example of Korean food with medicinal properties. It helps people who are dealing with fluid-retention, and it is also good for weight control. 

I like hobak jook for its slightly sweet and tummy-comforting taste. It’s sweeter than butternut squash but not quite as sweet as a sweet potato or yam. Some people like it with black beans, but I prefer it with mochi (rice dumplings). Weight watchers might opt for the black beans instead of the mochi, or omit both altogether and just enjoy it as a comforting fall/winter soup.

This recipe is very quick and easy to prepare. My mom (aka Grandma Lee) gave me a few tips:

  • Split squash in half and microwave for 5-7 minutes. It’ll make it easier to peel the green skin and speed up the cooking time. Be sure to peel off the skin well to keep the soup color pumpkin orange vs. brownish orange.
  • When making the mochi, be sure to cook separately and not in the same broth as the squash. This will keep the porridge clean and smooth and not grainy from the sweet rice flour.
  • Before blending, remove some of the liquid and set aside to add back little by little into the puree to desired consistency. Some people like their porridge thick like pureed baby food; others prefer it thinner like a bisque (lightly coating the back of wooden spoon).

Grandma Lee’s Hobak Jook (Kabocha Squash Porridge) Recipe
1 Kabocha squash (remove skin and scoop out seeds, cut into small chunks)
1 Yellow onion (peeled, quartered and sliced thinly)
Water (about 4 cups or just enough to barely cover squash)
Optional: a little salt and/or brown sugar for seasoning—I would recommend to leave it to taster’s choice

1) Saute onions with a bit of oil in a nonstick pot. When onions soften and become slightly translucent, add water to pot and set to boil.

2) Meanwhile, peel and cut kabocha squash into chunks. Add squash to boiling water and cook until squash is fork-tender (about 10 minutes). Turn off stove to cool soup slightly for blending/pureeing.

3) While the squash is cooking, make the mochi dumplings (see below).

4) Remove some liquid from pot and set aside. Puree onion/squash in blender, food processor, or with blending stick. Add back liquid as needed to make soup/porridge into desired consistency.

5) Add mochi dumplings into soup/porridge and serve.

Mochi Dumplings
Sweet rice flour (Mochiko)
Water

1) Set another pot of water to boil. This is for cooking the mochi dumplings.

2) In a separate bowl, slowly add small amount of water to sweet rice flour and mix with fingers. You’ll be looking for a wet sand-like consistency. Squeeze/roll into a rope and pinch off and roll into little balls (slightly bigger than size of miniature marshmallows, but no bigger than 2 cm diameter).

Cooked Mochi

Mochi (cooked)

3) Carefully drop into boiling water and cook until the dumplings float up to surface (about 2-3 minutes). Strain out dumplings and run under cold water to stop cooking and to firm up the dumplings. Set aside and put into the porridge/soup when you’re ready to serve.

Other notes:

  • Squash seeds can be washed, dried, and toasted for snacking or even garnishing the soup/porridge. I’ve actually enjoyed removing the seed hull and nibbling the “meat” without toasting. It has a delicate and mild nutty flavor. However, this is NOT a traditional Korean thing, and I’d not recommend serving the seeds or eating them in front of Korean elderlies. My grandmother forbade my mom from eating seeds (sunflower, pumpkin/squash, et al.) saying that it would kill her (my grandmother). It’s similar to the superstition/saying, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”
  • If you want to spice things up and deviate from the traditional Korean way of preparation, consider experimenting with spices such as curry, cumin, or cinnamon (similar to kaddo bourani—an Afghan dish). If you’re planning to add other spices, do it at the sweating onion phase.
  • Another non-traditional Korean addition would be serving with a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt, or creme fraiche and/or fresh cut chives.
  • I have tried roasting the squash before making the soup, but it’s a lot of effort without much showing for it.

(Last updated 12/3/15)

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