This sweet rice dessert, yaksik, is traditional for New Year’s Day in Korea (specifically, the lunar new year) and is often made as a gift for friends and neighbors. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

This sweet rice dessert, yaksik, is traditional for New Year’s Day in Korea (specifically, the lunar new year) and is often made as a gift for friends and neighbors. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

Gifting health on the New Year

This dish is packed with dried fruits and nuts and makes a delicious breakfast, snack or dessert

As we were packing away our lights and ornaments and sweeping up the spruce needles, I explained to my son about New Year’s Day.

I told him that we would all stay up a little late and watch some fireworks to celebrate the end of a year and the beginning of a brand new one. I told him that this is a time when people like to reflect on the past and make promises to themselves for the future about ways to improve their lives and the lives of others. I told him that on New Year’s Days past I had made promises to myself about creating healthy habits, quitting harmful ones, and adding things to my life that would bring me joy and fulfillment.

This year, my promise is to stay the course. I already have plans and promises to keep — the challenge to myself this year is to persevere and endure the grind of self-improvement. The path is laid out before me, all I must do is hike it.

A lot of us make resolutions about our health and diet on New Year’s Day. This sweet rice dessert, yaksik, is traditional for New Year’s Day in Korea (specifically, the lunar new year) and is often made as a gift for friends and neighbors.

“Yak” means “medicine” in Korean, so this is part treat, part healthy nutrition. This dish is packed with dried fruits and nuts and makes a delicious breakfast, snack or dessert.

The traditional dish features jujubes, which are impossible to find down here, so I used other dried fruits and nuts that I had left over from making sugarplums. You can substitute basically any dried fruits or nuts you have on hand — just make sure you have the toasted sesame seeds because the texture wouldn’t be the same without them.

Yaksik

Ingredients:

1 cup steamed short grain rice

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons honey

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup dried apricots, chopped fine

½ cup dried figs, chopped fine

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup chopped walnuts

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds

Directions:

Rinse and soak your rice in water for 5 hours or overnight.

Line the basket of your steamer with cheesecloth or a clean cotton cloth and prepare your steamer with plenty of water.

Strain the rice, add to the steamer basket, and fold the cloth over the top to cover.

Steam for 40 minutes, stir, cover with the cloth, then steam for another 20 minutes. Steaming the rice in this fashion is important for this dish because each grain of rice should be separate and not mushy.

While your rice is cooking, make the sauce.

Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and honey in a bowl and stir until the brown sugar has dissolved.

When the rice is cooked, dump into a large bowl and stir in the sauce, nuts, and chopped dried fruits. Mix until all the sauce has been absorbed.

Return the rice mixture to the lined steamer basket, cover with the cloth, and steam for another 20 minutes.

Transfer the cooked dish to a plastic-lined 9-inch square pan.

Use a spatula to flatten the rice down so it is smooth and even.

Allow to cool to room temperature before turning out onto a cutting board and cutting into equal squares.

You can serve at room temperature, warmed in the microwave, or cold.

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