Pesto Cream Tteokbokki

published Apr 16, 2023
Pesto Cream Tteokbokki Recipe

Chewy Korean rice cakes doused in a creamy, herbaceous-meets-spicy pesto sauce with bits of bacon and tomato.

Serves2 to 3

Makes2 to 3 servings

Prep10 minutes

Cook20 minutes

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Pesto Tteokbokki in a bowl with serving utensils around.
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

I’m slightly embarrassed (and proud!) to admit that my YouTube search history is filled with mukbang — a type of food-forward eating content that’s popular in Korea. I particularly enjoy watching a specific kind of mukbang where people try new trendy food items in Korea, from spicy Thai-flavored chicken wings from one of the most well-known Korean fried chicken chains to Burger King’s latest burger that features “smoky sauce” on its classic Whopper

But there’s one food in particular that gave me a thrill: basil cream tteokbokki, a savory, herbaceous twist on a classic Korean street food. It’s creamy, saucy, and packs a punch (thanks to the addition of both jalapeño pepper and red pepper flakes). And even though I wasn’t able to taste this dish firsthand, the version I recreated in my own kitchen is supremely satisfying and flavorful — every bite is guaranteed to keep you coming back for more. 

What Is Tteokbokki?

Tteokbokki is a popular Korean dish that’s traditionally made with chewy, long cylindrical rice cakes (also known as tteok) cooked in a sweet and spicy gochujang-forward sauce. Because tteokbokki is strongly associated with that signature bubbling red sauce (it’s basically an unspoken rule that all tteokbokki should be red), it’s pretty controversial to see a green tteokbokki.

Credit: Meleyna Nomura

How to Make Pesto Cream Tteokbokki

My approach to recreating this dish was to make a delicious, creamy basil sauce that was reminiscent of pasta sauce but with lots of heat. I started the sauce by cooking bacon, then sautéing garlic, onion, tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers in the rendered fat. I added in heavy cream and basil pesto (either homemade or store-bought works great), and let it simmer. Thanks to tteok’s residual starch, adding the drained rice cakes to the sauce as it simmers will naturally thicken it while helping the tteok absorb all of the flavor.

To finish, I topped the tteokbokki with a layer of shredded cheese (which gets melty from the heat) and fresh basil leaves. The sauce itself is so flavorful that I could eat it with a spoon. To create the ultimate Italian Korean fusion food, you could add short pasta like rigatoni or bowtie, but for now I will enjoy this vibrant dish as is. 

Tips for Making Pesto Cream Tteokbokki

  • Don’t be shy about making the dish spicy. Tteokbokki became one of Korea’s beloved street foods due to its spicy-and-sweet sauce. Jalapeño peppers and red pepper flakes introduce a much-needed heat that balances the ultra-creamy sauce. The heavy cream does mellow the heat, but you can increase the heat to your liking.
  • Add different types of protein to make it hearty. Adding shrimp, chicken breast, or even steak cubes to this tteokbokki will result in a more impressive and substantial dish. I think shrimp would be a fantastic option because it cooks quickly — just sauté them first until they are pink, then add them back in when ready to serve. 

Pesto Cream Tteokbokki Recipe

Chewy Korean rice cakes doused in a creamy, herbaceous-meets-spicy pesto sauce with bits of bacon and tomato.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Makes 2 to 3 servings

Serves 2 to 3

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    refrigerated or frozen tteok (Korean rice cakes, 28 to 30 pieces)

  • 4 thick-cut slices

    bacon

  • 2 cups

    cherry tomatoes (about 9 ounces)

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1

    medium jalapeño pepper

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

  • 1 cup

    heavy cream

  • 2/3 cup

    basil pesto

  • 1/4 cup

    shredded mild white cheddar or low-moisture mozzarella cheese

  • Fresh basil leaves, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place 1 pound tteok in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover and set aside while preparing the remaining ingredients.

  2. Cut 4 thick-cut bacon slices crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Halve 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes. Thinly slice 1/2 medium yellow onion. Thinly slice 1 medium jalapeño pepper into rounds (remove the seeds and membranes before slicing if you want less spicy heat). Finely chop 3 garlic cloves.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the bacon and cook until the fat renders out, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Cook until the onion is slightly translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  4. Add 1 cup heavy cream and 2/3 cup basil pesto, and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, 5 to 6 minutes.

  5. Drain the tteok. Add the tteok and jalapeño to the pan. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tteok are soft and cooked through, and the sauce is thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.

  6. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup shredded mild white cheddar cheese and let sit until the cheese is melted, about 30 seconds. Serve garnished with fresh basil leaves if desired.

Recipe Notes

Vegetarian version: Skip the bacon and start with 2 tablespoons olive oil when cooking the tomatoes, onion, and garlic.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.