One of the most iconic Italian comfort foods, classic lasagna is beloved for being a decadent, hearty dish featuring layer upon layer of broad yet flat noodles, ground meat, sauce, and assorted cheeses. A Korean spin on the traditional pasta bake has a similar layered configuration, albeit with plenty of ingenious ingredient swaps to really perk things up. One of the most surprising and flat-out fun updates is to use Korean rice cakes in place of noodles, which offer a vastly different -- albeit equally satisfying -- texture.
Korean rice cakes, which can be found at Korean grocers and other specialty grocery stores, are made with rice flour and typically come in two distinct varieties. Some rice cakes are formed into the shape of a cylinder or stick, while others are sliced into coins so they lay flat. Both types of rice cake offer a singular texture that's often described as springy, which gives them a pleasant bite after cooking; better still, either shape can be used for a stellar cheesy baked casserole. Like lasagna noodles, rice cakes don't impart a ton of flavor on their own. However, they make the perfect vehicle for the bolder components of this distinctive lasagna dish, which can include multiple flavorful sauces plus spicy chili oil for infusing the perfect amount of heat.
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Where Rice Cake Lasagna Gets Its Bold Flavors
Unlike with the Italian version, tomatoes aren't a given in rice cake lasagna, but gochujang sauce is. The staple Korean condiment gets its kick from chili peppers, but offers a complexity that goes well beyond heat thanks to ingredients like fermented soybeans and glutinous rice. Playing on gochujang's sweetness, some home cooks add maple syrup, which elevates savory dishes because its sugars are offset by toasty, caramelly notes (here complementing the melted cheese and browned top). Another simple way to amp up the lasagna's flavors is to crisp up the rice cakes and coat them in the gochujang before baking. Not only does searing them add some depth from charring, but it offers a textural contrast, too.
Using ricotta as a creamy component is totally acceptable (not to mention easy and delicious), but making béchamel -- a royally silky white sauce comprised of milk, flour, and butter -- ups the luxuriousness. For rice cake lasagna, you can use alliums to boost the béchamel. A grassier, more gently fragrant variety like garlic chives -- an herb found in many Asian cuisines -- will lend the rich French mother sauce a vivid light-emerald hue and imbue it with balanced garlicky notes that are absorbed by the rice cakes.
Even more flavor can be packed into this dish by adding meat. Ground pork, in particular, is a great stand-in for the ground beef that might be featured in an Italian grandma's lasagna recipe.
Tips On Preparing Ground Pork For Rice Cake Lasagna
Before ground pork can be added to rice cake lasagna, it must be cooked in a pan on the stovetop. Along with ensuring that the meat is safe to eat, cooking also browns the ground meat for a more intense flavor. If you're worried that the ground pork will dry out, you can add a bit of cornstarch to the mix prior to frying. Cornstarch is ideal for holding in the juices in meat, which boosts flavor and helps to avoid a dry texture.
Ground pork can be seasoned in the manner of Italian sausage, with plenty of fennel seed and coriander, or it can be mixed with a blend of garlic, shallots, soy sauce, fish sauce, and even apples or Korean pear. Adding fruit to the ground pork lends the meat a bit of tart sweetness and yields a much more vibrant taste profile. Once the pork is fully cooked, it can be added to the dish along with the rice cakes, sauces, and cheeses. Speaking of fermented dairy products, some versions of rice cake lasagna stick with milder mozzarella, while others opt for a dose of sharpness from provolone and parmesan. Whatever the combination of ingredients, the resulting meal is all but guaranteed to be a melty, delicious masterpiece brimming with a unique marriage of Korean and Italian flavors.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.