Chili Mac Rice Cakes

January 25, 2022
12 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

If you think elbow macaroni cooks fast, allow me to introduce you to rice cakes. They're known as tteok (dduk) in Korean, but you can find rice cakes across Asian cuisines. While most rice cakes are made from rice flour, you can also readily find those made with wheat flour. They are found at Korean or Asian markets on either the shelves or freezer section.

The rice cakes used in this spin on beefy mac are the cylinder-shaped white rice cakes called garaetteok, the type used in Korean tteokbokki recipes. More recently, spins on the traditional tteokbokki have taken off: carbonara tteokbokki and rosé tteokbokki among them. The rosé here refers to the pinky hue from the gochujang-milk/cream sauce. It's a delightfully modern take on a street food favorite.

In this recipe, I start with the Korean rice cakes, which then go on an American and Italian journey: American by way of nostalgic Hamburger Helper (specifically, the chili mac version), and Italian by cooking the rice cakes in more of a manner fit for pasta. The classic cheeseburger Hamburger Helper typified “American food” to me growing up (it was also one of the first meals I learned to make for myself as a teen). There is nothing more comforting than a creamy, cheesy, beefy pasta, with the true bonus being that it comes together in no time. I have taken these beloved elements and familiar flavors of tomato, garlic, and a touch of chili powder (no gochujang here, though it would be awesome!) and blanket chubby rice cakes—not elbow macaroni—with the meaty sauce in a similar, perhaps even less, amount of time. Important note: This recipe scales down well, and takes well to varying levels of spiciness.

If you are using rice cakes from frozen, allow them to thaw a bit in a bowl of cold water while you prep your ingredients (that's all the time they need). Separate them from one another, drain in a sieve, and proceed. If you purchased a room temperature bag of rice cakes, keep any remaining amount in the freezer and pull out a handful anytime you want to enjoy them in a tteokbokki or ramen, pan-fried, or in this very comforting version of beefy mac. —Hana Asbrink

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Chili Mac Rice Cakes
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil
  • 16 ounces ground beef, 80/20 preferred
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sweet or smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 18 to 20 ounces cylinder-shaped rice cakes
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) extra sharp white or yellow cheddar, grated
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced, for garnish
  1. If working with frozen rice cakes, place them in a medium bowl. Cover with cold water and thaw for about 10 minutes while proceeding with the recipe, then drain. If working with room temperature rice cakes, skip this step.
  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, about 1 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper. Break up the meat and cook until the pink is gone, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, another few minutes.
  3. Lower the heat to medium. Add the paprika, chili powder, red pepper flakes, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and combine with the meat and onion mixture. (Lower the heat a touch more if you see the tomato paste is sticking to the bottom of the skillet.) Add milk and 1 cup water and stir everything carefully, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the rice cakes to the skillet, breaking any stuck-together ones apart. They should be about halfway submerged; don't worry if they're not fully covered by the liquid. Turn the heat back up to medium-high, and cook until rice cakes are done but still chewy and al dente, about 4 to 5 minutes. If they were particularly hard or dry to begin with, it might take a few more minutes. (They will continue getting softer with residual heat, so err on cooking for a shorter time rather than longer.) Keep an eye on the skillet and reduce heat if sauce starts to bubble aggressively or splatter. Stir once in a while to prevent rice cakes from sticking to the pan.
  5. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Carefully stir until combined and all cheese is melted. The sauce will thicken further at this point. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding the last 1/2 teaspoon of salt, if needed.
  6. Plate and garnish with scallions and extra freshly cracked black pepper. Enjoy right away.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Samantha Marie Drew
    Samantha Marie Drew
  • Jeanne Cooper
    Jeanne Cooper
  • Hana Asbrink
    Hana Asbrink
  • Honeybee
Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.

10 Reviews

Samantha M. March 31, 2022
I love this recipe; it was so good. I added some gochujang for a little spice and I think next time I would add a little more(I used a tablespoon). Next time I think I'll use the smaller oval rice cakes instead of the cylinders; I think it would be easier with the sauce.
Honeybee March 12, 2022
I’ve never eaten hamburger helper but love rice cakes - though had never cooked with them. We loved this recipe for its chewy, gooey, savory deliciousness. Fusion comfort at its finest. Plenty of flavor as written. Only tweak was to add just half a cup of water to start, per other review. Figured I could always add a bit more if needed.
Jessamin February 18, 2022
This did not work at all for me and we could not bring ourselves to eat the leftovers next day, but I think it's a "me" thing and the recipe was well written. The balance of spices, liquid to noodle measurments, everything was spot on. I'm a big fan of tteok but only know 3-4 different ways to make them, and was super exicted to try this. I may not be as nostalgic for dishes like hamburger helper or chili mac as I imagined. It was fun to try though, and if you grew up on chili mac this might your jam.
Zoë February 3, 2022
This recipe was very easy to follow & so delicious! An easy, breezy week night meal. Tteok will become a freezer staple after trying this delicious dish! I added some toasted white sesame seeds on top. 10/10 YUM
Jeanne C. February 2, 2022
Hi Hana, this looks delicious and would love to make it, however, I am dairy free, can I substitute the milk with nut milks or other liquids? Many thanks in advance for your advice.
Tashie January 31, 2022
The instructions and the ingredients are missing the water to add along with the milk when cooking the rice cakes. In the video, Hana is pouring one cup of water into the pot. I have found that to be way too much liquid. I would add maybe only 1/2 cup of water. If using 80/20 beef, i would drain the fat from the beef before adding the onions and garlic. Otherwise, you end up with an unappetizing amount of fat in the end. I added a bunch of Frank's hot sauce along with the water and milk because the mixture tasted a bit too bland. I like this concept, but the execution was a bit dicey with the incomplete directions.
Hana A. January 31, 2022
Hi Tashie - The recipe has been edited to included the 1 cup water quantity (thank you for your eye!). Food52 recipe style is such that water is not included in the ingredients list; apologies if there was any confusion there. Thanks again for giving the recipe a try! (BTW my 80/20 usually doesn't yield enough fat to pour off, but you certainly can and should if it's an unappetizing amount for you.)
Lynn D. February 8, 2022
It is absolutely insane that Food 52 does not include water in the ingredients list in recipes.
Audrey January 28, 2022
After seeing the YouTube video I had to make this, and I had rice cakes in the freezer, perfect! It was a great comforting dish, thank you!
Hana A. January 31, 2022
Thanks so much for your feedback, Audrey! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.