Oppa! Korean-Style, Sexy Noodles, Op Op Japchae
It was hubby’s birthday last week and I threw a surprise party for him. Very impromptu, a handful of friends on a Friday night to help him celebrate another year. The menu was pretty easy to put together. I started with his favorites cheesecake, apple pie and ordered a mess of sushi from our favorite place and badabing, easy peasy-done. Then I started to worry, what if folks don’t eat fish? What if I don’t have enough food? Not having enough food is a cardinal sin…so I added a few more of his favorites, Korean short ribs, Khal-bi, a green salad and Japchae, a delicious Korean noodle dish. All of which I would make myself, time to get cooking.
Japchae is not just Wes’s favorite, the kids love this dish too. The noodles are made with sweet potato and are often called glass noodles (당면 Dangmyeon) for their transparency. They have a bit more elasticity and bite than wheat pasta and absorb seasonings well. The noodles are seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and sugar, which gives the noodles that delicious garlicky, sweet-salty flavor frequently found in Korean food.
The beauty of this dish is its flexibility. Japchae can be served as a simple minimal side dish, banchan, or as a main dish made with protein and vegetables. I vary the kinds of vegetables and protein, but the foundation for Japchae, always includes shiitake mushrooms, yellow or red onions, and secret sauce (ok, not really a secret just the Korean quadfecta of soy, garlic, sugar and sesame). Beyond that, go CRAZY! Feel free to add wood ears-fungi for crunch, carrots, spinach, zucchini, or watercress for veggies and chicken or beef for protein. Other additions include slices of fishcake and strips of scrambled egg. Knock yourself out.
Wes’s birthday version included chicken, carrot, zucchini, wood ear mushrooms, and spinach. Yummo.
The key to this dish is advance prep work. Vegetables should be julienned, chicken cut into bite-sized strips and your sauce ingredients put together ready to be tossed with the noodles. You can find the wood ear fungus (don’t freak, it’s just mushroom) at most Asian grocery stores. Not a whole lot of flavor but adds a ton of texture. The noodles, shiitake mushrooms and black fungus need to be soaked in water to hydrate. The noodles should be soaked in room temp water for an hour or two, so start your prep early. You could make this a vegetarian dish by omitting the protein and marinading sliced shiitake mushrooms or pressed tofu.
My go-to recipe for Japchae is from a favorite cookbook called Hawaii’s Aloha Recipes published by The Japanese Women’s Society of Honolulu. My copy is food-stained, pages tattered, filled with handwritten notes. In short, well worn and well-used. It’s my favorite cookbook for down-home Hawaiian/Asian cooking. Wirebound with few photos, but filled with treasured family recipes and stories-books like this one were created by folks to raise money for their church, temple or community. No frills project where the recipes are the stars. A reflection of who we are and the foods we have eaten for generations.
- 1 pack of glass noodles (sweet potato noodles)
- 1/2 pound flank steak or chicken, cut into strips
- 1 cup carrots, julienned
- 1 cup string beans, French cut or zucchini strips
- 1/2 cup yellow onions, sliced
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soak in hot water until soft. Squeeze excess water, remove stem and julienned
- 1/2 bunch watercress or spinach
- 1/2 cup black fungus, soaked and cut into strips
- green onions
- 4 T soy sauce
- 2 T sesame oil
- 1.5 T granulated sugar
- 1 T rosted sesame seeds
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp fresh garlic, minced
- 2 T soy sauce
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp prepared sesame seeds
- Soak noodles in room temp water for 1-2 hours until soft then drain. Alternatively boil for 7 minutes, drain and cool. Cut into 3-4 inch lengths. Set aside.
- Cut beef or chicken or pork into strips. MIx seasonings and combine with protein. Set this aside too.
- In a frying pan or wok, heat 1-2 T oil, add shredded carrots and fry just until tender. Don't overcook. Sprinkle with a little salt. Remove to plate.
- Follow same procedure with zucchini or string beans. Add to plate with carrots.
- In same wok, add 1 T oil and 1 tsp sesame oil, heat and add yellow onions, sir fry for approximately 1-2 minutes. Add chicken (beef), fry until half done, add mushrooms and wood ears and spinach, fry until meat is completely cooked.
- Add noodles and sauce to wok, add carrots and zucchini to pan. Mix to combine.
- Garnish with green onions and eggs.
- Fry 1 well beaten egg in an oil pan. Tilt pan to spread egg mixture into a thin sheet. Turn once. Remove and cool. Cut egg into thin strips.
- Dish can be served warm or room temperature.