Room mates. Most of us have them. And somehow, they always tend to leave a mark. There’s one in particular that im reminded of.. He was a keyboardist. A hairstylist. A lenscrafter. But what stood out most to me, was his love of Asian culture. And while it was mostly Japanese and kendo related, it bled into other cultures from time to time. And on one such occasion, he took me along to a Korean supermarket. And that is where I got the inspiration to do this dish.
Japchae (잡채) is one of Korea’s best loved dishes; chewy, sweet and slightly slippery noodles with colorful stir-fried vegetables and mushrooms. It has an irresistible sesame flavor, healthy amount of garlic, and is completely versatile. Hot or cold, it can be served as a main meal, snack or appetizer. Traditionally, Jap chae is served on holidays or special occasions.
The name japchae comprises the two hanja words jap (hangul: 잡, hanja: 雜, literally “mixed and stirred”) and chae (hangul: 채, hanja:菜, literally “vegetables”). Therefore, japchae literally means “a mixture of vegetables.” And admittedly, it can seem like a bit of a chore cooking each ingredient individually, but each one requires a different cooking time. I promise it’s worth it though, the color and freshness of each ingredient makes for an awe-inspiring final presentation.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 2 large dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 2 to 3 hours, cut into thin strips
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 large egg (separated)
- 4 ounces spinach, washed and drained
- 4 ounces of dangmyeon (sweet potato starch noodles)
- 2 to 3 green onions, cut crosswise into 2 inch long pieces
- 1 medium onion (1 cup), sliced thinly
- 4 to 5 white mushrooms, sliced thinly
- 1 medium carrot (¾ cup), cut into matchsticks
- ½ red bell pepper, cut into thin strips (optional)
- ground black pepper
- vegetable oil
First, start by marinating the mushrooms (see ingredients above). When they are ready, slice them into thin strips. Then, put the mushrooms into a bowl and mix with 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Cover and refrigerate.
Next, making the egg garnish (jidan): Crack open the egg and separate the egg yolk from the egg white. Remove the white stringy stuff (chalaza) from the yolk and discard. Beat in a pinch of salt with a fork.
Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to a heated nonstick pan. Swirl the oil around so it covers the pan, and then wipe off the excess heated oil with a paper towel so only a thin layer remains on the pan. To keep the jidan as yellow as possible, turn off the heat and pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan. Tilt it around so the mixture spreads thinly. Let it cook using the remaining heat in the pan for about 1 minute. Flip it over and let it sit on the pan for an additional 1 minute.
Let it cool and slice it into thin strips. Then, thinly slice the rest of your vegetables, not including the spinach.
To Prepare the spinach, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then take it out with a slotted spoon into a strainer. DON’T throw out the water, you’ll need to let the water keep boiling in order to cook the noodles.
Rinse the spinach in cold water to stop it from cooking. Squeeze it with your hands to remove any excess water. Cut it a few times and put it into a bowl. Mix with 1 teaspoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Put it into a large mixing bowl.
Put the noodles into the boiling water, cover and cook for 1 minute. Stir them with a wooden spoon so they don’t stick together. Cover and keep cooking for another 7 minutes until the noodles are soft and chewy.
Strain and cut them a few times with kitchen scissors. Put the noodles into the large bowl next to the spinach.
In a small bowl or cup, mix together 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Then, pour it over the noodles. This process will season the noodles and prevent them from sticking together.
Next, reheat the skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil with the onion, the green onion, and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry about 2 minutes until the onion looks a little translucent. Transfer to the noodle bowl.
Heat up the skillet again and add 2 more teaspoons vegetable oil. Add the white mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for 2 minutes until softened and a little plump. Transfer to the noodle bowl.
As before, heat up the skillet and add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Add the carrot and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the red bell pepper strips and stir-fry another 20 seconds. Transfer to the noodle bowl.
Ans one last time, heat up the skillet and add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Add the mushroom mixture and stir fry for a few minutes until the mushrooms are softened and shiny. Transfer to the noodle bowl.
Mix together 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and add it to the mixing bowl full of ingredients. Mix all together by hand.
Add the egg garnish and 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. Mix it and transfer it to a large plate and serve.