Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lunch Week 17: Japchae

So every Sunday, I head over to the kitchen to whip up a big batch of food for lunch next week. Yes, I brown bag. And I almost always do it, unless I become too busy to even buy cold cuts from the deli. I do it for several reasons being health, finance, and laziness. Now, you may think that spending hours on a day off to prep and cook five meals at once is hardly lazy. But let me remind you, I hate it when the time comes to decide what to eat for lunch every day. I work in Midtown so the choices are endless. My problem, the more choices, the harder it is for me. So it's much easier for me to have my lunch ready and already decided.

So my lunch for the week: Japchae
Since I enjoyed my vegan lunch last week, I decided to try it again. I didn't want something remotely similar though. The way to keep myself satisfied is to change the flavors and ingredients constantly. I was due for an Asian lunch. I wasn't feeling rice at the moment but noodles seemed interesting. Instead of making something Chinese, I decided to try Korean. I looked up my favorite Korean recipe website, Maangchi, and found japchae. This stir fried noodle dish looked really easy to make and video instructions were awesome. I was hooked.

The unique thing about japchae is the noodles. They're not wheat based. Instead, they're sweet potato starch based. It gives it a totally different flavor and texture. They're slightly sweeter than say pasta but the springy texture of the noodle is fantastic. You cook them the same way as any other noodle. So, I boiled a large pot of water and added salt. Then I added the noodles and let them cook until pliable: about 9 minutes.
While the noodles cook, prep all your vegetables ahead of time so that you can cook them up quickly later. I thoroughly washed the spinach 3 times. Fresh spinach contains a lot of dirt and sand. I like to use fresh here for the texture and length.
With the carrots, I julienned them with my handy peeler. Otherwise, you can cut them into matchsticks. The Maangchi video shows a very good, and easy way to do that.

I soaked some dry shitake mushrooms in hot water overnight until plump and reconstituted. Then I sliced them into large strips. The enoki mushrooms were rinsed and the ends cut off.

I sliced the onions and minced the garlic. I also cut the scallions into 1 inch pieces.
And now the rest of the cooking. Once the noodles are done, strain using tongs and immediately douse with sesame oil, soy sauce, and mirin. Maangchi uses sugar in her recipe. Toss and add more oil until the noodles do not stick together anymore. Let cool.
Using the same boiling water, blanch the spinach until just cooked. About 5 minutes. Then strain and rinse with cold water. Continue to rinse until cool enough to handle. Then gather and squeeze some of the liquid out. Lastly, cut into small bunches and add to noodles.
And now the stir frying. I added some oil to a hot pan and stir fried each vegetable individually. Once cooked through, I added it to the bowl of noodles.

With the mushrooms, I cooked it with the garlic and soy sauce so that it absorbed all that pungent flavor.

I also stir fried the shredded spiced tofu that I found at the Asian grocer. They also have smoked tofu  if you prefer that instead. In a dish like this, a flavored tofu is best.

Once everything is cooked, toss the noodles with all the vegetables. Add more sesame oil, soy sauce, and mirin or sugar to taste. Make sure none of the noodles are sticking together.
To serve, you may place it on top of rice or eat as is. A sprinkle of sesame seeds (I only had black ones) for garnish makes the dish really pretty.
Japchae was so extremely easy to make. I just basically boiled noodles and stir fried vegetables. You can use whatever vegetables you feel comfortable with. You can even add meat if you like. That's why it's so great because you can alter to your own tastes. As far as flavor goes, this was strong! The sesame oil is strong but tastes wonderful. It's extremely fragrant and has my stomach gurgling in hunger every time I smell it. The soy sauce adds depth of salinity and flavor to all the vegetables. Best thing about this dish is that you don't even notice that it's vegan.

So far, I've been so happy with my Korean attempts that I'm going to try even more dishes. Thanks to Maangchi and her videos, I can easily replicate the recipes on her website.

My japchae dish is adapted from the recipe below from Maangchi's website.

Japchae (stir fried noodles with vegetables)


Starch noodles (“dangmyun”)
150 grams of beef
1 bunch of spinach
1 medium size carrot
1 medium size onion
mushrooms (5 dried shiitake and 1 package of white mushrooms)
3 cloves of garlic
7-8 green onions
soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pepper, and sesame seeds
Makes 4 servings.

How to prepare your ingredients before stir frying:

Soak 5 dried shitake mushrooms in warm water for a few hours until they become soft. Squeeze the water out of them and slice thinly.
Slice a package of white mushrooms (2 cups’ worth).
Cut a carrot into thin matchstick-shaped pieces 5 cm long.
Cut 7 -8 green onions into 7 cm long pieces.
Slice one onion thinly.
Slice 150 grams of beef into thin strips.

Now let’s start!

Boil 2 bunches of noodles in boiling water in a big pot for about 3 minutes. When the noodles are soft, drain them and put in a large bowl.
Cut the noodles several times by using scissors and add 1 tbs of soy sauce and 1 tbs of sesame oil. Mix it up and set aside.
*tip: Take one sample and taste it to see whether or not it’s cooked properly. If it feels soft, it’s finished.

In the boiling water, add a bunch of spinach and stir it gently for 1 minute. Then take it out and rinse it in cold water 3 times. Remove any grit or dead leaves thoroughly while rinsing. Squeeze it gently to get the water out, then cut it into 5 cm pieces.
Add ½ tbs soy sauce and ½ tbs sesame oil and mix it and place it onto the large bowl.
*tip: When you drain the hot water from the pot, don’t discard the hot water. Put it back into the pot so you can cook your spinach quickly.

On a heated pan, put a few drops of olive oil and your carrot strips and stir it with a spatula for 30 seconds. Put it into the large bowl (don’t burn it!).

Place a few drops of olive oil on the pan and add your sliced onion. Stir it until the onion looks translucent. Put it into the large bowl with your carrots.

Place a few drops of olive oil on the pan and add the sliced white mushrooms. Stir it for a bit and then put it in the large bowl.

Place a few drops of olive oil on the pan and add your green onions. Stir for 1 minute and put it into the large bowl.

Place a few drops of olive oil on the pan and add your beef strips and your sliced shitake mushrooms. Stir it until it’s cooked well, then add 3 cloves of minced garlic, ½ tbs soy sauce and ½ tbs sugar. Stir for another 30 seconds and then put it into the large bowl.

Add 2 tbs of soy sauce, 3 tbs of sugar, 2 tbs of sesame oil, and 1 ts of ground pepper to the large bowl. Mix all ingredients, then sprinkle 1 tbs of toasted sesame seeds on the top.

Serve with rice and Kimchi, or as a side dish.


  1. looks delicious even if it doesn't have any meat!

    i found a made a great soba recipe a couple weeks ago. good use of kale too.

    she was actually our dim sum Chef at ICE.

  2. So simple and looks so colorful! I'll have to try this one..

  3. Mmmm that looks so good!! Would you believe I don't have black sesames in my pantry - hahaha! You are so awesome :)

  4. It looks delicious!!

    That and a side of spicy pork will make a happy belly.


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