Along with Korean beef stew and bulgogi, japchae always seems to make the list of my er, non-Korean friends’ favorite Korean dishes. It’s easy to see why – japchae is very similar to pancit so it probably feels familiar, it’s not spicy unlike a lot of Korean dishes and well, it’s delicious! All three dishes are but japchae has the added bonus of being a complete meal. My Mom often makes it for lunch and today was one of those days. Since I’ve never made japchae before, I went Food Paparazzi on her with camera, notepad and pen in hand(s).
For my Mommy’s japchae, you’ll need:
About 300g potato starch noodles (available at Korean grocery stores)
1 bundle of chives (about 2 cups)
1/3 head cabbage
1/3 cup beef
2/3 cup rehydrated shitake mushrooms
1 stalk leek
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
cooking oil (canola, vegetable, peanut and the like but not olive oil)
1 t minced garlic
2 t sugar
1 1/2 t Kikkoman soy sauce (local soy sauce is too dark in color)
1 1/2 t sesame oil
a pinch beef stock powder (optional)
toasted sesame seeds (To make, pour sesame seeds into a heated dry pan and toast until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally.)
1. We start by prepping all the vegetables and beef. Slice the carrot, onion and shitake mushrooms into thin strips, shred the cabbage. Clean and trim the chives then cut them into thirds. Slice the beef into thin strips as well. My Mom says you can use pretty much any cut you want so I leave that up to you. Slice the leeks into diagonal strips. She also used rehydrated shitake mushrooms. If you’re using fresh, 6-7 should be enough.
2. Sautee carrot, onion, cabbage and chives separately in a little oil for about 2 minutes each. Season lightly with salt. Set aside.
3. Heat a bit of oil in the same pan and sautee the beef strips. When they start to color, add in shitake mushrooms and minced garlic. Sautee for about a minute then season with sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, beef stock powder, salt and freshly ground black pepper going heavy on the pepper. Cook another minute, add in the leeks and cook some more until they slightly wilt. Smile. You’ve just made a simple bulgogi.
4. Set aside the beef and bring a big pot of water to a roiling boil. Examine potato starch noodles. What on earth are they and can they be substituted? My Mom says there is a Chinese brand of noodles available at grocery stores that subs nicely. They just have to be glassy and chewy. If you’re gonna pick them up at a Korean grocery store, ask for dangmyun. Place the noodles inside the pot and let cook for about 7 minutes. When done, rinse in a strainer under cold water and set aside to drain remaining moisture.
While waiting for the noodles, we can prepare the ingredients for the japchae dressing. You can mix this all up in a bowl before dressing the japchae if you’d like. For this, you’ll need:
4 T Kikkoman soy sauce
4 1/2 T sesame oil
3 t sugar
2 t minced garlic
1 t toasted sesame seeds
1/2 t salt
1. Fold up your sleeves and wash your hands, it’s party time! In a big mixing bowl (or in my Mom’s case, in her biggest pot – she likes the flat bottom), add in the sauteed vegetables and beef. Transfer drained noodles into the same bowl while cutting into (approximately) thirds. These noodles are very chewy and cutting them up now will make it easier for you to eat later. Once that’s done, you can mix them all up to evenly distribute the ingredients. The chives will need some separating.
2. Add in the dressing ingredients and “toss” into the noodles. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. My Mom doesn’t measure anything so I had to eyeball all the ingredients and I did it conservatively, especially for the seasoning, because I am terrified of overly salting my food. Besides, it’s so much easier to remedy when there’s not enough of something.
And that’s it ladies and gents, my Mommy’s japchae! Serve with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Gorgeous.
On lazy days, you can turn this into a one-pan dish by sautéing everything together starting with the ingredient that needs to cook the longest, adding in cooked noodles and seasoning in the pan. This will give you a slightly oilier and heavier japchae but it’s delicious all the same. I hope you enjoy. It would make my Mom very happy 🙂
Fun Food Fact: When cooking with fresh shitake mushrooms, don’t rinse them. They will absorb water very quickly and turn mushy. Clean them instead by gently rubbing with a paper towel.