I heart noodles.
And especially my mom’s mie goreng (Indonesian fried noodles).
But today, I’d like to give a shout-out to a lesser known noodle dish—japchae.
A classic Korean dish, you’ll find japchae on the menu at just about any Korean restaurant in the U.S. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a party at a Korean friend’s house, japchae will probably show up on your plate together with kalbi and kimchi.
Like many other Asian noodle dishes, japchae is a stir-fried mix of noodles, vegetables and meat. It happens to use an unusual type of noodle made from sweet potato starch, which seems to be unique to Korean cuisine (I’m happy to be proven wrong–anyone?).
Koreans have already shown their ingenuity by mixing rice with other grains to make supplies go further—et voilà, jabgok-bap (mixed grain rice), So perhaps they invented sweet potato starch noodles when wheat was unavailable.
Clear and chewy, sweet potato noodles are a fabulous blank canvas for soaking up the sweet and savory flavors of soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. These pale gray strands are also the reason why japchae is commonly known as glass noodles.
Plus, japchae has mass appeal: it’s popular for feeding a crowd because it’s easy to make in bulk and is tasty both warm or at room temperature—perfect for a buffet or a picnic.
Noodles–signifying long life–are a must during birthdays and the new year. Since Lunar New Year is next week (February 15, 2015), you might want to try slipping japchae into your celebration menu!
Stir-Fried Glass Noodles (Japchae)
Japchae is often a co-mingling of noodles and an assortment of vegetables and meat. My recipe uses only vegetables but feel free to add your choice of protein. I’ve sliced up leftover sirloin steak and and barbecued pork (about 1 cup) and tossed them in with the noodles. Sweet potato noodles are sold at Asian markets. If you can’t find them, substitute the fattest mung bean/cellophane noodles available and follow the package directions to cook.
Time: 30 minutes plus soaking
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal
1 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles
8 ounces spinach, trimmed (4 to 5 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
6 medium dried black mushrooms, rehydrated and cut into thin slices (3/4 cup)
1 small yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (1-1/4 cups)
3 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Place the noodles in a heatproof bowl and soak in hot water for 15 minutes.
- With kitchen shears, cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces. You just want the noodles to be manageable so don’t worry about getting exact lengths. Drain and set aside.
- Place the spinach in a heatproof bowl and soak in very hot water for 1 to 2 minutes until wilted but not fully cooked. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Gently squeeze the water from the spinach and cut into 3 sections.
- Preheat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrots, green onions, and garlic and stir and cook until the carrots are crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and toss in the noodles (here’s where you add precooked meat if you’d like).
- Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Stir everything swiftly around the wok for 3 to 4 minutes, coating the noodles evenly with the seasonings. Add more oil if the noodles stick to the bottom of the wok. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.
- Mix in the spinach and sesame seeds at the very end and toss with a couple more flourishes. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature.
Note: Japchae keeps well and can stay fresh for up to a week in the refrigerator. To reheat, cook in a skillet and add sesame oil until the noodles are supple and heated through.
This post is for #LetsLunch, a monthly virtual potluck on Twitter. The theme this month is noodles, hosted by Betty Ann at Asian in America. Please keep coming back for more #Let’sLunch noodle dishes (perfect for Lunar New Year!):
Annabelle‘s Emergency Anti-Hibernal Salad at Glass of Fancy
Betty-Ann‘s Chicken Noodle Soup with Roast Barbecue at Asian in America
Cheryl’s Gingery Chicken and Bokchoy Noodle Soup at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Demetra‘s Southern Style Ramen with Bacon at Sweet Savant
Eleanor‘s Marinara Chicken in a Wok — With Pasta at Wok Star
Juliana‘s Grilled Tofu Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad at J. Loh
Linda‘s Taiwanese Hot Pot at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Lokshen Kugel at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Naomi‘s Biang Biang Noodles at The Gastrognome
Tammi‘s Thai Glass Noodle Salad at Insatiable Munchies
When we lived in Central California, we often weekend-tripped to San Francisco to visit friends. We had a standard list of must-do’s: cable car rides, City Lights Books, dim sum, Burma Superstar restaurant, the California Academy of Sciences, etc… And Bombay Ice Cream.
A tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it storefront, this was where I fell in love with an ice cream suffused with the sharp, earthy scent of cardamom and the intoxicating sweetness of rose petals. This wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill ice cream. It was kulfi. Some argue that kulfi shouldn’t be called “ice cream” because it’s thicker and denser than the Western ice cream ideal. But I suppose the word “kulfi” doesn’t elicit the same wide eyed excitement from everyone so Indian ice cream it is!
At the start of the summer grilling season, I never fail to recall childhood backyard barbecues when the adults swilled cold beer and we children devoured sweet, fresh watermelon, juice dripping down our chins.
Instead of the ribs and hamburgers that were de rigueur in 1980s America (and perhaps even now), my mom (I call her Ma) churned out chicken wings soaked in honey-soy dressing, juicy pork chops grilled to caramelized perfection, and the star of the show: sticks of satay, bite-size chicken pieces marinated in sweet soy sauce spiked with a potent combination of lime leaves and lemongrass.
Ma’s grill feasts were so rich and flavorful I was often dismayed at the lackluster options–think pale, unmarinated chicken wings and flimsy hot dogs–offered at other barbecues.
The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival has kicked off and runs from June 25 to 29, July 2 to 6 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The spotlight this year is on China (and Kenya).
Every year, the festival’s highlights include food booths and cooking demos (at least for a food-lover like me!). While the food concessions are selling popular items like dumplings, lo mein and mapo tofu, the cooking demos are going off-the-beaten-path with regional fare: potato rice cakes from the Qiang ethnic community in West Sichuan, Miao-style poached sour beef and duck blood glass noodles. Hmm.
As it so happens, I was skimming my stack of old Gourmet (RIP) magazines and came across a travel article on Yunnan, a province in Southwest China. In the same vein, Yunnan cuisine is also relatively unknown in the U.S.
In the article, Chef Li Yun sums it up quite well. “Yunnan food has four characteristics. First is the sour flavor—mostly from vinegar, but also from local plants like sour pears and apples. Second is the chile flavor, la jiao, the hot red-pepper taste. Third is the pepper flavor (ma-la from Sichuan peppercorns). Fourth is the sweet flavor, mostly from sugar. What sets Yunnan apart is the melding of the four. In other provinces, one flavor leads. In Shanghai, for example, it’s the sweet taste.”
The accompanying recipe for gui ji or “ghost chicken” is a good example of this balance (although the sweet flavor is very subtle).
Read more on Pickles and Tea…
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