We have a great little Japanese/Korean restaurant nearby, and although I’m pretty much a sushi/sashimi buff, I’ve branched out into the Korean side of things there.
I find that their entrees are way too large and way too rice-filled for my tastes — if I could have half the rice in total, I’d be willing to doggy-bag the remainders. While they serve the food (toppings) on top of the rice, they want you to mix it all together before eating it properly Korean style, even though I’d love to tell them I’m not interested in that ratio of starch to the rest of it. (Since they are Korean and this is their foodway in which they take great pride, they hover over you with massive enthusiasm, nearly even demanding you mix the platter up!)
Enter their Japchae Appetizer, a smaller portion of food which 1) one can actually eat at a sitting without feeling bloated, with maybe a side of a piece or two of favorite sashimi du jour, and 2) contains white yam noodles instead of rice, and the ratio is much more tolerable to begin with.
At any rate, japchae ingredients depend a lot on what is at hand. I’ve included two source videos at the bottom of this post, plus a picture of the local “take out” results.
What I did — and I suggest reading this entire recipe through, before attempting — follows below. (This turned out to be five servings… next time I’ll cut this in half, but it was fun to eat over multiple meals anyway):
1 package (4 ounces) Shirataki white yam noodle substitute (look at the packaging carefully, they also sell a soy noodle substitute, and from a distance both bags are identical. There is also another brand called Nasoya Pasta Zero, which would work. You want the vermicelli shaped noodles. (Both of these brands are sold packed in water and are already flexible — although apparently specialty stores will sell dried white yam noodles, which are also usable. For my first venture at this back in January, I used rice cellophane noodles, and I can tell you, noooo, they don’t work quite right. Which is why I haven’t posted anything on the topic until now…) In order to get things ready, take a pair of scissors and cut the noodles into manageable lengths. Perhaps five or six inches. There’s no forks twirling noodles around spoons as in Italian cuisine…
1 bag (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach. Rinse, pick out any bad bits. Don’t skimp on the spinach, go over this quantity if you have the opportunity.
5 ounces raw beef from a beef source that works best when not slow-cooked or roasted; cut into strips. I used skirt steak — if it works well in fajitas, it should work well here! And, it did. Thin strips are best; you can easily cut it thin with a knife if the meat is partially frozen, or with kitchen scissors if it is already thawed. Meat actually turns out to be a condiment rather than a main item in my variant of the recipe. (I kept thinking of veggies I wanted to add!)
1 colorful bell pepper, cut up and de-seeded.
1 medium zucchini, ends removed, and julienned. I used my mandolin for this.
1/2 medium onion, chopped.
2-3 ounces Snow peas. If large, cut them in half. Trim off any brown ends.
3-4 ounces Bean sprouts.
1 or two ounces white cabbage, sliced thin and shredded.
4 ounces Mushrooms. Varieties don’t really matter: I’d suggest white button and shiitake (either previously reconstituted earlier in warm water, or fresh) — but just about any edible mushroom or combination will do. I’d hesitate over morels, they have a really funky texture that won’t go with this meal. Mushroom weight should be judged by their reconstituted weight. If you reconstitute some from dried, when you are ready to set up, squeeze extra water out of them. (SAVE this mushroom water for other dishes!!! Talk about umami!). In this specific dish, I used Portobellos (they were at hand), and an unusual variety named bunashimeji, which I’d found at Whole Foods.
This recipe is flexible — use different veggies, use pork or chicken or duck instead of the beef, or omit meat entirely. Just pay attention to cooking times by what you know of specific vegetables and meats. The veggies in the final dish are by and large crispy or at least solid, not soggy.
1.5 tablespoons Toasted sesame seed oil (or regular sesame seed oil if that’s what you got)
Olive oil, not extra virgin, due to taste influences, but look for a reliable brand. (Avocado oil would also work, or coconut oil. Both can be pricey, but used in limits, they’re worth it. Recently I found avocado oil at my local Costco’s at a reasonable price. Avocado oil, if you can find it without paying off your first born, has a high cooking temp of up to 500 F, and doesn’t add in flavors you might not want in certain dishes.)
2 plus 0.5 tablespoons gluten-free tamari, or coconut aminos. Or if you like gluten, go for the regular soy sauce. My own predilection, after reading “Wheat Belly“, is to avoid where possible.
2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce. This may not be authentic for Korean, but since some of the recipes I’ve seen posted online by Koreans call for fish cake, I figure this puts it up closer to a notch, and I have Thai fish sauce.
Ground pepper. If you are using low sodium tamari, you may (or not) wish to add a little salt to taste.
Sesame seeds, at least a couple tablespoons full.
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed. Extra garlic powder if you like.
1/4 teaspoon (or so) of shredded fresh ginger. (Remove the brown outer covering of the ginger on the area you plan to shred.) Hate to say it, but I’ve never met any pre-ground powdered ginger from the supermarket worth the effort of shaking it onto food.
What you need to do:
You NEED to have your mise en place IN PLACE before you start the physical action of cooking. Everything goes fast, and for at least the first times out, you need no distractions. Be sure everything is out, chopped or cut accordingly, take a deep breath and go. Traditionally, this dish is served warm, not hot; not cold.
Set up a skillet for sauteing foods, and set up a pot with water in it for cooking the spinach and the noodles.
Prep the meat and mushrooms: 1.5 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 2 tablespoons tamari or coconut aminos, two teaspoons of fish sauce, three cloves of smashed garlic, some ground pepper, and the shredded ginger. Mix these all together, and set aside to marinate briefly.
IN THE SKILLET:
Keep in mind that veggies (with the exception of spinach) need to remain some crunch. And the spinach shouldn’t cook to disintegration level.
Onions and Cabbage: Add a little light (non-virgin) olive oil to the skillet, just enough to coat. As noted in the ingredients list, a couple other oils may also work here. Turn heat to medium high on the burner. Sprinkle in some sesame seeds and some ground black pepper. Saute the onion until translucent, stirring as needed, about 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium (where this will remain for the rest of the skillet cooking events). Add the cabbage, and saute another minute. Remove the onions and cabbage to a bowl, and return the pan to the heat.
Mung bean sprouts: Add to the skillet, and saute, adding a little more sesame seeds (about 1/4 teaspoon), and stir as needed for a minute or so. (At any stage where more oil may be needed, add it, but just as needed.). Remove the sprouts to the same bowl with the onions and cabbage.
Snow peas: Saute in that skillet, add oil if needed, but seasonings should be fine. A minute or two should suffice. Remove to the collection bowl.
Bell pepper and zucchini: Saute the bell pepper for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. After 2 or 2.5 minutes, add the zucchini, and perhaps more ground pepper and a few more sesame seeds. Saute another minute and a half. Remove to the collection bowl (which in my case was now terribly full!)
Meat and mushroom mixture: Again, you know the routine. Saute and stir. About 4 minutes, but if the meat is chicken or pork instead of beef, try 7 minutes.
IN THE RANGE TOP POT:
Note — this is going alongside the skillet work, to save time. I’m assuming that skillet and range top pot work are not always going to coincide, but as I saw tonight, it’s adaptable.
Spinach: Bring the water to boil, add spinach. Poke down with any handy kitchen implement other than your hands… 😉 This is basically a blanch, we don’t want to cook this spinach WAY down. After about 1-2 minutes of all the spinach being immersed underwater and really cooking, use tongs to remove the spinach to a SEPARATE bowl than the one we are collecting cooked skillet foods above. Alternatively, drain off the water through a collander or sieve into a separate vessel (don’t throw this out!) When the spinach gets cool enough, gently squeeze water out, and put the spinach you’ve so treated into that pile of vegetation from the skillet cookery sessions. (You likely haven’t gotten to the cooking of the meat/mushroom portion yet.)
White Yam /Sweet Potato Starch Noodles: Heat the pot of somewhat green-from-spinach-water back up to boiling. Toss in the noodles. Let them go for about 3-4 minutes. Drain through a narrow sieve — some colanders will have holes too wide to restrain these noodles from escaping. Rinse quickly in cold water, and add the non-toasted sesame oil to them in a separate bowl, mixing to keep these guys from clumping.
Toss everything described above together (when it is all DONE) into whatever container holds them, add the additional tamari/coconut aminos, ginger, sesame seeds, and any desired garlic powder, salt and pepper, and serve. It will be warm. Leftovers can be lightly nuked.
Here are a couple of helpful videos on the making of Japchae:
I’m not clear if this first person uses rice or white yam noodles, which is why I went afoul back in January. I’d used rice cellophane noodles, and this was not the taste sensation I’d wished for. It wasn’t bad, it simply wasn’t what I was trying for.
The second video throws in seeming buckets of sugar, which I REFUSE to do. (If I want dessert, I will hunt down some good fresh raspberries, or some honest Dark Chocolate.)
And, here’s a recipe from The Domestic Man: Korean Japchae. I didn’t adapt from his recipe as my original inspirations and attempt came from back around January, before I ran into his recipe, but this does look mighty good. He used a tiny bit of honey; I might try that next time.