Savory and sweet with a chewy texture, this vegetarian japchae, a beloved Korean dish normally served at special occasions or holidays, is super simple to make and, as long as you have the gluten-free vermicelli or glass noodles, you can substitute with your favorite vegetables and protein sources.
With the Lunar New Year just around the corner (tomorrow!!), I am missing my family even more. As I had mentioned in the earlier post, this day is one of the biggest celebrated holidays in Korea as well as other Asian countries. I guess you can liken it to American Thanksgiving, a day centered around family and FOOD. No, there are no turkey, stuffing, casseroles, etc. involved.
Instead, we happily dig into a warm, comforting bowl of rice cake (and perhaps dumpling) soup or “tteokgook”, which is the traditional main dish. To accompany, every families have their own traditions of foods prepared and served. My mom’s specialties are galbijjim, various assortment of savory pancakes, and japchae…
The star of this dish is Korean vermicelli, otherwise referred to as glass noodles. Made from sweet potato starch, these noodles, once cooked, are chewy and springy. In another words, they are quite fun to eat.
You seriously haven’t had japchae until you’ve tried my mom’s! It is simply the best, and I absolutely refuse to order it at restaurants. I’ve asked her to write down the recipe so I can include it in my “Beloved Family Recipes” collection to pass down to my lil’ ones someday, but she’ll simply say “I don’t know what that is.” Surprise surprise. Instead she tells me to move by feel, taste as I go, and as for the seasoning, just eyeball it! That’s very helpful…
So the best I could do is to watch her every move like hawk as I have been doing for many years. Because I love you guys, I measured the seasoning to the best of my ability, but I do have to agree with mom on this one – These kinds of dishes turn out best when you move by feel, allowing your taste buds to guide you. In other words, don’t make this when you are sick.
In this regard, I think japchae is fail-proof. Just make sure to gradually add in, not dump, all the seasonings at once: soy sauce, salt, and sesame oil. As far as the sesame oil goes, there’s no single ingredient I love more. Just sniffing it makes my legs weak. Thus, I’m quite heavy handed with it, but again, you can decide how little or how much to add.
//Tasting as we go (the Hungryman’s fav. part), and yes, Im cooking in my pjs. Simply the best.
So all this to say, let my recipe serve as a guide. Along with adjusting the seasoning to your liking, You can add other vegetables, like sweet bell pepper, bean sprouts (which my mom often adds), or just keep it really simple with 1 or 2 ingredients. One rule that my mom stressed is to cook the vegetables separately so that each and every ingredients will retain its maximum flavor, color, and texture without blending with other ingredients.
And there you have it! Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds, and if you are like me, a drizzle of sesame oil on top and grab your chopsticks! ;). This could be a side, a snack, or even a meal with some kimchi and rice.
- 6 ounces dried Korean sweet potato vermicelli noodles (dangmyeon)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled and shredded (I used a pre-shredded one)
- 6 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water and cut into matchstick strips
- 1 bunch of spinach
- ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoon sesame oil
- toasted sesame seeds
- Place vermicelli in large bowl, pour boiling water over the noodles and let it soften, about 6-8 minutes, or until softened and chewy. Drain and rinse under cold water. Using scissors, cut the noodles into shorter lengths, about 8 inches. Toss with 1 teaspoon sesame oil and set aside.
- In a smal bowl, mix soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil together until sugar dissolves. Set aside.
- Steam the spinach in a steamer for about 1-2 minutes (or blanch the for 30 seconds). Remove immediately and rinse in cold water. Drain and gently squeeze out all the water from spinach. Form into a ball, then using scissors, cut it in half. Combine spinach with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Heat 1 teaspoon canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, or until onion is slightly translucent. Remove from pan.
- In the same skillet, repeat the whole process with carrots and mushrooms.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the noodles and all the vegetables. Pour in the soy sauce mixture. Using your hands toss until all the ingredients are coated evenly with the sauce. Taste and season with salt, if needed. Add the toasted sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil. Serve immediately.