Monday, October 1, 2012

Japchae -- Korean Basics

This year the Korean holiday "Chuseok" falls on September 30.  Chuseok is a day when Koreans celebrate the fall harvest, and perform ancestor worship rituals - sort of Thanksgiving meets Dia de los Muertos.  One of the traditional foods for Chuseok is japchae, which I love.  In fact, I don't need too much of an excuse to make it!

This recipe is simple and pretty cheap to make, but it does take a little time to prepare  all the ingredients.  There are two "specialty" ingredients you'll need from the Korean store:  the noodles and the mushrooms.

The noodles are made of sweet potato starch and are clear.  They don't have much of a flavor, but their texture is kind of snappy and fun.  I've never made this with a different kind of noodle, but I'm sure it can be done!

I buy packaged "dried mushrooms" at the Korean store.  I'm pretty sure they're dried shiitakes, but the only ingredient listed in English is "mushrooms", with everything else in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.  If you can't find "dried mushrooms" at your Korean grocery store, use fresh shiitakes.

And as far as the meat goes, it's pretty much whatever beef you can slice really thinly.  You don't need much, and it would be very frugal of you to just slice up any steak or bulgogi you have leftover from dinner.

I wouldn't call this a ban chan, exactly, because I like to eat a LOT of it!  To make it a meal, serve with a hearty jiggae and maybe some samgyeopsal or bulgogi.  



  • 4 ounces beef, sliced as thin as possible into bite-sized strips
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 dried mushrooms (or fresh shiitake mushrooms)
  • 2 bunches spinach, tough stems trimmed and washed well
  • 2 large carrots, peeled 
  • 1 small onion, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 package sweet potato starch noodles, about 6 oz. 
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil, maybe a little more
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  1. Prepare meat:  Heat sauté pan and add a tablespoon of sesame oil.  Add meat and 3 cloves minced garlic and cook until done.  If you are using leftover, already-cooked meat, heat until hot and the garlic is cooked.  Remove from heat to a very large mixing bowl, and add 1 tablespoon soy sauce.  Set aside.
  2. Prepare mushrooms:  Place mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Place a plate on top to keep the heat in.  Let the mushrooms steep and rehydrate for about a half an hour.   When they are rehydrated and soft, slice thinly.  Of course, if you are using fresh shiitakes, just slice thinly.
  3. Prepare spinach:  Boil a large pot of water, and get an ice bath ready.  Blanch the spinach for about 20 seconds.  (Keep the water boiling for the noodles.)  Remove from boiling water and into the ice bath.  When cool, squeeze out  most of the water, but don't crush the spinach.  Add to the bowl with the meat and stir to combine.
  4. Prepare noodles:  Put the noodles into the boiling spinach water, then turn off the heat.  Leave the noodles in the pot for ten minutes, then drain, and add to the meat and spinach.  Toss to combine.
  5. Prepare carrots and onions:  Peel the carrots and cut into 2-inch lengths, then slice as thinly as possible.  Heat sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and cook sliced carrots, onions, mushrooms, and remaining minced garlic until the onions are soft.  Remove from heat and dump it all into the meat bowl.  
  6. Sprinkle with sugar and remaining soy sauce and toss again to combine.  Shake on some sesame seeds and taste.  You may need more soy sauce, or a little more sesame oil.  What you are looking for:  balanced umami perfection!
I like to eat this very warm.  You can eat it cold out of the fridge the next day, but I would recommend microwaving it for about 30 seconds.  

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