Japchae is a Korean dish made with cellophane or sweet potato glass noodles called dangmyeon, fresh vegetables and mushrooms that is one of the most popular dishes in it’s home country. Having moved around the world with Korean immigrants japchae has become a widely loved dish by locals in every country it has been served and in 2006 was featured at the United Nations Food Festival to represent Korean cuisine.
Dating back to the 17th century royal courts japchae was originally just a conbination of mushrooms and vegetables in a sauce. In fact the literal translation of the name is “mixed (or stirred) vegetables” and the addition of the noodles did not take place until the 20th century. This addition was believed by Koreans to add so much to japchae that it is now considered an integral part of the dish and you are unlikely to find a recipe without it.
In Korea japchae is served as either a side dish or a main course and may contain any number of seasonal vegetables. Today the most modern versions that are served in North America generally consist of the same basic ingredients- glass noodles with carrot, onion, red pepper, mushrooms and spinach. also it can quite often be found with the addition of beef, pork or seafood.
Because the basic definition is so broad in scope it’s hard to make this dish wrong. Changing up the vegetables and adding different meats is perfectly acceptable as long as the sauce and noodles that are the basis for japchae remain. I’ve made this recipe very basic and omitted any meats in order to leave it open to modification. I have used dried wood-ear mushrooms (called black fungus in asian markets) but again you can do what you wish, the addition of shiitake mushrooms and some tin strips of beef would work well.
- 12 oz package of sweet potato vermicelli
- ¾ cup wood ear mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 medium bunch of spinach, stems removed
- 1 cup onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup carrot, jullienned
- 1 cup cucumber, cut in thin strips
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 5 tbsp of soy sauce
- 6 tbsp of sesame oil, divided
- 3 tbsp of honey
- 3 cloves garlic, Minced
- 2 tbsp of minced ginger
- sesame seeds
- Begin by placing the noodles in a large bowl of room temperature water for about 30 minutes to soften somewhat as they are very hard – this is approximate and works for the majority of noodle brands, as long as they become flexible the noodles have soaked long enough.
- In another bowl soak about 2-3 dried wood ear mushrooms until soft.
- In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, and minced ginger and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil.
- Thoroughly rinse the spinach in order to remove any dirt or sand.
- Place the spinach in the boiling water and blanch until it wilts. Remove , gently squeeze water from it, cut a couple of times and toss with 2 tbsp sesame oil and a little of the garlic then set aside.
- In a large pan add a thin layer of sesame oil over medium heat. As soon as the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and stir fry for about 3 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside (If you’re short on time, you can stir fry all your vegetables together, but cooking each separately will allow them to retain their own flavors).
- Repeat above with the onion, carrot, cucumber, and red pepper, adding oil as necessary.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil.
- Remove the noodles from the water and use kitchen shears to cut them into shorter, more manageable pieces, then place them in the pot of boiling water, stirring often until they are softened. Immediately drain, rinse with cold water and stir fry the noodles in sesame oil for about a minute over medium heat.
- In a large bowl toss the noodles, mushrooms and vegetables with the sauce.
- Serve on a flat plate sprinkled with sesame seeds.