As a stay-home mum with two littles, I try to do as much home cooking as I can. We do our fair share of eating out, especially on weekends when we hit our favourite Japanese/Korean/Chinese/diner spots (and ok ok, sometimes fried chicken or pizza or burgers!), but on weekdays, it’s mostly about cobbling together stuff at home. On Sundays, I attempt one big make-ahead meal, and it’s usually a baked pasta or baked rice dish which I put together then bung in the oven on Monday evenings – then eat the leftovers for lunches etc. But there’s only so many days that we can chow down on something cheesy (at least I can’t – the 3.5yo on the other hand could eat that everyday). Plus it seems like my littler one has more of an Asian palate! He’s a rice and noodle lover that one.
So there are some Sundays where I turn to japchae. It’s a Korean dish that uses noodles made from sweet potato starch. The best part is that it is usually served at room temperature and also makes great leftovers. And it is easily customizable with your favourite vegetables and meats, or whatever you have in the kitchen.
We first encountered Japchae at a Korean restaurant in San Jose. I was surprised by how much my kids love Korean food, especially the 1.5-year-old. At our favorite Korean restaurant, they always bring out soup specially for the kids, which has tofu and daikon simmered in the (so very tasty) broth. And with all the banchan (side dishes) that they lay out on the table in little dishes before the main courses arrive, the kids have plenty to eat. One of the banchan that’s popular with my two is japchae. We always ask for a second helping! Our usual order is: seafood pancake, bulgogi, acorn noodles (it’s a cold noodle dish with plenty of vegetables) and sometimes the dumplings. That makes for plenty of leftovers for the next day!
I haven’t dabbled much in Korean cooking. Bibimbap, Bulgogi and Japchae are all I’ve done so far.
Google ‘japchae’ and you’ll find plenty of recipes online like this one from Maangchi. But I decided to cook it after browsing through The Kimchi Chronicles by Marja Vongerichten. I hadn’t heard of her or the book – or the TV series – before my Mum bought this book. In case that last name looks familiar, her husband is Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Marja is half-Korean, adopted by an American family when she was a child.
Her book has some rather interesting cross-cultural ideas, like hotdogs with kimchi relish, grilled Korean lobster rolls with scallion mayonnaise. And quite a few of the recipes are by her husband, some by their chef friends like Mark Bitttman and David Chang.
Her Japchae recipe is also a slightly different version from those I’ve seen online, adding asparagus, snow peas and fava beans. I didn’t have those vegetables at hand, but when I do, I might add those in next time. I especially like the sound of fava beans. Her recipe also includes honey which I didn’t add, as most Japchae recipes don’t contain honey and I don’t think it needs to be sweetened.
I cooked my noodles with baby spinach, julienned carrots, sliced mushrooms, green onions. And served it with soy sauce-marinated pork chops cooked separately. You could cook thinly sliced meat together with the noodles.
One tip for the noodles – after you parboil them and drain them, add enough sesame oil so that it won’t stick.
(Here’s what the noodles look like – big packets of usually three or four bunches of noodles. Each bunch serves about 4 people. I reckon that mung bean noodles/glass noodles/tunghoon would make a decent substitute)
Some of Vongerichten’s recipes are available online here. But I’ve got my eye on a few that I might try soon, like the Braised Short Ribs with Pumpkin, Barbecued Chicken with Sweet Barbecue Sauce (the sauce includes gochujang and Korean citron marmalade). And oh, I don’t quite dare but am intrigued by the Kimchi Mary (?!!) – the Korean version of Bloody Mary with fish sauce and kimchi liquid!
Kimchi Chronicles isn’t a traditional Korean cookbook (it does after all say “for an American Kitchen”). It’s got some interesting ideas and is a pretty good introduction if you’ve never tried cooking Korean food before.
1 pound japchae noodles (made from sweet potato, also labeled as dangmyeon) or cellophane noodles
3 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. roasted sesame seeds
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 small onion, finely diced
3 bell peppers, preferably red, yellow and orange, slivered
1 large carrot, cut into strips
1/2 pound thin asparagus, halved lengthwise
1 cup snow peas, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup thawed frozen peeled fava beans (see note)
1 small handful thin green beans or haricots verts
3 cups baby spinach leaves
Boil the noodles according to package directions. Drain and drizzle with a little sesame oil and set aside.
Whisk together the soy sauce, honey, sesame seeds, and half the garlic in a small bowl. Set the sesame-garlic sauce aside.
Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. each of sesame oil and olive oil in a large wok over high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until browned and softened, about 4 minutes. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a plate and drizzle with a bit of sesame oil.
Add another 1 1/2 Tbsp. each of sesame oil and olive oil to the wok and add the bell peppers and carrot. Cook, stirring constantly, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus, snap peas, fava beans, and green beans and cook until all the vegetables are just barely cooked through, about 2 minutes.
Add the reserved sesame-garlic sauce, the noodles, mushrooms, and pea shoots or spinach and stir just until the greens wilt, about 30 seconds. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4.
Note: You can substitute 1/2 cup fresh fava beans that have been blanched and peeled; you’ll need 1/2 pound fava bean pods to get 1/2 cup beans.
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