Lunch time after church sunday service was the most efficient circus I’ve ever experienced. The congregation of over two-thousand people, filled with Korean wives of American veterans and their offspring like me, would pile into the church gym, waiting for whatever food the ajumma’s had prepared. Since this was a weekly ritual, the meal was more expected than appreciated. As a child, I especially fell into this category, not knowing how much commitment and teamwork it took to pull off such a spectacle. I was more focused on trying to find my umma, “where’s waldo” style, in the sea of tiny women with the same short jet black hair.
Only when I attempted making Japchae for the first time, sweet potato starch noodles with lots of color dotted in from vegetables, did I understand how hard it probably was to make this dish for the hoards of people wanting to eat. But I did figure out that each step is important to make the dish authentic to my childhood memory.
Japchae is one of the Korean dishes gaining popularity in America, but still isn’t as beginner friendly as short ribs and rice. I have a suspicion that glass noodles, even just the name, can be too unfamiliar, if you’re not used to it. Trust me though, that this is something worth trying, both eating and making. Nothing will make you feel more victorious, when you finally put all these colors of the rainbow together, and chew down salty-sweet goodness that many of us know and love.
Japchae - Korean Glass Noodles 잡채
1 package (12 oz.) sweet potato noodles
2 large Carrots
7 green onions
1 bunch of Spinach
1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
3 garlic cloves
4 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP sesame oil
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP vegetable oil
sesame seeds for garnish
Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, and pour boiling water over it. Let it sit for 20 minutes, until softened. Blanch the spinach in hot water for about a minute, then drain and stop the cooking by pouring cold water on it. Squeeze out the liquid, cut into small chunks and set aside.
Rough julienne cut the carrots. After cutting off the roots, cut the green onions into thirds, including the white part. Mince the garlic cloves. In a medium heat pan, saute the carrots with half of the vegetable oil. After 10 minutes, or until the carrots are tender, add the green onion and garlic. Season with salt and continue to saute for about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Drain and squeeze the liquid of the mushrooms. Cut into strips. Saute in a medium pan with the other half of vegetable oil. Let the mushroom pieces brown for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan.
Whisk the 2 eggs in a bowl, then pour into a low heat pan. Spread the egg around to it fills the pan, and cook on both sides. Remove from pan and cut into strips.
Boil the sweet potato noodles for about 5-7 minutes, then remove and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Cut the noodles into shorter pieces.
On low heat, add the noodles into the pan the vegetables sauteed in. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar, and evenly incorporate. Add all of the vegetables and egg strips. Stir until evenly incorporated. Garnish with sesame seeds. Serve warm, or at room temperature.