Japchae is an easy and delicious stir fry with a simple seasoning, plenty of vegetables and slightly chewy sweet potato starch noodles. It's both comforting and relatively light, making it the perfect quick meal.
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We haven't tended to make noodles all that much in recent years since the kids found them tricky to eat. I prefer not to cook separate meals, as much as possible, so I just let it go. However, they are becoming much better with more awkward-to-eat foods and also keen to try noodle dishes from local restaurants recently.
Both are definitely things I want to encourage, so I've been looking for ideas to bring them back on the menu. The flavors in this easy Korean noodle stir fry are perfect for younger palates (and older ones too).
What is in japchae?
Japchae literally translates as "mixed vegetables" and the vegetables are, indeed, a big part of the dish. However these days, the sweet potato starch noodles are a key element as well and are always part of it.
You can vary the vegetables depending on what you have, but I'd say it's good to have a nice variety of textures and colors. I've draw on a few recipes, but particularly this from My Korean Kitchen for the mix I used. Many recipes include some beef, as I have here, but as you'll see it's a very small amount compared to everything else.
The seasoning is simple combination of soy, sugar and sesame oil. If you're familiar with Korean food, you'll recognize these from dishes like bibimbap and beef bulgogi. It's a simple mix, but adds a lovely flavor that brings everything together.
What kind of noodles do you use?
This dish is very much associated with sweet potato starch noodles, dangmyeon. Just as the name suggests, they are made from sweet potatoes which gives them a bit of a different texture. They are also gluten-free.
Unlike the more common wheat or rice noodles which become more opaque when you cook them, these become translucent when cooked. It's this change which is why many people call them glass noodles.
You may not have heard of them before, but you might also find them more easily than you might think. If not in the Asian section of your local larger supermarket, try an Asian supermarket and you can also buy them online. They're a dry noodle, so any leftovers keep well to enjoy another time.
As well as having a different color, the texture is a little different from other noodles as well. They are slightly chewy, and that works perfectly in this dish to contrast with the vegetables.
Tips for making this dish
As with most stir fry dishes, here you want to get things prepared before you start cooking. So chop up the meat and let it sit with the marinade on it while you chop the vegetables. The marinade is roughly the same as the sauce you add later, which is also worth mixing ahead to make things easier.
You can then cook the noodles and set them aside while you quickly cook up the meat and vegetables. (Alternatively, you can cook them at the same time but it depends how comfortable you feel watching two pots!) Cook the meat and vegetables over a relatively high heat - they won't take long so keep an eye on them. If anything, I think it's better to slightly undercook rather than overcook them.
Taking each thing out as it's ready to cook the next helps them not cook too long. Then add the noodles, cook a minute with the sauce and add everything back in to mix and warm through.
Japchae is a wonderfully comforting meal that is still relatively healthy and also quick to make. With colorful vegetables, a simple yet flavorful sauce and a tasty mix of textures, it's definitely one to have on repeat.
Try these other quick and tasty meals:
- Seared tuna and veggie bowl
- Sardinian fregola with clams
- Taiwanese pumpkin rice noodles
- Plus get more Korean recipes in the archives.
For marinated beef
- 2 oz beef fillet 55g, or sirloin (looking for lean, tender cut)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon crushed garlic
For rest of dish
- 3.5 oz sweet potato starch noodles 100g
- 3 oz spinach 90g
- ½ carrot
- ½ onion (small)
- 3 shitake mushrooms (approx, depending on size)
- ½ bell pepper (red or orange suggested)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for cooking, or other plain oil
- 1.5 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Thinly slice the beef, across the grain, and put in a small bowl along with the marinade ingredients (soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and garlic). Set aside while you prepare the noodles and vegetables.
- Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, typically adding them to a pot of boiling water and boiling for 6-7 minutes. Rinse in cold water to stop them cooking further then set aside.
- Meanwhile, blanch the spinach by putting it in a bowl, pouring over some boiling water and pushing leaves down to be submerged. As they soften (just a minute), drain the water off. Let the spinach cool a minute then squeeze it out well and chop up finely. As it's cooling, peel the carrot and onion and cut the carrots into thin batons and onion into thin slices. Slice the mushrooms and pepper.
- Mix the sauce ingredients - soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil - in a small bowl and set aside.
- Warm the oil over a medium-high heat in a wok or large skillet (frying pan). Add the beef and cook a minute or two on each side to brown. Remove from pan.
- Add the vegetables, apart from the spinach, and cook, stirring regularly, for a couple minutes until they start to soften. Remove from pan and set aside with the beef.
- Add the drained noodles to the pan along with the sauce and cook a minute or two to warm through. Add back the beef and vegetables, with the chopped spinach, and mix everything so it's evenly distributed and warmed through. Divide between two bowls and serve.
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