When I first came to America, only veterans knew about Korean food. Mostly, people thought it was the same as Chinese and Japanese food. I mean, sure we all eat steamed white rice and we all look the same… These are the same people who asked me, a child in the 80’s what it was like growing up during the war (yes, they thought my life was like M.A.S.H.0 so I didn’t take them too seriously.
Korean food has become more mainstream in big cities like L.A. and NYC. It is more covered in the media and in the foodie world. Hey, we’ve come a long way when Bobby Flay uses kimchi in one of his recipes and PBS has a special called the Kimchi Chronicles that’s currently on air. Still, 9 out of 10 people I know have never tasted Korean food and I know a fairly diverse group of people even considering where I live. So, until a Korean restaurant can operate successfully in a suburban town like mine that’s 95% Caucasian, Korean food is still far from mainstream.
Korean believe that westerners don’t like/can’t tolerate Korean food because it is too hot for their taste buds. They seem to forget that hot chili pepper is a common ingredient in the U.S., especially in the states bordering Mexico. I think Korean food is “foreign” to western taste because of the combination of the hot, spicy and pungent flavors that are all intermingled to create flavors that are uniquely Korean.
Understandably, the few mainstream Korean dishes are bulgogi, kalbi, bibimbap and jap chae. Aside from bibimbap which can have gochujang, hot pepper paste, the predominant flavor of the rest of the dishes are slightly sweet soy sauce.
Jap Chae is like Korean version of lo mein except it is made out of cellophane noodles (ah-ha, hence the name glass noodles!).It tastes nothing like lo mein, but like lo mein or fried rice for that matter, it is one of those dishes you can bring to a potluck dinner or order at a restaurant when out with a bunch of Korean food newbies. Chances are people are going to like it.
I’m writing a redux of this recipe because I didn’t have photos with the original post and I’ve simplified the process.
In the step-by-step below, I’ve changed the ingredients and quantity slightly as well.
I started with two bundles of the Korean sweet potato noodles because one wasn’t enough. Two bundles is about 1.5 pounds, plenty make 6 servings and have left-overs.
Prepare the noodles per direction in the package or in the recipe and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. I like to cut my peppers by first lopping off the head.
Then, I slice down the side, trim the white ribs and slice.
I only had two Portobello and a package of white beech (Shimeji) mushrooms. I prefer Shitake or baby bell for jap chae, but beech mushrooms are actually one of my favorite mushrooms.
They are so clean, you only have to trim the edge before breaking them apart to cook. No need to spend time wiping off the dirt or drying them after washing.
Here are the rest of the vegetables all ready to go. I didn’t have carrots or yellow bell pepper to add some extra color.
It still works. There’s also baby spinach not picture here.
I always start with the onions. Get them coated in oil for a minute or two before adding the other harder vegetables. If you have carrots, add them next. Otherwise, add the peppers.
Stir-fry them until tender, salt and pepper to taste and place in the large mixing bowl. The original recipe had all the vegetables cooking together, one at a time, but I realized I had too much vegetable so I cooked them in two batches.
Add a little more oil before cooking the rest of the ingredients. First, stir-fry the mushrooms with the minced garlic until just tender.
Then add in the scallion.
Add the baby spinach last because it will cook fast. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste and add to the mixing bowl.
Add the soy sauce and sugar mixture, sesame oil and sesame seed and mix well. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Jap Chae (Korean Glass Noodles)
Prep time: 20 mins Cook time: 20 mins
Serves: 4 – 6
1.5 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles (two bundles from a package)
2 tablespoon sesame oil, divided
4 tablespoon soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoon sugar
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 bell pepper of mixed colors, cut into matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
10 – 12 ounces mushroom, thinly sliced (shitake, wood ear or baby bell)
3 stalks scallions, cut into 1″ lengths
1/2 lb spinach, washed well and drained
1 tbsp sesame seeds (I prefer toasted)
Fill a large pot with water and boil. When water is boiling, add the noodles and shut off heat. Cover for 10 – 15 minutes or until noodles is tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Cut noodles with kitchen shears into shorter length, about 8 inches. In a large mixing bowl, toss with 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and set aside.
In small bowl, mix soy sauce and sugar together.
Set a wok or large saute pan on high heat and add cooking oil. When hot, stir-fry in this order, onions, carrots and peppers until tender. Salt and pepper to taste and add to the large mixing bowl with the noodles. Add more cooking oil and fry the the garlic and mushrooms until just tender, then add the scallion and it a quick stir. Add the spinach* and fry until the spinach is wilted. Add 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce and sesame oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
Add the noodles and the other vegetables back to the wok, with the soy sauce and sugar mixture and toss until the noodles are heated and the sauce is thoroughly mixed. Turn off heat and toss in sesame seeds for garnish. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
*The spinach can be replaced with Sigeumchi Namul (Seasoned Spinach) instead.