Japchae, A Noodle to Know About!
For weeks, all the while I was in the US, I've been anticipating my first trip back to the Queen's Park Farmers' Market. I'd get up early, hook my French market basket over my shoulder, and walk 20 minutes north to the primary school yard that hosts the stalls every Sunday. Stone fruits and small batch bacon and goat cheese and red mullet and all manner of greens were on my list. I should be there by now, but alas, Hurricane Bertha made a swooping right turn at Nova Scotia, rumbled its way across the Atlantic, and is now wreaking havoc over the Southern coasts of England. While I sit and await its quick dispersal (which is what the Sky News lady has promised me), I am writing up a lovely recipe shared with me by a friend and reader of my blog.Sarah Rombouts is also from Decatur, Illinois, but now lives with her "gorgeous Dutch colonel" husband in Hungary. However, en route to her current domestic bliss, she found herself teaching English in the Gangwon-do region of Korea, which is divided in two by the DMZ. Sarah wrote about her time there: "My first impressions of Koreans were formed by women friends, who were involved in many aspects of life, who were working, running family-owned businesses, teaching, etc. I had impressions of a hospitable, balanced and family-oriented society. I cultivated friendships with a few shop owners and parents of my students. I worked at three schools located in two communities. Over time I would invite them to my home for a meal or invite their children to paint with me in the local park. As time passed, some of my new Korean friends would reciprocate with invitations for drinking traditional tea, persimmon picking, hiking or attending a cultural event. In Nok-jeon, where I worked most days, bow legged adjimas (old ladies) would wait for me at the bus stop with various kimchis, doenjang (fermented soybean paste), guchujang (red chili pepper paste) and traditional Joseon ganjang (soy sauce made without wheat). Some days, after they had come in from the fields, they’d pour makgeolli (rice wine) for me prior to my ride home."It is from the many friends Sarah cultivated during her time in Korea, that she picked up this recipe for Japchae. The base of it uses sweet potato noodles, which, when boiled, look like iridescent strands of hair. I'd never even heard of these noodles before I tried this recipe, so I'm forever grateful to Sarah for sharing this dish that can be served warm right after cooking, or cold as a refreshing summer picnic dish. Sarah wrote: "Japchae is a colorful and festive dish! Traditionally, Korean people made this dish for community parties and family gatherings. You will often see this dish on any table. It serves as a banchan (side dish)." I know her recipe was tweaked to accommodate her wheat allergy and also what ingredients she has readily available in small-town Hungary. I've tweaked it a little bit further and the results were delicious! Served up with an Asian style salmon burger on the side, I was a very happy lady indeed.Japchaeadapted from recipe by Sarah Romboutsserves 2 as a main, 3-4 as a side1/2 cup dry sliced shiitake mushrooms4 ounces Dangmyun (sweet potato noodles)2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil1/2 red onion, thinly sliced3 cloves garlic, minced1/2 red chilli, thinly sliced2 carrots, peeled and cut into batons1/2 large red pepper, cut into slices2 handfuls baby spinach2 green onions, sliced2 tablespoons soy sauce1 tablespoon brown rice syrup (or honey)black sesame seeds to garnishOne hour before cooking soak the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water just to cover. Cook your dangmyun in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse well in cold water. Now in a large sautee pan, or better yet, a wok, heat the toasted sesame oil and add the red onion, garlic and chilli. Cook, stirring often, until they release a lovely aroma. Now add the carrots and red peppers and continue to stir for 3 more minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the shiitakes along with a couple of teaspoons of the liquid you soaked them in just to add some moisture to your pan and scrape up any bits that are sticking to the bottom of your pan. Now add the spinach, allowing it to wilt and then the green onions. Finally add the dangmyun and using tongs incorporate all of the vegetables and liquid. In a bowl mix together the soy and rice syrup and now add this to the pan and coat everything well and cook for about 3 minutes more. Garnish with sesame seeds.