Making Japchae for Chuseok!
These days, my boyfriend has gotten really into K-drama. He even recently surprised me by thanking me for doing some housework in Korean, which he said he’d just picked up from hearing it so much on TV. Watching Crash Landing on You (Netflix) has become a beloved ritual before bed, and he looks forward to new episodes of Stranger on weekends, while I’m busy working on my social media.
The best part of this is that his already seemingly encyclopedic knowledge is now starting to include more and more about Korea, including a few phrases (Thank you: 고마워 “gomawo” and I love you: 사랑해요 “saranghaeyo”, to name a few), the names of more Korean actors than I know American ones, and a renewed interest in Korean cuisine. Tteokbokki is already a staple in our house, especially after a long day, but it’s been exciting to expand our repertoire.
About a week ago, an ad for a special “Chuseok” promotion on Korean beauty products popped up on my Instagram feed. It turns out that Chuseok, or 추석, is the Korean harvest festival, which happens to fall on Oct 1-3, the same time as what is known in China as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Japan as Tsukimi (月見）. This week is considered a national holiday in both Korea and China, so I had time off from my virtual teaching to do some research. I proposed the idea of hosting our own K-drama marathon and Chuseok meal, instead of making shiratama (白玉）this year and doing a Korean-style dinner. This is the first large meal we’ve cooked together as a couple, and it posed a fun challenge to use our few pots and bowls to make a full holiday dinner.
So, we set to work researching traditional dishes for our Chuseok party. Chuseok is traditionally tied to the visiting and cleaning of one’s ancestors’ graves, but many modern Korean families skip this in light of the popularization of Christianity among Koreans.
Like Christmas, the holiday has come to be marked by spending time with close friends and family and enjoying delicious, seasonal food! Some of the standouts included Gosari Namul (고사리나물), Songpyeon (송편), Jeon (전) , and of course our star, Japchae (잡채)! We looked at a bunch of sources before creating our menu, but ultimately decided on a variation of the list of 15 found on this blog, “Korean Bapsang”.
· Songpyeon (Store-bought)
· Samsaek Namul
· Kimchi (Store-bought)
· Pickled Daikon (Store-bought)
· Various Hangwa (Korean sweets)
Our favorite dish ended up being the Galbi (beef shortrib dish), which we turned into a benedict the next day, but I have to admit that the Japchae was more fun to make. Japchae is prepared with a special type of glass noodle made of sweet-potato starch, called Dangmyeon. The recipe we used is a mix of Hyosun’s recipe from Korean Bapsang, Sue’s from Korean Kitchen, and some of our own substitutions and preferences. We like about equal mix-ins/veggies to noodle ratio, but feel free to adjust to your taste. Any meat or veggies you prepare and don’t end up mixing in make great side dishes with their own flavor.
All the credit for making this goes to my K-drama-loving boyfriend, and may I say that I think he did a great job! The recipe makes about 6 servings, so we ended up sharing the leftovers with some of our family and friends in true Chuseok-style. Overall, it was great to spend a day on our feet cooking and working together to make a family-style meal for a holiday, even if it was a holiday that’s totally new to us! This dish is quite involved, but its many moving pieces means that it’s easy to get a few people involved in the cooking process. I would recommend it for a girl’s night in or as an impressive make-ahead party dish (it makes a great sub for pasta salad right out of the fridge too). The color from the vegetables is stunning, and the fun noodles make this a unique dish that everyone will want to try!
Japchae (잡채) is a traditional Korean noodle dish made with potato starch noodles (dangmyeon (당면)). In true family feast fashion, japchae includes many of the same toppings one would use for bibimbap, so if you prefer rice or can’t find dangmyeon, you can simply serve all of the toppings over rice with a fried egg and I promise it will be just as good! In this recipe, we use about 8 ounces of dangmyeon, so adjust all other quantities accordingly when you make this.
The star of the show, outside of the noodles, is the beef. And like many stars, it gets special treatment - make sure you use a quality cut here. We marinated 6 ounces of beef and 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms with 3 cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of sugar, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and half a tablespoon of sesame oil. Many Korean dishes call for a good amount of sugar (probably double or even triple what we use!) in their dishes, but some of us don’t quite have a sweet tooth, so we cut the sugar content quite a bit. We marinated this mixture in the fridge for about 4 hours, but feel free to marinate it overnight if you are planning ahead!
There are many additions to japchae, and this is by no means a hard and fast rule of what does and does not belong - this is definitely a dish that you can experiment with and see what you do and don’t like! For our vegetables, we used about 8 ounces of spinach, two small onions, 4 or 5 scallions, 8 ounces of white mushrooms, 2 carrots, and 1 bell pepper. While looking at the final product, you may be tempted to cut corners and simply stir fry everything together - however, I firmly believe that maintaining the purity of each ingredient’s flavor adds an extra layer of depth to the dish, so I recommend cooking each addition separately.
If you want to save yourself a bit of time, buy matchstick carrots rather than julienning a carrot yourself, unless you’re much more efficient than us. Otherwise, slice the onions and mushrooms, and julienne the carrots and bell peppers.
Blanch the spinach for about 30 seconds in boiling water and remove it to an ice bath. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the spinach and transfer it into a mixing bowl, then begin cooking the noodles in the same water we used to blanch the spinach -- they take about 7 minutes to become tender and take on a lovely flavour. Season the spinach with a bit of salt and sesame oil.
While the noodles are cooking (and probably even a bit after they’re done, but that’s okay, patience patience patience!), we cook all the other vegetables one at a time. Simply add them into a lightly oiled pan, add a dash of salt, and once they are tender, add them into the same mixing bowl. Once you’re done cooking all of your vegetables, it’s time to make the egg garnish, or jidan (지단).
Heat a lightly greased pan, then turn the heat off before adding two beaten egg yolks and swirling the pan to make a thin layer. We turn the heat off in order to avoid excessive browning. After about a minute, flip the yolks over and let them sit until cooked through, about another 30 seconds. Slice the eggs thinly (we did this chiffonade-style) and you have your jidan!
Once everything else is in the bowl, we can cook the beef and shiitake mixture and mix everything together!
Dangmyeon (sweet potato Starch noodle or glass noodle) - 8 oz
Beef (Brisket or other high-quality cut) - 6 oz
Eggs - 2, white/yolk separated
Spinach - 1 bag, or about 2-3 cups
Onions - 2 small or 1 large
Scallions - 1 bunch, or about ½ cup
White Mushrooms - 8oz
Carrots - 2
Shiitake Mushroom - 4 oz
Bell pepper (red) - 1
Garlic - 3 cloves
Sugar - 1Tsp*
Sesame Oil - ½ Tsp, plus more for finish
Soy Sauce - 1Tbsp
Neutral oil - 1-2 Tbsp for pan
*We prefer a more savory/low-carb version of the dish, but many recipes use 3 or 4x this amount of sugar, so adjust to taste.
1. Prepare the beef and mushroom marinade by combining garlic (3 cloves, crushed), sugar (1tsp), sesame oil (½ tsp) and soy sauce (1tbsp).
2. Wash and prep your shiitake by slicing length-wise (should look like little moustache curls!).
3. Prepare your beef by cutting it into strips or squares, no larger than 2 or 3 inches long.
4. Add beef and mushrooms to marinade and chill, covered while you prepare the rest of the dish. You can also leave it overnight for extra flavour!
Traditionally, each vegetable is cooked separately and then added to a single large bowl with the finished noodles and tossed like salad to incorporate the unique flavour and texture of each element. You may be tempted to stir-fry all together, but patience is key here!
5. Start by slicing the onions and white mushrooms, and julienne your carrots (or use matchstick carrots) and bell pepper.
6. Blanch the spinach for about 30 seconds in boiling water and remove with a strainer or slotted spoon to an ice bath. Reserve water in pot.
7. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the spinach and transfer it into a mixing bowl.
8. Begin cooking the noodles in the same water we used to blanch the spinach -- they take about 7 minutes to become tender and take on a lovely flavour.
9. Season the spinach with a bit of salt and sesame oil (to taste).
10. While the noodles are cooking, saute all the other vegetables one at a time. Keep an eye on the noodles, as you may need to remove and strain them during this process.
11. When the noodles are finished, strain them (no need to reserve water) and add to the mixing bowl with the spinach.
12. Add the sliced vegetables one-by-one into a lightly oiled pan, add a dash of salt, and once they are tender, add each into the same large mixing bowl with the spinach before wiping the pan and adding the next vegetable.
13. Remove the mushroom and beef mixture from the refrigerator and saute in the marinade on med until the mushrooms are just tender.
14. Transfer beef and mushroom to the mixing bowl and, using salad tongs, toss meat, vegetables, and noodles until evenly incorporated.
15. (Optional) Finally, prepare the egg garnish by beating the egg yolks and adding to a lightly greased pan over medium heat. Immediately remove pan from the heat when you pour in the yolks and swirl in the pan to make a thin, crepe-like layer. Flip after the yolks become solid but not browned (about 1 min) and let sit about another 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate or clean cutting board and chiffonade.
16. Plate Japchae as desired, using salad tongs and top with sliced scallions and egg garnish.
We had a lot of fun with this recipe, and it ended up lasting us several days! Although we made it for a holiday, japchae is a really common Korean dish that you can find in most Korean restuarants. If it seems like too much of a commitment to make it yourself, at least
order some for take out! As this is my first post here, I would love if you share your thoughts and comments on what works and what doesn't. I'm a new blogger, but I hope you will enjoy reading and sharing!
Bonus photo of me eating leftover Japchae while writing this blog at about 2:00am...oops!