Monday, December 10, 2012

OMG a Recipe: I Want Hot Noodles

In the immortal words of comic book character Hellboy: I want hot noodles. "Pamcakes" are nifty and all, but sometimes you want noodles, and in my case, I had a specific craving for the Korean dish, japchae, a simple stir-fry of thin noodles, vegetables, sometimes meat, in a sweet-savory sesame sauce. If you're at all familiar with the Hellboy comic, or just read the link above to the little Pancake vignette, you'll understand why one can never go back to the Underworld farm once they've had japchae noodles, or pamcakes, for that matter.

Meatless Monday Japchae, not that you'd miss the meat - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I love japchae because I love bean thread noodles, aka saifun, aka sweet potato noodles, aka glass noodles, aka cellophane noodles. There's probably other names for the same thing, it's got as many aliases as ten Jason Bournes. I do think that's one obstacle to cooking Asian food, the shopping for the basic ingredients. Asian grocery stores are daunting; bottles and cans are labeled in another language, you need to know what you're looking for, even I get flustered when I'm shopping for exotic goods. Everything has multiple names and you have to be a master spy to recognize which aliases mean the same thing. Luckily most basic grocery stores are widening their "Ethnic Cuisine" aisle, even going so far as to dedicating a full section of an aisle to "Asian." And if you've never had or made japchae at home, it's one of those ridiculously easy things to make since the only somewhat unusual ingredient is the bean thread noodles. Like I said, I can get a package of this at our local Safeway, so here's to cuisine progress movin' on up.

So, why bean thread noodles/saifun? If you had to, you could probably swap the noodles out with an angel hair pasta, but there's a really lovely bite to bean thread noodles; they're stretchy with a distinctive toothy bite. They're made up of mung bean, sweet potato or yam starch and/or other root starches, but not wheat, so it's a nice gluten-free noodle to keep in mind. You don't taste any of the bean or potato starch and thin sauces cling to it nicely, so it's ideal for japchae, which uses a thin sesame oil-based sauce. This version of japchae is meatless, making it perfect for Meatless Monday. And it's not one of those dishes where it suffers from the removal of meat, since the bulk of the flavor expeience is in the multiple vegetables and sweet-savory sesame oil sauce. You could add ribbons of scrambled egg to add more protein, and adding shiitake mushrooms gives it an earthy, meaty flavor.

The Magic Bean (noodles) and whatever vegetables you want - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I put together this recipe based off multiple versions of japchae that I've seen. It's such a basic dish, and so easy and quick to make, which is probably why it's so popular in Korean cuisine. Fast, inexpensive, no fuss -- boom, the perfect weekday night meal. The primary ingredients for japchae are the bean thread noodles and getting the sauce to that just-right sweet-savory balance. Which is completely subjective -- some people will want more soy sauce, some will want to add more sugar, but it's an easy dish to push and pull flavors to your taste. The sesame oil is what brings everything together and really anchors the dish, so don't skimp on that.

Hot Noodles! Hellboy would approve - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Meatless Monday Japchae (perfectly good on other days of the week, I promise)

1 package (about 8 oz) of bean thread noodles (see above for more variations on the name)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup of chopped shiitake mushrooms (fresh or reconstituted dried)
Salt and pepper to taste

Any combination of favorite vegetables, but can include:
1 cup carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
1/2 cup wilted spinach
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 cup bok choi, chopped into small bite sized pieces

Can also add cooked cubes of tofu or sliced ribbons of scrambled egg

To finish:
chopped scallions
toasted sesame seeds      
Sriracha hot sauce as condiment, because it goes well with EVERYTHING 

Heat a pot of water until boiling and cook the saifun/bean thread noodles. When the noodles are tender, but not overcooked, drain and in a separate bowl, toss lightly with 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil. This will flavor the noodles as well as keep them from sticking to each other.

Take a heavy bottomed pan or wok heat to medium high on the stove. Add the vegetable oil and start to cook down your vegetables until tender. Lower the heat to medium-low, and add the shiitake mushrooms, along with the tofu and egg, if you are adding those. Add the chopped garlic, soy sauce, remaining sesame oil and sprinkle on the sugar. Keep the soy sauce and sugar handy to adjust to your flavor preference. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the vegetables and sauce are fully combined, add the bean thread noodles and gently toss to fully mix the ingredients

To serve, top each bowl of japchae with a sprinkle of fresh chopped scallions, sesame seeds and hot sauce, if you want to add more heat. Don't be surprised if you can't stop eating, it's really that good.


  1. I have to agree with you that sometimes shopping for ingredients is daunting. I'm very comfortable in the Japanese American markets because I know the Japanese names for everything I need. But when I stepped into a Korean H-Mart I was sincerely flustered!

    A good tip is to take your smart phone with you so you can always google the word to make sure it's what you want, if you can't talk to someone. Is this regular rice flour or glutenous rice flour? Type in the Korean name and ta-da!

  2. One of my favorite Korean dishes! Thanks for sharing. :) Someday I'll set aside the time to make this dish.


Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)