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Japchae just in time for the holiday

Japchae is a traditional Korean side dish that I’ve found a lot of joy in making recently.

Ingredients used to make japchae: carrots, mushrooms, garlic, green onion, bell pepper, sweet potato vermicelli, and spinach.
Ingredients used to make japchae include carrots, mushrooms, garlic, green onion, bell pepper, sweet potato vermicelli, and spinach on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.
Sara Guymon / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Mandu might be my favorite food, but the traditional Korean dish japchae is another one of my favorites that can be made in a lot less time.

Sara Guymon.jpg
Dispatch staff writer Sara Guymon.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

My parents and I never used to make japchae. The noodles used to make japchae are sweet potato vermicelli, which can be harder to find in my hometown than in the Brainerd area. These noodles are clear in color and translucent when submerged in water. I think they look like noodle shaped Orbeez.

Since I never had access to these noodles, I didn’t make them growing up. However, I would eat it at Kamp Kimchee and I ate a lot of it when I was in Korea. My visit home for Thanksgiving was the first time my parents got to eat my version of japchae.The dish is often popular during holiday meals. I made it for Chuseok this year as I celebrated with coworkers. Chuseok is one of Korea’s largest holidays. The holiday celebrates the autumn harvest festival and lasts three days in South Korea. However, they only celebrate one day of it in North Korea. Chuseok is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon.

Japchae is traditionally a side dish, not an entree. Korea is big on serving side dishes used to complement the meal. Other notable side dishes include kimchi, spicy cucumber salad, pickled radish and other grilled veggies.

I made this dish for the first time this year and love how easy it is to make. It can be made with a lot of different add-ins, but I put carrots, bell pepper, spinach, green onion and occasionally meat. Other popular additions are mushrooms, shallots and fried egg. This time, I added mushrooms for my parents, but I personally don’t love mushrooms.

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Mandu, japchae and chicken bulgogi
Korean dinner made at home with my parents including mandu, japchae and chicken bulgogi on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.
Sara Guymon / Brainerd Dispatch

I began by washing and cutting the mushrooms, carrots, green onion and bell peppers into thin, short strips. There isn’t really a right size or shape since it’s all being stir fried with the noodles, but making them the same size and shape helps them cook evenly.

After cutting up the veggies, I normally make the sauce. When cooking this for my parents, I made the sauce first. However, the order isn’t too important.

For the sauce, you will need 3.5 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons sesame oil and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. You can add roasted sesame seeds as well, but I usually don’t. If you just have sesame seeds, you will have to roast them on the stove top quickly before mixing it into the sauce.

After the veggies were cut up and the sauce was made, I boiled about 5 cups of water and cooked about 7 ounces of sweet potato vermicelli. These noodles are very easy to overcook. I cooked them for about six minutes before draining them and running cold water over them so they did not stick together.

Then I threw them into a bowl and cut the noodles into small pieces with food-safe scissors. I poured about half the sauce mixture in the noodles and stirred it.

Next, I brought about 2 more cups of water to a boil and threw about 6 ounces of spinach in the pot. I kept it in the boiling water until wilted before removing it, shocking it in cold water and drying it off.

After all that was done, I threw the noodles in a skillet to fry on medium heat for three or four minutes. This allows the noodles to regain a little stickiness. Then I removed the noodles and placed them back into the large mixing bowl. I fried the sliced vegetables next, allowing the veggies to cook but not become soft. The vegetables should be crisp still.

After the vegetables are finished, I added them to the bowl with noodles and stirred them in. I added the remainder of the sauce into the bowl as well, adding more soy sauce or sugar as needed.

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This is one of my favorite Korean dishes to make due to the simplicity of it. Sometimes when I’m especially lazy, I will just make the noodles and sauce to eat at home. It also stays nicely in the fridge for three to four days and microwaves well.

Although it is usually a side dish, I eat this as a main entree and often watch a K-drama or listen to K-pop while enjoying my meal. Korean food is something really special to me and being able to share it with my friends, family and community has made me really happy.

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SARA GUYMON, Brainerd Dispatch, staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5851 or sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com

Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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