I made a memorable trip to South Korea a few years ago to experience the beautiful cherry blossom season and ofcourse to enjoy delicious Korean cuisine.
Among the culinary classes and food walks I managed to squeeze in between visits to beautiful temples and parks I learned to make Japchae or Chapchae as Koreans like to call it. The word means mixed vegetables in Sino Korean. One of Korea’s signature dishes, it originates in royal cuisine with versions in their Temple cuisine repertoire but has become so popular that it is eaten all over the country and is always served at Korean restaurants abroad.
My culinary instructor Ome, a native of Seoul explained to me that there are numerous reasons for its popularity; it’s a colourful and elegant preparation, easy to make and filling for large groups. Its also made to celebrate longevity; a must have at a birth or wedding ceremony. The dish has strict parameters- all its ingredients must be sliced long to symobolise a long life. Like India the concept of Panch Tatva is also celebrated in Korean culture albeit in a different way. To balance the palate, this dish influenced by Buddhist teachings, must have five colours, every one represents a direction, north, south east and west but the South Koreans recognize a fifth direction, the center, where all of us hope to get to one day. Chapchae is also a mellow dish that helps to balance a meal when served as a side (Banchan) with spicier dishes like Buldak or Nakji Bokkeum.
You will find the video demo of this dish, where to buy the ingredients on my Insta IGTV feed @deshpandetara
Ingredients for the noodles: 100 grams sweet potato noodle (dangmyeon) 2 scallions or green onions, 1 small carrot julienned (a 3 inch piece), 1 large wood ear mushroom soaked in warm water, drained and then sliced long, 35 grams oyster mushrooms, 20 grams Chinese chives or regular chives sliced in half, 1 red or yellow bell pepper finely sliced
4 tbsp cooking oil
For the Sauce : 4 tablespoons light soy sauc, 2 tsp brown sugar, 2 tsp ground garlic, 3 tablespoons regular or hot sesame oil, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper,
1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds and 3 cm pieces of scallion tops
Slice all the vegetables lengthwise 4-6 cm long. The green onion bulbs can be quartered along with part of the green stem. The top part of the stem can be reserved as a garnish.Tear the oyster mushrooms into long strips.
Soak the noodles in boiling hot water for 3-4 minutes. Do not cook the noodles actively, just soak them in extremely hot water. Drain just before mixing.
Heat vegetable oil in a small wok or a skillet on high heat, Add bell pepper first and toss well. Then add remaining vegetables and herbs and saute all the vegetables for just under 1.5 minutes until glistening and tender but still crisp and holding their shape. Toss them as they cook to ensure even cooing. Reserve the vegetables on a side plate.
Moving quickly in the same hot skillet add the sesame oil and a tablespoon of vegetable oil and toss the drained noodles in them. Add the sauce and toss again.
Taste for salt, sugar and spice and adjust. Top with the vegetables and sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions. Drizzle some more sesame oil on the top if desired.
Mix just before serving.