Japchae (잡채) literally means “mixed vegetables.” But the main ingredient of this classic dish is Korean sweet potato starch noodles (dangmyeon), also known as glass noodles. The chewy and springy noodles are nicely paired with thin strips of beef and various vegetables (such as carrots, spinach, onions, shiitake mushrooms, cucumbers, and bell peppers).
All ingredients, separately cooked to develop the layers of flavor, are combined at the end into a deliciously colorful dish. This classic method is what makes this dish special and a Korean favorite for special occasions and traditional holidays.
The real secret to successfully creating the authentic flavors of this dish is to find the right balance between soy sauce and sugar. This japchae recipe will give you that right balance!
Serve it as a first course or side dish or over a bed of rice to make it a main dish.
- 6 ounces (170 grams) Korean potato starch noodles (dangmyeon, 당면)
- 1 small carrot
- 1 small sweet onion
- 2 scallions
- 4 ounces (110 grams) lean beef (sirloin or rib eye)
- 4 - 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until plump - see note
- 6 ounces (170 grams) fresh spinach
- vegetable oil for stir frying
- salt and pepper
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds
- Egg garnish (jidan) - optional
- Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix well until the sugar is dissolved.
- Cut the carrot into match sticks. Thinly slice the onion. Cut the scallions into similar lengths.
- Cut the beef into thin 2-inch long strips and mix with 1 tablespoon of the sauce. Cut the stems off the mushrooms, and slice into 1/4-inch thin strips. Season with 1 tablespoon of the sauce.
- Blanch the spinach in boiling water only until wilted. Drain quickly and shock in cold water. Squeeze out excess water, cut into about 2-inch lengths, and lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook the noodles according to the package directions (usually 6 - 7 minutes). Rinse in cold water and drain. Cut the noodles with kitchen shears or a knife into 6 -7 inch lengths. Mix in 2 tablespoons of the prepared sauce in a large bowl.
- In a large non-stick skillet, stir fry the noodles over medium heat, stirring frequently, until translucent and a bit sticky (about 4 minutes). Transfer back to the bowl.
- Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil to the pan, and stir fry the onion until translucent over medium high heat, lightly sprinkling with salt and pepper. When the onion is almost done, stir-in the scallion and cook briefly. Transfer to the bowl with the noodles. Stir fry the carrot for 1 to 2 minutes until softened. (Do not overcook. The vegetables should be crisp.) Transfer to the bowl.
- Stir fry the beef and mushrooms together until the meat is cooked through, 2 - 3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl.
- Add the spinach and the remaining sauce to the bowl with all other prepared ingredients.
- Toss well by hand. Adjust the seasoning to taste by adding a little more (start with 1/2 teaspoon) soy sauce and/or sugar as necessary.
- Dried shiitake is ideal for its concentrated flavor and meatier texture, but you can use any kind of fresh/dried mushrooms such as oyster or button mushrooms.
- Leftover japchae should be kept refrigerated. Japchae reheats well in the microwave. The noodles will get soft and chewy again.