Japchae Noodles (Korean Stir-Fried Sweet Potato Noodles)
I’ve recently been stuck on autopilot with regard to meal preparation for my children. The carb rotation had become particularly stale: pasta, rice, potatoes, bread… rinse, repeat. Sure, the rice varies from white to brown to wild to fried to risotto. And the pasta may be whole wheat, quinoa or brown-rice based. Once a week I’ll toss in some buckwheat soba noodles or quinoa pilaf to help reduce the frequency with which I feed them rice (too much arsenic?) and wheat (too much gluten for kids at risk for Celiac Disease?) But new iterations of starches to pair with their proteins and veggies are always welcome.
I’ve wanted to try making Korean Japchae noodles for ages, but abandoned the project prematurely when I discovered one of the local Korean markets in my neighborhood didn’t sell the star ingredient– sweet potato starch-based vermicelli. I’ll confess to having ordered this dish at Korean restaurants on more than one occasion, even knowing that it contained soy sauce (not gluten-free). In weaker moments, I found it impossible to resist that giant pile of otherwise wheat-free, plump, glassy noodly goodness, kissed with that signature savory-sweet flavor profile. But I have since reformed myself and don’t allow myself to be willfully ignorant to gluten when dining out. Which meant: if I was ever going to taste Japchae noodles again, I’d better make them myself.
And so today, I decided to ask one of the store’s owners if perhaps they did carry these specialty noodles somewhere “in the back”– a prize awarded
to those emboldened shoppers who had the nerve speak up and make a request. And sure enough, the owner’s son was dispatched into the store’s inner sanctum, reappearing shortly to reward my gumption with an oversized bag of these elusive gluten-free noodles. I was in business.
A small small bundle of additional ingredients later– 1/4 lb of fresh shiitakes, a carrot, some scallions and a bag of baby spinach leaves– I was headed home to try my hand at Korean cooking.
I followed this recipe from Chow.com almost to a tee, swapping out the regular soy sauce for reduced sodium, wheat-free Tamari sauce instead. It was a FUN recipe to make! The highlights for me were using kitchen shears to trim fat, sesame-oil slicked noodles into manageable segments (a project I’d recommend you allow an older child to help with… it’s such a tactile pleasure to slice through those plump, slippery things!) and practicing my knife skills to achieve matchstick carrots and paper-thin shiitake slices that would find camouflage enough in the noodles so that my kids won’t pick them out. To keep this dish interactive, try letting toddlers and preschoolers sprinkle their own sesame seeds on top when serving.
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