Recipe: Jabchae 잡채 (Sweet and Salty Stir-Fried Glass Noodles With Beef and Veggies)

Lunar new year is around the corner which means in Korea it's lots of family times and lots of eats. It's always fascinating to see the different kinds of dishes that are prepared and eaten by different cultures around this time.

In Korea, during the Lunar New Year (or 'seol' as it's called in Korean) there's bound to be a lot of food during this period because many families will gather and do a ancestral worship ceremony with an enormous, table-legs-almost-buckling, feast. Fresh fruit, fish, different kinds of jeon, namools (seasoned roots, herbs and other things) and such are on the table along with crowd pleasing main dishes such as galbi jjim (braised short ribs), ddeokgook (rice cake soup), mandu and more. Of course, there's plenty of eats on the table for all Korean family gatherings whether they still do the ancestral worship ceremony or not.

Also included on these feast tables for many Korean families is today's dish which is called jabchae. If Thailand's has pad thai, Vietnam has pho, Japan has udon and soba.... Korea's arguably most famous noodle dish abroad is probably jabchae. In it, glass noodles (aka cellophane noodles or vermicelli noodles) are stir fried with seasoned carrots, spinach, onions, beef, mushrooms and more and mixed together by hand. Sweet and savory and contrasting textures from the chewy noodles to the crunchy veggies makes this a perennial favorite and you're bound to see this served on big occasions and holidays such as lunar new year, birthdays, etc.

It does have many steps to it but don't let that deter you. The results are well worth the effort and will draw in attention and praise for any dinner party or pot luck. This is a non-spicy dish so kids and the spice-averse will be able to enjoy this dish. You can also easily make this vegetarian by omitting the beef and adding more shiitake mushrooms, maybe even some stir fried cubed tofu (though tofu is not a traditional ingredient in jabchae :P).

Talk about a party in yo mouth!

Jabchae (잡채)
Makes 3-4 servings

You'll need:
- Korean Vermicelli aka Dangmyeon (당면) Note: I bought a 1kg package and probably used about 1/3 of it for this recipe
- 1 bunch of fresh Spinach (Note: I had some Bok Choy on hand I needed to use up so I substituted it for the Spinach in this batch but spinach is the traditional ingredient)
- 1/2 a large Onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large Carrot, julienne 
- 2 Eggs, with yolks and whites separated 
- 3 Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1.5 cup of marinated Bulgogi (recipe here)
- 1/2 tbsp of minced Garlic
- Sugar (you'll be needing a few teaspoon or tablespoon at a time so have a lot on hand)
- Soy Sauce (you'll also be needing a few tablespoons at a time at least so have a bottle on hand) 
- 2 tbsp of Sesame Oil
- 2 tbsp of Roasted Sesame Seeds (for garnish)
- Salt and Pepper

1. Wash and cut your onion and carrots - the onions into thin slices and the carrots into thin matchsticks. Soak your shiitake mushrooms in water and set aside. Boil a pot of water with a few pinches of salt and blanch your spinach for 30 seconds in the boiling water (pictured here is bok choy). Rinse the blanched spinach in cold water, squeeze out some of the excess water and dump it into a large, "master" bowl. This bowl is going to be used to add all the ingredients, one-by-one, and mixed in the end so make sure it's big!

To the spinach in the bowl, add a tsp of soy sauce and 1/2 a tsp of sugar and mix by hand.

Blanch the spinach, rinse, and squeeze out the excess water

2. Boil another big pot of water (I just used the same water I blanched the spinach to save time) and when it's boiling, add your vermicelli noodles. Stir and cook for about 6-8 minutes or until it's done. Be careful not to overcook the noodles or they'll get mushy (you'll also be stir frying the noodles for just a bit later anyways). Vermicelli noodles done right in jabchae should have a bit of bite.

Drain the noodles in a colander, add cold water to cool them and set it aside for a bit so the excess water can drain properly. If you don't like your noodles to stick while cooling, you can add in a few drops of sesame oil and toss.

Boil the noodles for 6-8 minutes or until done. They'll be stir fried and seasoned later

3. Heat up a pan with a few drops of cooking oil on high heat. Add in your sliced onions and cook for about 30 seconds just enough so the onions get sweet. Then add in the carrots with a pinch of salt to flavor the onions and carrots and stir and cook for 30-40 more seconds. The carrots and onions should still have a slight bit of crunch to them. Add them both to your mixing bowl so they can join the spinach.

You can also cook up some sliced bell peppers as well for more texture and color.

Cook the onions and carrots with a pinch of salt

4. Separate your egg yolks from the whites and add a pinch of salt to both of them. Mix your egg yolks.

Heat your pan on medium high heat with a bit of cooking oil and first cook your egg whites. Just 30-40 seconds on each side will do.

Do the same with the egg yolks mixture. Set aside the cooked whites and yolks to cool and then slice them. In jabchae, the eggs are generally sliced thinner but I like bigger cuts so cut them according to your preference.

However, DON'T add the sliced fried eggs to the mixing bowl. Since they're fragile, mixing them from the get-go will result in a lot of broken fried egg slices and give it a less "clean" look.

5. Heat your pan with a bit more oil on medium high and then add your cooked vermicelli noodles. Be careful any remaining water on the noodles doesn't splash on you as you add it to the pan!

Pour in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1/2 a tbsp of sugar and stir it around to get the noodles evenly coated for a minute or two. Taste the noodles and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Note: Remember you're going to add one last bit of soy sauce and sugar before mixing everything (and the other ingredients have a bit of seasoning on them) so don't make your noodles too salty/sweet on this step! Make a final taste adjustment when you mix everything together.

Add the seasoned noodles to the mixing bowl and let the noodles cool.

Taste and adjust the seasoning to the noodles
but remember you'll be adding soy sauce and sugar at the end again
so don't make it too salty/sweet here
6. Drain the water from your soaked shiitake mushrooms, slice them and add to the pan with a bit more oil on medium high heat. Add in your marinated bulgogi beef and the minced garlic and stir and mix. Cook about 4-5 minutes or until the beef is done. Overcooking the beef will make it dry. Also, if the beef slices are a bit big, cut'em up with a scissor to smaller, bite-sized pieces. Add the cooked mushrooms and beef to the mixing bowl.

Overcooking your beef will make it tough

7. To the large mixing bowl, add 2 tbsp of soy sauce (to start), 1 tbsp of sugar, the 2 tbsp of sesame oil, 1 tsp of ground pepper and the 1 tbsp of roasted sesame seeds. Gently mix everything by hand (I used disposable gloves) and give it a taste test. Season and adjust as needed. It should be sweet and savory and a nice pleasant aroma from the sesame oil.

For the fried sliced egg whites and yolks, you can add it in and toss gently one final time at the end or add the eggs on top for garnish.

Serve the jabchae on a large plate and serve it warm!

And happy new year to everyone!