Happy Lunar New Year everyone! I’m still having a hard time believing that it’s 2021. I’m sure you’ll agree with me, last year just feels like a bad dream that I’m struggling to wake up from. I still haven’t seen my family in Korea, it’s been a year and four months since I last saw them. And spending yet another big holiday missing my family was the last thing I wanted. Maybe that’s why I tried to keep myself even busier in the kitchen preparing for the New Year holiday this year, cooking up a storm to feed just two people; me and my husband, haha (we just finished leftovers). I am sharing recipes for quintessential Korean celebration dishes “Japchae” – Sweet potato noodles and vegetables, “Aehobak Jeon” – Korean Zucchini fritters and a simple spring onion salad today. I have also made Kimchi pancakes for the New Year, click here for recipe.
I’ll start with an easy one first. “Aehobak Jeon” and spring onion salad. Aehobak (Koren Zucchini) is lighter in color, a little harder and less watery. This is what it looks like.
If you’re using regular zucchini you might want to leave them with salt a little longer to draw out the moisture.
“Aehobak Jeon” Zucchini fritters and spring onion salad
Thinly slice 50g/1.8oz. spring onions.
Mix in with 1 1/2 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. rice vinegar and 1/2 tsp. sesame oil. Sprinkle some sesame seeds and set aside.
Slice 250g/8.8oz. aehobak (Korean Zucchini) or regular zucchini into 1cm/0.4″ thickness. Sprinkle a little table salt on top and let it sit for 15 minutes (up to 30 minutes for regular zucchini).
Place 1/8 – 1/4 cup. unbleached all purpose flour in a tray and season with a couple pinches of ground white pepper and salt. Beat 1 egg in a bowl.
Pat dry zucchini slices with kitchen towel to remove as much moisture as possible. Gently coat in the flour then with the egg.
Heat 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp. neutral flavored oil (I used sunflower oil) in a non stick pan over medium-low heat. Add zucchini and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side. As an optional step, you can add sliced red chili on one side before flipping and frying the other side. Chili can burn easily so do not slice them too thin.
Place them on kitchen towel to remove some of the grease before serving. When ready, serve with salad.
“Japchae” Sweet potato noodles and vegetables
Japchae has a reputation for being quite labor intensive, and that is kind of true. But I do have a couple of tips/cheat ways that my grandma may not approve but work, and make the process a little bit easier. This is a celebration dish after all, a little labor of love is one of the elements that makes the dish even more special.
So here are the tips I want to share before we start.
First, sweet potato noodles we use for the dish is called “Dangmyeon”. These are dried noodles. Try to buy ones that are already cut if you could. This will make your life so much easier. If you have to use ones that aren’t, do not attempt to cut while they’re still dry. Soak them in cold water for 12-14 hours to soften them first, then use scissors to cut them.
Second, do not boil the noodles. Boiling dry noodles and rinse under cold water without soaking them is a very common method people use. I think this makes the noodles mushy, not to mention it is extremely troublesome. These noodles are quite starchy and tend to stick; not that simple to drain. And it is so easy to burn your hands trying to rinse a big pile of hot noodles afterwards; this is coming from an experience. I’ve tried both methods so trust me, and save yourself from troubles. Simply soak the noodles and leave them for a while. All you have to do after that is stir frying them for a few minutes.
Third, if you cannot be bothered to julienne carrots, get peeled baby carrots and cut them into 4-6 pieces lengthwise. Having to julienne carrots is one of the reasons that puts me off making this delicious dish. I julienned my carrots this time to make it look as traditional as possible but you do not have to.
Next, you can use any of your favorite mushrooms. Traditionally we use wood ear or shiitake mushrooms. But I realize some people are quite picky (like my husband) with mushrooms especially when it comes to texture. You don’t have to stick to the traditional way, choose whatever mushrooms you like. For some reason finding wood ear mushrooms wasn’t easy this time, so I made the dish with shiitake and oyster mushrooms. This also somehow made the process a little easier because you often have to soak wood ear mushrooms in water before cooking.
Lastly, use baby spinach if you could. Typically we use mature spinach, which you have to clean, remove the bottom and blanch before cooking. Why do all that? All you need to do with baby spinach before cooking is to rinse. And it cooks much faster and tastes the same if not better.
- 300g/10.6oz. Dangmyeon noodles, soaked in cold water for 12-14 hours
- 250g/8.8oz. (2 medium) carrots sliced into approximately 9cm/3.5″ length, 0.5-1cm/0.2-0.4″ thick or baby carrots sliced into 4-6 pieces lengthwise
- 250g/8.8oz. (1 large) onion, halved and sliced into similar thickness to carrots
- 1 large yellow and red bell pepper each, top and bottom removed, sliced lengthwise into 1-2cm/0.4-0.8″ thickness
- 250g/8.8oz. mushrooms of your choice, sliced
- 250g/8.8oz. baby spinach
- 2 tbsp. minced garlic
- 6 – 7 tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. ground white pepper
- 5 – 5 1/2 tbsp. sunflower oil
First step is to stir fry vegetables and mushrooms. It is important to note that this is not like a super quick, high heat Chinese cooking in a wok. You’ll need a good non-stick pan and the heat stays around medium.
Heat 1/2 tbsp. oil in a non stick pan, add carrot and cook for 3-5 minutes or until they start to soften.
Add onion in the same pan and cook for 3-5 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer carrot and onion onto a plate.
Add 1/2 tbsp. oil in the same pan, add yellow and red peppers. Cook for 9-10 minutes until it releases sweet aroma. Turn off the heat and transfer onto a plate.
Add 1 tbsp. oil in the same pan, add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes until they’re soften and cooked. Cooking time will depend on the type of mushrooms you use. Turn off the heat and transfer onto a plate.
Add 1/2 tbsp. oil in the same pan, cook baby spinach for a couple of minutes or until it’s all wilted. Drain the water that comes from the spinach before transferring onto a plate.
Drain soaked noodles. If they aren’t cut, cut them into approximately 24-25cm/9-10″ length with scissors. Place in a 12cm/4.7″ deep stainless steel pan. Add in minced garlic and 2 1/2 – 3 tbsp. oil. Stir well and cook for 6-7 minutes or until they become nearly transparent and soften.
Turn off the heat and add in all the vegetables and mushrooms with noodles. Add white pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil. Start with 6 tbsp. soy sauce and 2 1/2 tbsp. sesame oil first. Mix and incorporate everything and taste. Add a little more soy sauce and sesame oil if necessary. I don’t like my food salty and I often eat this dish with pickled vegetables or kimchi, so I don’t season it heavily.
Add a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds, plate and serve. Japchae will keep 2-3 days in the fridge. I always leave some portion in the freezer too. You can reheat them in a microwave or by stir frying in a pan with a little bit of oil.
Wish you and your family a happy, healthy and prosperous year of cow!