A healthy, vegetarian/vegan, mouth-watering meal that’s easy to make? Not only easy to make, but speedy – so speedy, in fact, that it takes less time to make (from start to sitting down, slurping noodles) than it takes to heat up the oven and bake a frozen pizza? Do I have your attention yet? Because yes, it’s possible. Meet my favorite throw-together dish – Jap Chae.
What is Jap Chae? Well, I didn’t know for the longest time. Jaden over at Steamy Kitchen introduced me to Jap Chae. (say it with me: chop-chay.) Also spelled Jab Chae or Chap Chae, this is a Korean dish comprised traditionally of sweet potato (cellophane) noodles, mushrooms, spinach, carrots, and onions. I don’t have an extensive knowledge of Korean food, honestly. I do know, however, that my limited exposure has taught me to love Korean food! What makes this dish unique, in my opinion, are the noodles. If you happen to have an Asian grocery nearby, I encourage you to visit. Check out the noodles. Yes, it might be overwhelming – there are a LOT of noodles. For this particular dish, seek out some slightly gray-brown noodles called “glass noodles” or “cellophane noodles.” (They’re gluten-free, of course.) If you read the ingredients on the package, it’ll likely just read: sweet potato starch, water (and maybe salt). That’s it. Sounds simple enough, right? These noodles don’t taste anything like sweet potatoes – but their texture is addictive. They’re super-springy, light, and I love they way they absorb the sweet soy-sesame sauce in the jap chae. They never get soggy, either, making this dish perfect for leftovers!
I did take some liberties with the recipe (if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know this is nothing new). I added snow peas and red bell pepper (they were in the fridge), and I subbed agave nectar for the sugar. And as always, I used gluten-free soy sauce instead of regular soy. Other than that, I pretty much stuck to the recipe. (Oh – I did add a squirt of Sriracha to my bowl. Not authentic, I know, but I can’t resist a little heat with my salty-sweet-umami dishes!) This little throw-together dish is heaven in my book. The shitake mushrooms provide a huge burst of umami flavor, and I cannot resist sesame – sesame can cause me to swoon! And as I mentioned before, the noodles, with their springy texture, are such a joy to eat. It doesn’t hurt to know that this is a healthy, veggie-packed meal, either!
By the way, I’m not kidding about the speediness thing. The other day, my husband wanted a frozen pizza (Totino’s, so it doesn’t even take that long in the oven!), and I decided to make this dish (John’s not much for mushrooms, spinach, or Asian cuisine). He turned the oven on to preheat at the same time I was gathering ingredients. My jap chae was finished, in a bowl, and I had just started to dig in when the timer went off, telling him that his pizza was ready. Speedy dish indeed!
Jap Chae, adapted from Steamy Kitchen
1/2 lb dried Korean sweet potato noodles or mung bean thread
2 1/2 t sesame oil, divided
1 T canola oil
3/4 c thinly sliced onions
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks (I use my handy-dandy julienne peeler for this task)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t grated fresh ginger
2 stalks green onions, cut into 1 inch lengths
1/2 c dried shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced and rehydrated in warm water
1/2 c snow peas
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 lb spinach leaves, washed well and drained
2 T gluten-free soy sauce
1 T agave nectar
1 T sesame seeds
Fill a large pot with water and boil. When water is boiling, add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Immediately drain and rinse with cool water. Drain again and toss with 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil. Cut noodles into shorter pieces (I took Jaden’s advice and used kitchen shears for this task), about 8 inches in length. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix soy sauce and agave nectar together. Add canola oil in a wok or large saute pan on high heat. Swirl to coat pan. When oil is hot but not smoking, fry onions and carrots until softened, about 1 minute. Add garlic, green onions, and mushrooms, and cook for 30 seconds. Then add snow peas, bell pepper, spinach, soy sauce mixture, and the noodles. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until spinach is wilted and snow peas are a bit tender. Turn off heat, toss with sesame seeds and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil.
Serves 3-4. Or 2-3, if feeding hungry people. Wonderful eaten hot or cold.