Japchae is a classic Korean stir fry dish using deliciously chewy, gluten-free sweet potato vermicelli. Although mainly a party or celebratory dish in Korea, it is easy enough to make for the (non-party mode) family – even as a midweek meal. The sweet potato vermicelli makes it sound very exotic, but it is in fact pretty straightforward. If you can do a Chinese stir fry, this is not much more of a culinary stretch. The flavours however are very different to a typical stir fry, with sweet and salty predominant in a typical japchae.
I know! Something sweet from me!
The sweet in my food to glow version is from something called yuzu tea (yujacha) – also called citron tea.
This is marmalade by another name, and an incredibly fragrant and alluring one at that. It is made from the yuzu fruit, a type of citrus that comes from China. The flavour of yuzu tea – made with honey, yuzu flesh and rind – is of grapefruit and lime, with distinct blossom and ‘green’ notes. My marmalade-loving husband was keen to keep it for himself. I – not so much a marmalade fan – found myself dipping a (clean) teaspoon in just for the taste. I got the jar as a sample from souschef.co.uk but will certainly be ordering a paid-for jar – it’s that delicious. Koreans drink it for the taste but also to help with colds and winter bugs, dropping a teaspoon in hot water and drinking it down like we would a mug of PG Tips, or me my Spiced Golden Turmeric Milk.
As for the recipe itself, the key to any stir fry – as you well know – is preparation. In this case marinading and baking the tofu (or not, if you get pre-made), boiling the noodles and chopping the veg. Not too hard at all. You can boil the noodles up ahead if you like and store in the fridge (oiled and sliced so they are easy to stir in); the veg too can be chopped and waiting for you and your wok. And of course the tofu can be done a couple of days prior, or just use flavoured tofu, fresh prawns or sliced lean meat – the latter being the traditional protein in japchae.
I think I’m making it sound onerous to do it all in a one-er but it really is not at all. I have made this several times on week nights, sometimes adding sriracha for heat when serving, sometimes fried garlic and chilli pieces, and sometimes with no noodles at all, just ribbons of courgette and carrot. None of these ideas are traditional but the basic marinade and sauce makes it all come together, despite my tinkering.
And just to be honest with you, this recipe is a little higher in fat, salt and sugar than my norm, so I wouldn’t say this is an everyday choice for us – although I could eat a version of this every day and be very happy. In my defence it is less salty, oily and sweet than recipes I consulted when making this one. I like to think that all of the other healthy ingredients make up for the salty, sweet sins, but I fear I am just kidding myself! Enjoy this indulgent-for-food to glow recipe. 😉
Korean Stir fry with Sweet Potato Noodles and Baked Marinated Tofu
Quite a mouthful to say, and to eat. Sweet potato noodles are not commonly found in UK supermarkets, but you will find them in Asian and Chinese supermarkets, and online from places like sous-chef.co.uk, where I purchased mine. Of course use any wheat, buckwheat or rice noodles you fancy. And for that matter please use bought marinated tofu, fat prawns or the more usual sliced beef if you don’t have the time/inclination to marinate and bake the tofu. But I highly recommend it!
Marinated Baked Tofu:
200g pack firm organic tofu
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or shoyu/tamari
1 tbsp rice vinegar, lemon juice or white vinegar
1 heaped tbsp yuzu ‘honey tea’/marmalade OR 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
White pepper, about ¼ tsp
50g sweet potato noodles (or two ‘nests’)
½ tsp rapeseed oil (for boiling the noodles)
200g baby spinach and/or young chard or other bitter green, chopped (I used both)
4 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or alternatives
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp yuzu honey tea or dark sugar
¼ tsp white pepper
½ tbsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely sliced (I used red)
8 -10 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 spring onions/scallions, trimmed and sliced
1 young carrot, julienned or finely shredded
1 young courgette/zucchini, shredded or finely julienned
Toasted sesame seeds, to serve
1. First of all, if you are not making the tofu, use the tofu marinade on your chosen protein. Use your judgement on how long to marinate, but for most choices marinate for about half an hour. If you are making the baked tofu, press out the liquid between two tea towels, placing a heavy-ish pan on top to hasten this. Leave for about 15 minutes. Slice the tofu cake into two slimmer slabs then cut the tofu into cubes and place the cubes in a shallow dish.
2. Stir up the marinade ingredients, pour it over the cubed tofu, and gently toss; leave to marinate for at least half an hour. Lift out of the marinade with a slotted spoon (or just very carefully), saving any marinade for the stir fry.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Lay the tofu pieces on a baking tray lined with oiled foil, parchment paper or Silpat, and bake until the tofu is not longer wet and the surface is ‘bouncy’ and very firm – about 30-45 minutes. You may like it verging on quite crispy so leave it a little longer if you like. For other proteins, marinate for half an hour then set aside while you prepare the noodles.
4. For the noodles themselves, place the dry noodles into a deep pan of boiling water with the ½ tsp of oil and boil for about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse. You may like to use scissors to cut up the noodles as they are quite long and unwieldy for mixing in the stir fry.
5. Now blanch the spinach in a little water until collapsed. Drain and press as much water out as you can. Pop on a chopping board and roughly chop. You can also wilt the spinach in the stir fry itself, but it can be unwieldy if you don’t have a large wok. Set aside.
6. Now we can get cracking and get eating! Heat the remaining ½ tbsp oil in a wok or large wide pan. While it is heating, stir up the liquid ingredients in a small jug and have handy by the hob/stove. If you are stir frying marinated beef or prawns, drain and cook these quickly over a medium high heat and set aside. Pour a little more oil to the pan.
7. Add the onion to the hot wok and stir fry for three minutes or so, then add the mushrooms, the garlic and spring onions, stirring and tossing for about two minutes. Slide in the shredded carrots and courgettes/zucchini, the blanched spinach (or the raw spinach, as you prefer), little jug of marinade and any leftover marinade, tossing and stirring for another minute or so. Now add in the cooked sweet potato noodles, tossing well to coat and warm. Stir in the cooked prawns/beef if you were using either of these.
8. Divide the vegetable noodles between four deep bowls or onto plates, and top with baked marinated tofu and sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
Leftovers are also delicious warmed the next day.
Using up your yuzu tea: use it as a glaze for chicken or salmon (mix with some vinegar and soy); in salad dressing (I’ve done this – yum); in cheesecake and muffins/cake instead of lemon zest or lemon curd (adapt my Carrot and Marmalade Cake recipe perhaps?); and of course, spread on toast!
And here’s some actual recipes:
How To Make Yuzu Tea via Just Hungry
Quick & Easy Yuzu Ice Cream by Kavey Eats (looks beautifully decadent!)
A load of dessert and sweet ideas from She Who Eats
Crispy Korean Beef Salad via Beyond Kimchee
Other Korean-inspired recipes on Food To Glow:
Kimchi and Avocado Lunch Wraps (grain-free/easily vegan)
Kimchi and Carrot Pancakes (Kimchi Jeon)
Spicy and Tangy Kale Crisps (features gochujang)
PS Thank you to my neighbour, Kathy, for the lovely dishes that you see in today’s post. She was doing a clear-out and I was the lucky beneficiary!