Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Home Plate: Japchae


Okay, for this Home Plate entry, where I make dishes I've had elsewhere in my own kitchen, I have to first share a great little anecdote from Wikipedia about Japchae, the Korean cellophane noodle dish--studded with carrots and bits of spinach and topped with sesame seeds--that today's post is all about. Without further ado:

Japchae was first made in the early 17th century, when the Joseon Dynasty was reigning in the Korean peninsula. When King Gwanghaegun hosted a big party at his palace, one of his lieges, Yi Chung, created this delicious dish to please the king’s palate. The king liked this dish so much that he rewarded his liege by promoting him to the position of hojo panseo (hangul: 호조판서, hanja: 戶曹判書, equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury)

"Hojo panseo," eh, Wikipedia? And you say that's like the Treasury Secretary? That strikes me as a pretty big--and pretty out-of-left-field--promotion! Can you imagine Art Smith or Emeril Lagasse being promoted to Secretary of State for coming up with some great new dish? On the other hand, the cast of the show Battlestar Galactica took part in a special Q&A at the United Nations pretty recently, so I guess stranger things could happen. (Spoilerphobes beware: that link contains spoilerific details aplenty.)


Anyway, japchae is a pretty special dish. The sweet potato starch-based noodles have a familiar, slightly-thick-noodle texture, but the flavor is unique and faintly sweet potato-esque, I'd say. Plus, if you get it at a restaurant, it's going to be severely overpriced, in many cases. I'm not sure why, but I've found most of the Korean restaurants I've been to (or at least looked at the menu for) to be surprisingly pricey, however casual or fancy the restaurant itself is. So I've seen Japchae anywhere for from $10 to $15, which is pretty silly considering it only costs probably $4 to make a large portion of it at home. (This great savings made me consider saving this recipe for the next edition of Thrifty Thursdays, but I really just wanted to share it sooner, and it's been delicious when I've had it out at restaurants (especially Manna House in Greenfield, MA), so it absolutely qualifies for the ongoing Home Plate series of posts.)


The Wikipedia entry is really the only "recipe" I used in this case. The site says the noodles are stir-fried with the veggies, and sometimes beef (which I skipped, and didn't feel like I was missing by not having). So, I boiled the noodles (which I got at Market World, which is one of my local Asian grocers), cooked the spinach and got the carrots to the point where they were slightly softened but still crisp, and then stir-fried everything together and topped the whole thing off with sesame seeds. See how all of these posts are coming back to sesame seeds? Between the tahini, the sushi, and now the Japchae, sesame seeds are really emerging as the unsung star of this blog.

Santa Monica

Thanks for stopping by Beach City Cooking, and I'll see you all tomorrow for another edition of Wednesday Brunch. Keep cooking, and stay cool!

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