Japchae Korean sweet potato noodles – Cheat’s recipe

This post is dedicated to all the intrepid trail-blazers from the FITK food trails at the Strathfield Food Festival on Sunday 27 Oct 2013 (pictured).

And an extra hello to the 4 lucky draw winners who went home with their very own bunch of dangmyeon – fat-free, gluten-free Korean sweet potato noodles.

My recipe for the popular Korean party dish, japchae, with its hero ingredient of dangmyeon, is a short-cut cheat’s version.  There you go, full disclosure.

Regular readers may remember me committing a similar crime in Not Quite Gwyneth Sweet Potato Muffins, when I used gluten, dairy, eggs and sugar in the gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and sugar-free muffins created by Ms Paltrow (who is rumoured to like kimchi).

The proper way to make japchae

  1. Season the cooked noodles.
  2. Separately cook and season each vegetable.
  3. Use beef bulgogi (separately cooked) as the meat component.
  4. Then mix your half-dozen separately cooked components together.

That’s way too many separate mentions of “separately cooked”, I reckon.

I take my hat off to Korean cooks for their legendary ability to make – in one meal – many dishes, each with its own cooking process.  And that’s just the mit banchan, those side dishes that play second fiddle to more elaborate main meals.

Below:  Main picture depicts an array of mit banchan.  Other pictures show main meals.  Yes, you do see baked beans and Spam in the bottom right picture.

I haven’t the patience to cook everything separately, and my generously-proportioned wok makes light work of tossing many things together.

So our household uses this method of cooking japchae, where we add the ingredients in turn, and stir-fry them to combine.

I probably wouldn’t serve Cheat’s Japchae to the South Korean President or Momofuku’s David Chang, but it makes for a pretty palatable family dinner.

And when this hits the table, the kids cheer and – almost always – request second helpings.

Cheat’s Japchae Recipe

INGREDIENTS (to serve 4)JapchaeIngredients

  • 200g beef mince. For a still-tasty vegetarian japchae, omit this.  Also see Tip #1 below.  Marinate mince for 10mins in:
  • 3 tsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp Korean sesame oil
  • ½ tsp chopped garlic
  • a little white pepper
  • 300g dangmyeon (Korean sweet potato noodles)
  • 2 tbsp oil


  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • Half tbsp chopped ginger (optional – see Tip #2 below)


  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths.  Separate the white sections from the green sections.
  • 1 small red capsicum, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks (or grated)
  • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms – Soak in warm water for 30 minutes.  Remove and discard stem.  Slice caps thinly.
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed and cut into 2-inch pieces


  • Soy sauce (4 tbsp, or to taste)
  • Sugar or Korean corn syrup (4 tbsp, or to taste)
  • Korean sesame oil (2 tbsp)


  • Toasted sesame seeds – see Tip #3 below.
  • Omelette made from 2 eggs, cut into thin strips (optional)


  1. Start by marinating the beef and soaking the mushrooms.
  2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook dangmyeon for 7 minutes.  Drain and rinse in cold water at least twice.  Set aside.  I promise you this is the only “separate cooking” you’ll have to do for this recipe.
  3. In a wok over medium to high heat, add the oil.  When it starts to smoke, fry garlic and ginger until they turn pale gold.
  4. Add beef mince to the wok.  Stir it around and break it up for even cooking.
  5. When beef starts to brown, add onions and white sections of green onions.
  6. When onions start to soften, add capsicum, carrots, mushrooms and green sections of green onions.
  7. After frying for 1 minute, check that mince is fully cooked, then stir in the noodles.
  8. Add the spinach.
  9. Do some almighty tossing to combine the noodles with the meat and veg.  Then add the seasonings, adjusting to taste.  Do more tossing so that the noodles absorb the sauces.
  10. To serve as a party dish, pile the noodles on a large platter.  Garnish with omelette strips and sesame seeds.

Japchae2Tip #1: On beef

Conventional japchae uses beef bulgogi, which is thinly sliced beef in a sweet soy marinade.

The bulgogi marinade is simple enough to make.  The time-consuming part is slicing the beef fillet into thin strips.

When I can’t get to my Korean butcher who sells ready-sliced beef, I fall back on beef mince.

Compared to sliced beef, it’s trickier trying to pick up the mince together with the noodles using chopsticks.  But, in view of the time saved, I’ll live with that.

Tip #2: On ginger

Ginger is not always used in japchae, but I love the warm spice it lends to the dish, countering its sweetness.

GingerTip #3:  On toasted sesame seedstoastedsesameseeds

Paradoxically, I have the patience to spend 3 hours making 3-minute noodles, but haven’t the patience to properly toast sesame seeds.  The end-stage clumping defeats me every time.

The good news is, every Korean grocer in Sydney sells packets of toasted, ready-to-use sesame seeds.  These are a staple in my stable of Secret Kitchen Weapons.  I sprinkle them on salads, noodles, vegetables and mixed rice, and even put them in ANZAC biscuits.

After you open a packet, store it in the freezer to keep those rancid oils at bay.

Below:  Some uses for toasted sesame seeds.

Quiz time!

Q:  Spot the odd one out.  Which of the following japchae was NOT home-made?

A:  The one on the extreme right.

To learn more about Korean food…

…join me for the allKpopsinging, alleating, allshopping Korean Adventure.  The final one for this year will be on Saturday 9 Nov 2013.  More details here.

Strathfield Food Festival food trail guests, don’t forget to use your discount voucher before it expires on 2 Nov 2013.

For more dangmyeon dish ideas…

…have a look at my article The Red, The Black and The Wriggly in Strathfield Scene.

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