Karl’s Vegetarian Japchae

Adapted from a My Korean Kitchen recipe

Daughter Eilene goes out with her friends a fair amount—which in San Jose means a lot of culinary options. She came home with a new favorite dish, Korean japchae.  She asked me to learn how to make it. My first attempt want not a total disaster, but my noodles were over cooked and gummy—decidedly not good enough to post.

Karl’s Vegetarian Japchae

Karl’s Vegetarian Japchae

For this Sunday’s Korean Dinner I decided to try again. Many versions of japchae contain meat, but my son-in-law is again avoiding starches. I decided to make separate starch and meat main dishes, a vegetarian japchae and beef bulgogi. That way my diners can adjust their servings as it pleases them.

The defining ingredient of japchae is the dangmyeon (glass or cellophane noodles). While there are many Asian noodles that go by that name, the Korean version is made with sweet potato starch. These are not easily found outside of a Korean market and you cannot really substitute noodles made with other starches.

At least one recipe advised against using anything but Korean soy sauce in making this dish. Using a countries condiments is an important thing that I learned while trying to make Filipino pork adobo. I had used Japanese vinegar and soy sauce in my dish, which resulted in my Filipino diner saying that my “dish was good, but it was not Filipino adobo.” You want to find “regular soy sauce” (whe-ganjang which is darker, less salty and slightly sweet) rather than “soup soy sauce” (josean gajang which is lighter and more salty).

Note: Although the name whe-ganjang implies that it is “soy sauce from Japan,” it still has a different flavor from Japanese soy sauce.

One major adaptation I made—besides removing the beef—is in how I treated the shiitaki mushrooms. In most japchae recipes I have found, the little vegetable matter that is included is cut into small matchsticks. Eilene does not like mushrooms, so I left the shiitaki in large pieces that she could easily pick out. I have also recently discovered the trick of marinating mushrooms for a long time and then grilling them. Since I was going to grill the beef for my bulgogi, it seemed just the idea to throw the mushrooms on the grill at the same time.

Karl’s Vegetarian Japchae


7-8 large shiitaki mushrooms
Mushroom and noodle marinade

4 Tbs. Korean whe-ganjang soy sauce
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 tsp. mirin (sweetened rice wine)
⅛ tsp. black pepper, cracked

6 oz. baby spinach
Spinach seasoning

¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. sesame oil

8 oz. dangmyeon (sweet potato starch noodles)

(Optional garnish) 1 large egg

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
½ medium onion, sliced finely pole to pole
¼ tsp. Kosher salt

½ cup carrot, cut into matchsticks
½ cup red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. dark sesame oil
1 Tbs. toasted white sesame seeds


1. Brush off, stem, and cut each mushroom in half.

2. Mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, mirin, and pepper in a quart plastic bag.

Tip: Seal the bag and shake it until the sugar is completely dissolved.

3. Add the mushrooms to the bag and press most of the air out.

Tip: Do not bruise the mushrooms, a little air is OK.

4. Shake the bag to completely coat the mushrooms with the sauce.

5. Marinate the shittaki in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.

Tip: Flip the bag several time to insure that all parts of the mushrooms are exposed to the sauce.

Note: This may seem like a long marinade but you want the shittaki to be soaked all the way through.

6. Remove the shittaki from the bag and pat them dry with a paper towel.

Note: Do not discard the marinade! You will be using it again.

7. Place the mushrooms on a skewer and grill them directly over the heat for 4-5 minutes per side.

8. Remove the mushrooms from the skewers and set them aside.

9. Place the spinach into a large bowl and pour 3-4 cups of boiling water over them.

10. Blanch the spinach for 2-3 minutes, until bright green.

11. Drain the spinach and shock it in ice water—to stop it from over cooking.

12. Drain the spinach again and squeeze as much water out as possible.

Tip: After you do this you will be left with tight clumps of spinach leaves. Gently try to separate them without tearing them too much.

12. Mix the salt, garlic, and sesame oil in a small bowl and add the spinach and set it aside to marinate for 10-15 minutes.

Tip: Mix gently by hand to distribute the sauce over the leaves.

13. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, remove it from the heat, and add the noodles.

16. Cook the noodles, stirring frequently, for 6-10 minutes

Tip: Test the noodles near the end of the cooking time, you want them to be al dente.

Note: How long the noodles take to is dependent on how thick they are.

15. Drain the noodles and rinse them in cold water.

16. Put the noodles in a mixing bowl and pour the remaining mushroom marinade over them.

17. Toss to coat the noodles with the sauce.

18. (Optional Garnish)

a. Separate the white and yolk of the egg into two small bowls.

b. Mix ½ teaspoon of water and the tiniest sprinkle of salt into the whites.

Tip: You want the egg white to be broken up, but you do not want make a lot of foam on the surface.

c. Mix ¼ teaspoon of water and the tiniest sprinkle of salt into the yoke.

d. Heat a non-stick, six inch, sauté pan over low heat.

Tip: If your pan is not non-stick, wipe it with an oily paper towel to make the thinnest film of oil.

e. Pour the egg white into the pan and swirl to pan to coat the bottom.

f. Leave the pan undisturbed until the egg begins to turn white where it is in contact with the pan.

g. Drizzle the egg yolk over the white.

Tip: You do not want to completely cover the whites, but to create an attractive variation.

h. Continue cooking the egg for another minute or two, until the top of the egg is just starting to set.

i.Remove the pan from the heat and cover it for 2-3 minutes to finish cooking.

Tip: You want the egg to be hard cooked.

j. Remove the egg disk from the pan, let it cool completely.

k. Slice the egg into fine shreds and set them aside.

Note: You will be left with egg threads white on one side and spotty yellow on the other.

19. Put the vegetable and sesame oils in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.

20. When the oil is shimmering, sauté the onions with the salt for 5-7 minutes, until just starting to pick up some color.

21. Add the carrots to the pan and continue sautéing for another minute.

22. Add the bell pepper and shiitaki mushrooms and continue cooking for another minute or two.

23. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the garlic to the hole in the center.

24. Sauté the garlic for one minute, until fragrant and then mix it into the rest of the vegetables.

25. Add the noodles to the pan, with any remaining liquid, and continue cooking, tossing frequently to mix the vegetables into the noodles.

26. When the noodles are warmed through transfer them to a serving bowl.

27. Drizzle extra sesame oil over the noodles and garnish the sesame seeds.

28. (Optional) Garnish the japchae with the egg threads.


Filed under California Fusion, Main Dishes, Vegan, Vegetarian

4 responses to “Karl’s Vegetarian Japchae

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