Dinner Partying it up – Japchae (Korean glass noodles)

Inspired by all these beautiful recipes I’ve seen on some of my favorite blogs, I decided to try to make some of them and throw a dinner party. For some reason, I have an inclination to cook Asian dishes more than other cuisines. So, on the menu were mostly Asian or Asian-inspired dishes: japchae (Korean glass noodles), chicken fried rice, mirin and honey sweet potatoes, bean sprout kimchi, pickled vegetables, and stuffed peppers with Thai curried rice.

I had originally planned to make a few more dishes, including miso glazed cod. However, halfway through making dinner, I realized I had definitely bit off more than I could chew. So I decided to save those for another dinner party and serve the dishes I was really dying to make, specifically japchae, which turned out to be the star of the dinner.

Korean cuisine is probably my favorite. I love it so much that I can never refuse an invitation to eat Korean BBQ or go to a Korean restaurant. However, it can be a bit pricey and I’ve recently realized that many Korean dishes are fairly easy, especially japchae. After hearing one of my friends proclaim her love for the noodle dish too, I decided that I had to give it a shot and make them for her.

The recipe is basically a stir-fry of sweet potato noodles and vegetables. Usually, beef is included, but since I didn’t have any at hand, I left it out. For my veggies, I used onions, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bell pepper, zucchini, and spinach. But I’m sure you can use whatever vegetables you like. I didn’t actually follow the recipe that closely. Like I’ve said before, I like to play it by ear when it comes to cooking. So I don’t actually know how much of the ingredients I used. I just eyeballed it and put in however much looked right to me. Also, I was a little surprised to see that the sauce was only soy sauce with sugar. How can you get more simple than that for something so delicious?

My friends loved the japchae! As we ate, they gave so many compliments that I felt a bit silly accepting them, since the dish was so easy. This is definitely a dish that I will make again and again, and so should you! Not only is it super easy and straightforward, but also super delicious (and tastes just like japchae ordered from a Korean restaurant)! Now that I can make it myself, I will probably never order japchae at a restaurant again.

That’s one of the things I love the most about cooking (and baking) – it gives you the ability to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Because you learn how to make things yourself, you no longer have to rely on other people to make it for you. It’s similar to that old adage: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Learning how to cook a dish will literally enable you to feed yourself for a lifetime.

Japchae (Korean Glass Noodles)
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

1/2 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles (I just used the whole bag)
2 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced onions (I used half an onion)
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (I forgot this! whoops!)
3 stalks green onions, cut into 1″ lengths (I only added one stalk)
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced shiitake (I used a small bag of dried shiitake)
1/2 lb spinach, washed well and drained (I don’t think I used this much…)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I tripled this)
2 teaspoons sugar (I tripled this)
1 tablespoon 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 cold water. Drain again and toss with only 1 tsp of the sesame oil. Use kitchen shears to cut noodles into shorter pieces, about 8 inches in length. Set aside.

In bowl, mix soy sauce & sugar together. Add the cooking oil in a wok or large saute pan on high heat and swirl to coat. When the cooking oil is hot but not smoking, fry onions and carrots, until just softened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, green onions and mushrooms, fry 30 seconds. Then add the spinach, soy sauce, sugar and the noodles. Fry 2-3 minutes until the noodles are cooked through. Turn off heat, toss with sesame seeds and the remaining 1 1/2 tsp of sesame oil. Enjoy!

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Curryin’ it up – Easy Red Curry

I’ve recently realized just how easy it is to make curry. Why have I been so ignorant? Curry is basically a stir fry using whatever vegetables and meat you want with red, green, or yellow curry. Excited to try my hand at curry, I bought a small can of red curry paste from our local Asian grocery (about $1.50) and a can of coconut milk from Trader Joes (only $0.99!).

Curry is a great way to use up leftover veggies you have in your fridge. That night, I had  some mushrooms, an orange bell pepper, and bean sprouts on hand. I also added some canned baby corn and water chestnuts for a nice crunch as well as tofu, frozen peas, and broccoli.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really like to follow recipes, especially when it comes to cooking. I like to read a couple of recipes for the dish I want to make, follow the basic guidelines, and then add my own touches. I almost never have exactly all the ingredients the recipe calls for, and I’m often too lazy to go out and buy what’s missing. So I end up improvising – either leaving something out or replacing it with something else. This is one of the reasons why I love this curry dish. You can use whatever you have on hand and you won’t ever feel bad that you were missing an ingredient.

I’m also not a firm believer in accurate measurements when it comes to cooking. For baking, yes, you do need to measure ingredients or else you might end up with too dense or dry of a cake or too chewy or crispy a cookie. Cooking, on the other hand, depends only on your tastes. So I usually never measure out things when I’m cooking for myself since it’s only my tastes that I have to worry about. However, when I’m cooking for other people, I try to follow recipes, but oftentimes that doesn’t work out. Guess I’m just a rebel at heart. 😛

 

For these reasons, I’m not really posting a recipe… because I don’t really have one. Making this dish is really really simple and takes about 5 steps:

1) Cut up some of your favorite meat (or tofu) and veggies or whatever you have in your fridge that day.
2) Heat up a pan with some oil and fry some curry paste. (I’m kinda a wimp when it comes to spicy food, so I used about a spoonful).
3) Add some coconut milk, about half a can. Or you can add the whole can if you’d like.
4) Throw in the meat (or tofu) and veggies and wait until they’re cooked. You can stir them occasionally to coat the veggies in the curry sauce.
5) Cook some rice or noodles and place your curry on top. Or if you’re too lazy to do that, just enjoy the curry by itself (which is what I did and it was delicious!). Don’t forget to garnish with cilantro (unless you hate it, of course)!

So I guess that was a recipe, but a pretty vague one. Sorry to those of you who like specific instructions. If you’d like a real recipe for curry, here’s a few from 101 Cookbooks,  allrecipes, and Epicurious.

As I cook more and more, I’m realizing that cooking is a lot like life. Sometimes, you won’t always have what you want or need in a certain situation. But you gotta roll with the punches and make the best with what you have. Like they always say, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Or in this case, when you’ve got a can of curry paste, make whatever kind of curry you want.